The jury trial for New Mexico v. Joel Cordoba-Lopez began Monday afternoon. Cordoba-Lopez is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a traffic accident and speeding.
During his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Stone recounted the incident that took place on Aug. 5, 2012, around 3:54 a.m., where Cordoba-Lopez, driving a 2007 Cadillac Escalade, ran over a blue Hyundai Sonata at the intersection of Br[auth] asher Road and southeast Main Street. Mandy Miranda and son, Joe Alvarez, died as a result of the crash
Attorney for the defense, Gary C. Mitchell, said this was an accident. He told the jury that Cordoba-Lopez, of Dexter, was the primary breadwinner for his family and worked in the oil industry as a supervisor.
“That Saturday night, he came to Roswell to visit friends. He was driving north on 285 to go to Denny’s for breakfast.”
He argued that the accident occurred in the outside lane after the Sonata changed to the right hand lane from the left lane.
Mitchell acknowledged that the Escalade went over the top of the other vehicle and tore it up, but said Cordoba-Lopez had little time to react.
Mitchell referred to the victim as a hard-working mother who was returning home after picking up her children from the babysitter.
“The bottom line from the defense point of view is this was an accident. … Joel Cordoba-Lopez was unconscious, suspended upside down in the car. He left. It wasn’t any kind of a crime.”
The state’s first witness, Miguel Nava, a passenger in another vehicle that was stopped at the intersection, was one the first to respond to the accident while his girlfriend called 911. Assistant District Attorney John A. Phinizy pointed out that he was a reluctant witness.
“I don’t recall too good seeing the accident. The car was already ripped into,” said Nava.
He said the accident was so recent that he could still smell burnt rubber from the tire. “I seen her body in the car.”
Another vehicle pulled up and told Nava about the Escalade. He went to see if he could help the other driver. He confirmed Mitchell’s report about Cordoba-Lopez being upside down in the overturned vehicle. The driver did not respond when Nava asked in both English and Spanish if he needed him. He described the emotional state of Mariah, the little girl who survived the crash.
During cross examination, Mitchell asked about Cordoba-Lopez’s condition. Nava said: “I thought he was dead.” Mitchell also inquired if Nava had seen the lights of the car or any use of the turn signals. Nava replied “no” to both questions.
The state then called Officer G. Juarez, a first responder from the Roswell Police Department. Stone had Juarez describe his route to the scene. Juarez said he arrived from the north, saw the Escalade overturned, but turned his attention to the sole survivor of the crash. “She was hysterical and screaming.”
Juarez testified that he waited with the child until emergency medical services arrived and took her to the hospital and then assisted with the search for Cordoba-Lopez, who had disappeared from the scene.
Night patrol supervisor Sgt. Rusty Brisco took the stand. He stated that his attention was first drawn to the child. He checked the Sonata.
“The side of the car was missing. Her arm was hanging from the car. I checked for a pulse.”
Brisco reported to the court that he then moved around to see if he could find a pulse from the neck. “The windshield was hanging down on the passenger side.”
He said he pulled the windshield away and then noticed the small hand of child on the floor board. The license plate was missing from the vehicle, so he had to get insurance information from the car to trace family members for notification.
Later, Brisco supervised the search for Cordoba-Lopez, dispatching some nine officers and at least two sheriff’s deputies to the fields adjacent to the intersection before going to check on the little girl.
The final state witness for the day was Tyson Sanders, New Mexico Game and Fish conservation officer. He said he volunteered his services after he heard that there was a traffic accident and RPD was looking for the suspect. “I have experience tracking and locating people.”
Sanders explained to the court that he picked up a blood trail in the field west of the accident. “It led straight toward the cemetery. It went across the road at the entrance and veered west … across a chain link fence and across south Main.”
He noted that he lost the trail around Gayle and Lea and estimated that Cordoba-Lopez had traveled about a mile from the point of impact.