New Mexico v. Joel Cordoba-Lopez entered its second day of state’s evidence, Wednesday. Cordoba-Lopez is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident and speeding. The crash occurred on Aug. 5, 2012, around 3:54 a.m. when a 2007 Cadillac Escalade driven by Cordoba-Lopez ran over a blue Hyundai Sonata at the intersection of Brasher Road and South East Main Street, leaving Mandy Miranda and son, Joe Alvarez, dead inside the vehicle.
The state’s first three witnesses set the stage for the information provided by the Escalade’s “black box.”
Det. Jonathan Daniel testified to gathering evidence, including blood swabs from the Escalade. He also photographed the scene, showing the length of a debris trail and the condition of the two vehicles. The photos revealed the Sonata’s roof had been crushed and the driver’s side torn away.
One rim from the Escalade was bent; the front end smashed and the roof flattened. Daniel collected the driver’s airbags from the Escalade and the tail lights belonging to the Sonata for examination by the Department of Public Safety’s Crime Lab.
Det. Scott Stevenson described the scene. “There was debris literally all over the place.”
He ascertained the defendant’s identity using the vehicle registration and later executed a search warrant of Cordoba-Lopez’s Dexter home as the RPD attempted to locate him. Stevenson said the view of the intersection traveling from south to north was unobstructed and the posted speed limit then was 45 mph.
The third witness for the state, Rosalind Archuleta of the Department of Public Safety DNA Laboratory, discussed the results of the swabs, which included those taken from both inside and outside the Escalade and compared them against those taken at Chaves County Detention Center from Cordoba-Lopez.
Expert witness Sgt. Lauren Milligan, of the New Mexico State Police, testified to the findings from the “black box” copied from the Escalade’s crash data recorder.
He said investigators obtained laser measurements to ascertain that the Sonata had been in the right turn lane at the time of impact. He then clarified the mechanism by which the information could be obtained from the airbag controls and rollover sensors inside the vehicle.
“They monitor safety sensations running constantly in low sleep mode. … If something changes drastically, it will record what happens and goes backward to measure throttle and braking, speed … A magnet in the airbag measures change of speed.”
Milligan estimated the speed the Escalade was traveling at the time of impact was somewhere between 85 and 102 mph.
The change in speed when the vehicle hit the Sonata according to the CDR was 30 mph; the subsequent speed of the Escalade after the crash, which was then spinning on its roof, was 60 mph.
He said adding the two suggested the vehicle was going about 90 mph. Meanwhile, the Hyundai driven by Miranda was traveling about 13 to 20 mph.
He also noted that for a period of about one-half second before impact, the CDR recorded no pressure on the accelerator. Milligan believed Cordoba-Lopez was trying to brake at that time.
According to Milligan, the direction of impact was straight on, although the Escalade was slightly to the left of the right hand turn lane, indicating that it was straddling the line.
“The larger, faster Escalade hit the smaller, slower vehicle. … Essentially, you have this explosion. The damage to the Hyundai was catastrophic. The Escalade had just enough momentum to force the Hyundai into the ground.”
He explained that the position slightly to the left of the Sonata unbalanced the Escalade causing it to flip.
“The Cadillac pitched to the left and pulled all the sheet metal off the side of the Hyundai. The Sonata ramped the truck, pushing the (Sonata’s) driver’s seat into the dash. … Unfortunately, the decedent’s head was between the two.”
Milligan said the gouge on the road came from the weight of the Escalade pushing the Sonata down. The crash would have sent the two cars into a spin in opposite directions.
Defense attorney Gary Mitchell asked if the investigator could tell whether the Sonata’s turn signals were in use as Miranda negotiated the turn. Milligan replied that the filaments on the parking lights, the brake lamps and right turn signal were burned out, indicating they were on at the time of the crash.