Sunday, May 21, 2006

Birthday plans end in fatal crash

by Megan Arredondo
Tribune Reporter
Sunday, May 21, 2006

It was just after midnight, and 74-year-old Flora Aragon was getting ready to bake a birthday cake for a granddaughter who was turning 10 that day.

Aragon sat at a wooden picnic table early Sunday in her front lawn at 5208 Crestview Place S.W. with daughter Tonnie Sanchez and her daughter's friend Ismael Villalobo, the eggs and cake decorations in front of her.

She never got to make the cake.

Albuquerque police Officer Zachariah Floyd, 23 and a rookie of less than a year, crashed his cruiser through a low cinder-block wall surrounding Aragon's home and into the three.

Sanchez, 52, said she and Villalobo were thrown several yards.

Her mother was not so lucky.

The vehicle hit her from behind and pinned her against the picnic table and bench.

"My mom didn't even see it coming," Sanchez said.

Aragon died after being transported to University of New Mexico Hospital, police said.

John Walsh, spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said Floyd was responding to a domestic violence call in the 200 block of 53rd Street Southwest when the crash occurred.

Floyd was traveling south on 53rd Street and was passing another southbound vehicle when the other driver turned left, into his path, Walsh said.

It forced Floyd to veer into Aragon's yard, Walsh said.

The officer did not have emergency lights or sirens on when the crash occurred, but that is common practice when approaching a domestic violence disturbance, Walsh said.

While the investigation continues, it doesn't appear Floyd was speeding because his car's air bag did not inflate in the crash, Walsh said. Floyd was not injured in the crash, Walsh said.

Sanchez said Floyd didn't immediately try to help her or her mother.

"I laid there on that (patio) floor in pain for 45 minutes before anyone came to me," Sanchez said. "It took them forever."

Walsh, however, said rescue units arrived within four minutes of the call.

Sanchez suffered lacerations on her leg and thigh and required stitches for a cut on her arm. Villalobo had minor cuts on his head, lip and back, she said.

Meanwhile, Aragon remained pinned in front of her home.

Family members say emergency respondents didn't come prepared, lacking equipment that could've expedited the rescue.

"They were yanking her (Aragon) by the arm," said Eva Marie Candelaria, one of Aragon's grandchildren.

Emergency workers eventually cut apart the wooden table that pinned her, Candelaria said.

On Sunday afternoon, more than half a day after the crash, pieces of the table and bench still lay in front of the house like a bloodied jigsaw puzzle. Broken cinder block was strewn across the front yard, some of the pieces marked with dried blood.

A makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and photographs were placed amid the rubble where Aragon was trapped.

"She was a wonderful person," son Alvin Aragon said. "A wonderful mother."

His mother built the bench and table set she was pinned against, he said, along with the wooden fences on the side of her home.

Granddaughter Denise Baker said Aragon lived for her family.

"Life without one of her kids was not life," Baker said. "Family was everything."

She said she was devastated when she got the phone call that her grandmother had died.

"I could feel everything in my body leave," she said wearing a T-shirt stained with her grandmother's blood. "We were all in shock; it still hasn't settled in. We're still waiting for her to get up."

The most upsetting part for Baker and other family members was the way police treated them, she said.

Baker said police confiscated a camera one family member was using to photograph the crash scene.

She also said police called in the crash as "bravo," meaning injuries were minor, rather than "delta," which meant there were serious injuries. As a result, Baker said, the emergency crew was unprepared for what it found.

"Who's to say what would've happened if it was done properly," Baker said. "They were more concerned about getting the officer, who didn't have any injuries, out."

Walsh said Albuquerque police don't differentiate when they report a wreck with injuries.

A second officer arrived at the scene shortly after the crash and called for aid, Walsh said. "You couldn't have any faster response" than occurred, he said.

Walsh said the crash is under investigation by a team consisting of representatives from the Police Department, State Police, Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department and the District Attorney's Office.

Floyd has been put on paid administrative leave for 72 hours while the investigation is being conducted, he said.

Baker said the family is looking for an apology from the Police Department.

"We want some respect," she said. "They took her life and walked away like they did nothing wrong. . . . They're supposed to be there to serve and protect. Well, they didn't serve and protect her."

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