LANL worker describes dogged effort to get DWI suspect off the road
By Jason Auslander | The New Mexican
Rudy Polaco said he tried three times to help stop a suspected drunken wrong-way driver on U.S. 84/285 early Saturday before he succeeded.
"I was thinking of the next driver to come over that hill," Polaco said. "It's always the innocent ones who die."
Polaco was heading home to Santa Fe from his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, driving south out of Pojoaque in the center lane, when a bashed-up car with no headlights came toward him in the far left lane, he said.
Polaco flashed his lights and honked his horn to no avail, then U-turned across the highway median into the northbound lanes and sped up so he was in front of the car, which, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department, was driven by Trinidad Montaño of Española. Polaco then drove back across the median to cut off Montaño's car, which Polaco said wasn't traveling fast.
The 26-year-old Montaño got out of his car. Polaco said he stopped several feet from Montaño and began talking to him. "I was asking him, 'Are you OK? Is everything all right?' " said Polaco, 59. "I was trying anything I could to keep him in a friendly place."
Polaco walked over to Montaño's car to find the keys so he couldn't leave while at the same time trying to talk to the 911 operator on his cell phone. At that point, another driver had stopped, and Polaco yelled at the man to give him a hand.
The man ran over, and Polaco asked him to help find Montaño's car keys. Polaco said he was still on his phone when he heard Montaño's car start up and take off, dragging the other man. At that point, all Polaco could think of was the story of a man who had stopped to help a pregnant woman who'd been run over by her boyfriend near Hernández in April, and was struck and killed by the boyfriend's car.
Fortunately, the man Saturday was only dragged about 10 feet and was able to roll clear of the car, Polaco said. So he jumped back into his car and again cut off Montaño a short distance away in the middle of the southbound lanes of the highway, Polaco said.
At that point, Montaño got out of his car with an attitude, Polaco said. Montaño assumed a fighting stance and began kicking at the other man with karate-style kicks, Polaco said.
"I saw another vehicle coming, and we were in the middle of the road, so I said, 'Let's get him over to the median,' " Polaco said.
Polaco grabbed Montaño from behind while the other man got Montaño's feet, and together they dragged him to the median, where the men sat on him until deputies arrived a few minutes later, Polaco said. While Montaño was on the ground, he kept swinging and kicking at the men and punctured the top of Polaco's hand with his keys.
"I kept saying, 'Son, just settle down and everything will be OK,' " Polaco said. "I guess he was just in a fighting mood."
A message left for the other man who stopped to help Polaco was not returned Monday.
Montaño had been driving north in the northbound lanes of the highway before he turned around at Buffalo Thunder Road in Pojoaque, where he struck a bridge barrier, which accounted for the damage to his car and headlights, Sheriff Greg Solano said. Montaño got back on U.S. 84/285 and started driving north in the southbound lanes, the sheriff said.
Deputies later found a pipe with marijuana residue in Montaño's car and said he reeked of alcohol, Solano said. Montaño's breath-alcohol content was not available Monday because a blood sample was taken, and results weren't immediately available, the sheriff said.
Montaño pleaded no contest to driving while intoxicated in August in Sandoval County Magistrate Court, according to online court records. He pleaded no contest to aggravated DWI in July 2003 in Rio Arriba County Magistrate Court, records state.
He was charged with DWI, leaving the scene of an accident, driving with a suspended or revoked license, having no registration, having no insurance, possessing drug paraphernalia and reckless driving in Saturday's incident.
Polaco, who lives in Cuyamunge, said he was glad he encountered Montaño in a relatively flat area of Pojoaque where he could see him. If he had come upon him only a few minutes later, he might have met him on the crest of the hill, where the speed limit goes from 45 mph to 65 mph, and the meeting might have been far worse.
"I thought, 'I could have run into him,' " he said. "Just one person dying is one too many."
Contact Jason Auslander at 986-3076 or firstname.lastname@example.org.