PUEBLO — “They were dead.”
Pueblo Police Officer Jeff Capito’s voice broke as he made that statement during a court hearing Monday afternoon regarding the April 28 crash that killed three Alamosa teens at the corner of Northern and Pueblo Boulevard.
It was one of the few times Monday when Capito’s voice faltered during an afternoon of questions bringing to his memory the scene of the two-vehicle collision that took the lives of Anisa Montoya, 18, Serina Sena, 14, and Selena Mascarenas, 14. Throughout more than two hours of questioning from prosecuting and defending attorneys in the case against Pueblo resident Gilbert Sanchez, 36, Officer Capito spoke clearly and definitively about what he observed when he arrived on the scene at about 9 p.m. that Saturday night. The DUI expert and trainer on the Pueblo police force was the first responder to what he described as a scene of carnage.
A silver quad-cab Dodge pickup, which Capito would learn was driven by Sanchez, had collided with a red Chevy Cobalt driven by Anisa Montoya, and all three occupants in the Chevy were killed. Two other young women lay in the street screaming, and vehicle debris was everywhere, Capito recalled during a motions hearing in front of Judge Thomas Flesher in the case against Sanchez, charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide in addition to other charges.
The hearing on Monday appeared to revolve around Capito’s handling of the defendant at the scene and afterwards when Capito took Sanchez into custody and transported him to St. Mary Corwin Hospital for medical examination and blood draws in connection with pending DUI charges.
Judge Flesher continued the motions hearing to Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 3:30 p.m.
On Monday, Officer Capito took the attorneys step by step through the evening’s events and his observations and assessments of Sanchez.
Officer Capito was en route to a report of a drunk driver in the vicinity of Goodnight Avenue and Pueblo Boulevard when he received the call about the two-vehicle crash at Pueblo and Northern, so he looked for the drunk driver vehicle on his way to the crash site, and not seeing the subject of the first call on his way there, responded to the serious accident at the intersection of Northern and Pueblo Blvd.
“There was a lot of vehicle debris,” Capito recalled. He saw a red car and silver truck which both seemed to be heavily damaged, he said.
The first victim he noted was a young female in the roadway with people around her. She obviously had a compound fracture, he said.
“She was screaming. She was in pain,” Capito said.
At least she was alive, Capito noted as he began moving through the debris to try to determine how many more victims there were and how seriously they might be injured. He said he wanted to be able to inform fellow officers and medical personnel when they arrived as to how to proceed.
Capito said he did not make it to the second person in the road before fire/rescue personnel arrived and began attending to that victim. He would learn the other victim in the roadway was a young woman who was in much more serious shape than the first girl he had encountered and would likely be flown out flight for life.
As Capito moved through the crash scene, people came up to him to tell him what they had seen and heard, he said. For example, some of the people on scene told Capito the pickup had been going at high rates of speed, ran a red light and was the cause of the crash. He asked the witnesses to remain until their statements could be recorded. One witness, Edwin Quintana, told Capito the driver of the pickup jumped into the back seat after the crash, and he believed the driver to be intoxicated.
Officer Capito headed towards the silver truck and on his way passed the Chevy, which was heavily damaged on the passenger side, he recalled.
“The two on the passenger side did not survive the impact,” he said.
The pickup that was involved in the collision sustained heavy front-end damage, Capito said. Still trying to determine who was injured and trying to sort out the details of the collision, the officer walked up to the truck and saw a man in the back seat. Capito testified he yelled into the vehicle but did not get a response, so he opened the truck door where the man was, but could only get it open about 45-degrees.
When Capito first asked Sanchez, who was the man in the rear passenger seat, if he was the driver, Sanchez said he was not. Then Sanchez said he was the driver of the pickup.
Capito asked Sanchez several questions at that point as part of his initial accident investigation, he testified, to see if he could recall what happened before impact. For example, he asked where he had been coming from when the accident occurred and if anyone else was with him in the pickup. Sanchez told Capito no one else was in the vehicle, and he had been driving from a friend’s house.
Capito said he was also trying to determine if Sanchez was all right, and he noticed some abrasions on Sanchez’s arms and his head. Subsequent information from the crash scene reconstruction and photographs showed that Sanchez apparently hit the windshield with his head.
Capito said he also observed that Sanchez’s face was flushed, his eyes bloodshot and glassy and his speech slurred, and he smelled an odor of alcohol, so he asked Sanchez if he had been drinking. Sanchez initially said he had drunk a “seven pack” but then clarified it had been seven beers, which he told the officer he had drunk over a period of hours because he knew how to pace himself.
At that point, fire/rescue personnel came up and began checking Sanchez out, so Capito left the truck and began giving directions to other officers who had arrived. The other officers began taking witness statements and setting up a perimeter around the collision.
During the course of his interactions with other officers Capito learned that the two girls in the roadway had been riding in the bed of the pickup at the time of the crash.
Officer Capito then went back to the truck, where Sanchez was still sitting in the back seat. Fire/rescue responders were in a triage mode at that point and told Capito that Sanchez was relatively OK, compared to other victims, that “Mr. Sanchez had the least of injuries of everybody involved.”
Capito said he forced the Dodge pickup’s door open to its full 90 degrees and asked Sanchez to step out. When he did, Capito noticed Sanchez was not wearing shoes and had some blood drops on his sweatpants. Capito also noticed that Sanchez was unsteady and using the truck to keep his balance as he emerged.
All of Capito’s observations of Sanchez led him to believe Sanchez’s driving had probably been impaired by alcohol, he testified on Monday. He said he did not make Sanchez go through the roadside maneuvers, however, because there was a big crowd nearby and he was concerned for Sanchez’s safety.
Instead, the officer placed Sanchez in custody in his patrol car on suspicion of DUI and concluded some of his on-site investigation and discussions with other officers on scene before returning to his patrol car.
Capito began to read Sanchez his Miranda rights, which include “you have the right to remain silent … you have a right to consult with an attorney …” when Sanchez said he wanted to talk to his attorney.
At that point, Capito testified he did not ask Sanchez any further questions but transported him to St. Mary Corwin Hospital where he advised him of the express consent to draw blood, and Sanchez agreed to have blood drawn.
Capito said three samples were drawn over a couple of hours, and he remained with Sanchez during that entire time. Capito explained that there is a method to extrapolate how much alcohol has been consumed by taking more than one blood sample over a period of time, so that is why he asked for three samples to be taken, and Sanchez agreed to that.
Sanchez’s blood alcohol levels were more than .2, which is significantly higher than the legal limit for DUI (driving under the influence). When questioned by defense about the blood alcohol levels, Capito said those were very high numbers and in an average person might present a risk of death but other factors might enter into it, such as metabolism and whether the person consumed a lot of alcohol on a frequent basis.
While the two were at the hospital, Capito said he did not ask Sanchez questions, but Sanchez asked him some questions such as what had happened and how his daughter was. His daughter was one of the girls riding in the pickup bed. Capito testified he answered Sanchez’s questions the best he could, with the information he had at the time. He did not know which victim was Sanchez’s daughter, but he told Sanchez at least three girls were dead as a result of the crash.
Capito testified Sanchez never asked about the victims in the other vehicle.
Capito said Sanchez asked him more than once what had happened, and Capito repeated the same answers. Capito said there were times of silence between them during this period, and then Sanchez would ask him something, and he would respond.
Also during this time, medical staff attended to Sanchez, for example taking an X-ray, Capito testified. Medical personnel later provided a release stating Sanchez’s injuries were minor enough he could be transported to jail without further treatment.
Capito also asked the identification unit to come to the hospital and photograph Sanchez’s visible injuries such as the abrasions.
Officer Capito testified Sanchez also told him he would not have to take this case to a trial because he would kill himself before putting his family through that. As a result, when Sanchez was transported to the Pueblo County Jail later that night, Capito asked for him to be put on suicide watch.
Sanchez also told Capito during the time they were at the hospital that he heard voices telling him to do bad things, and Capito told him that would be a matter for the courts and he did not need to play that game with him. Sanchez never brought that idea up again, Capito said.
Sanchez’s attorney asked Capito about a statement Capito had made regarding the apparent lack of regret on Sanchez’s part about the death of the three teens in the other vehicle. Capito said he based that statement on how most people react in a situation like that, with tears and apologies, and Sanchez did not exhibit those emotions.