A Durango man with three previous drunken driving offenses was sentenced Friday to two years in jail and 10 years of probation for running over two pedestrians while driving drunk.
Cruz Baca, 39, apologized to his victims and asked for forgiveness. He said he was forced to look in the mirror, and he didn’t like what he saw. He hopes the community can see him for more than his mistakes.
“I am very sorry for what my mistakes have caused,” Baca said.
Baca faced up to 12 years in prison after being convicted by a jury in June on four counts: vehicular assault while driving drunk, leaving the scene of an accident, careless driving and misdemeanor assault.
District Judge William Herringer gave Baca the maximum possible sentence without sending him to prison. It was a difficult decision for the judge – one that took him several minutes to announce on the record. Herringer said he wanted to send Baca to prison, but he doesn’t believe Baca is an ongoing danger to the community, and prison won’t make him a better person. Instead, the judge wanted Baca to serve two years at the La Plata County Jail with work-release, meaning he can maintain a job and that will allow him to pay restitution to the victims.
Despite the judge’s leniency, it is possible Baca will be resentenced in coming weeks. Baca has three previous drunken driving offenses from more than 10 years ago in New Mexico. He apparently has a probation violation stemming from one of those offenses, and it is possible a warrant has been issued for his arrest. If that is the case, Baca won’t be eligible for work-release, and Judge Herringer said he would resentence Baca to the department of corrections.
The incident occurred about 2:10 a.m. Oct. 16 in the crosswalk on College Drive near East Second Avenue. Baca was driving his 2001 gold Toyota Tundra west when he failed to slowdown for about eight pedestrians in the crosswalk.
He struck two of them – Darby Hamer and Alan “Damon” Balfour – who were crossing from north to south. Hamer suffered a fractured pelvis and a gash to her forehead that required 10 stitches. Balfour suffered road rash to his back and a knee injury.
After the impact, Baca continued driving west on College Drive, turning right on Main Avenue or Camino del Rio.
Witnesses provided a vehicle description and partial license plate number of the pickup. Dispatchers researched the partial license plate number and found a possible match for a pickup belonging to Baca.
Police went to Baca’s house and found the Toyota Tundra with front-end damage in the parking lot. A piece of headlight casing found at the crash scene matched a piece missing from Baca’s truck. They also found a smeared hand print on the hood of the truck, a mirror that was pushed in and dust removed around the area of damage, as if it had been wiped clean.
Police knocked on Baca’s apartment door for several minutes until he answered. Baca had blood-shot eyes and an odor of alcohol on his breath. He denied hitting pedestrians on his way home from 8th Avenue Tavern.
During an interview with police, Baca on five occasions denied hitting pedestrians. But during his four-day trial, his Durango lawyer, Katie Whitney, conceded Baca hit the pedestrians.
Baca was taken into custody immediately after Friday’s sentencing hearing.