Serving the High Plains

Ambulance totaled in wreck

The Tucumcari City Commission during an emergency meeting Wednesday accepted a proposal to buy a new ambulance after a county deputy's vehicle two days earlier crashed into and totaled its only well-working ambulance.

Tucumcari Police ticketed the deputy after the crash, and the sheriff placed him on administrative leave, pending an internal investigation.

The commission's emergency meeting agenda stated three of the city's ambulances were "out of commission" and "the City needs to purchase another to continue to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Tucumcari and Quay County."

City manager Mark Martinez explained during the meeting that two other city ambulances were in the shop, awaiting repairs. He said that leaves the city with one ambulance, which he acknowledged was "having issues" mechanically, and another ambulance borrowed from San Jon.

Martinez said the ambulance fleet contains models as old as 2001, with up to 206,000 miles. He said from March 2020 to Sept. 8, city ambulances had answered more than 1,700 calls and transported nearly 650 patients - both numbers that had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said city ambulances are obligated to serve not only Tucumcari and Quay County, but portions of San Miguel and Guadalupe counties.

Martinez said the proposal includes a letter to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration to request a disbursement of money, instead of reimbursement, to buy a new, demonstration model Ford ambulance from Siddon-Martin Emergency Group of Albuquerque for $255,663. Demo models typically have fewer than 2,000 miles.

Martinez said the emergency meeting was needed so he could act quickly on procuring the vehicle before another entity buys it.

City commissioners voiced satisfaction with Martinez's plan.

"Let's get us an ambulance," Commissioner Christopher Arias said.

Commissioner Ralph Moya credited the governor's office with helping expedite the city's request to DFA. Martinez agreed, saying it was "a great team effort."

After the meeting, Martinez said in a best-case scenario, the city could have its new ambulance in service within one to two months. He said it takes time to outfit the vehicle with the needed equipment.

Otherwise, he said, the city could wait 12 to 13 months before taking delivery on such a vehicle.

Reached by phone Friday, Martinez said the city had secured the purchase of the demo-model ambulance and submitted the necessary documents to the vendor. He expressed optimism the city would begin using that vehicle in a shorter time frame than the two months he previously estimated.

Martinez also said paperwork for the Department of Finance and Administration grant was accepted late Wednesday, and the city commission would decide whether to approve that agreement during its next regularly scheduled meeting Thursday.

Martinez said he also is in talks with the state to secure a second new ambulance for the city.

Calling an emergency meeting allowed the city to forego its usual 72-hour notification time, but officials must notify the New Mexico Attorney General's Office of the action taken and reasons for the emergency meeting within 10 days. The Quay County Sun received a notice of the emergency meeting the same morning it was scheduled.

The accident

According to a Tucumcari Police Department crash report obtained by the Quay County Sun, the accident occurred at 4:03 p.m. Sept. 13 at Tucumcari Boulevard and First Street.

The drivers were identified as sheriff's deputy Tyler Evan Davis, 27, and emergency medical technician Elspeth Tesu Aspelin, 27, both of Tucumcari.

Tucumcari Police Sgt. Shaun Slate wrote in his report that Davis said he was responding, with his vehicle's lights and siren operating, to a traffic accident on Interstate 40 and was going east on Tucumcari Boulevard behind another sheriff's vehicle that turned south onto First Street.

Davis continued going east and "estimated his speed to be 55 mph and as he entered the intersection, he did not see the ambulance. By the time he saw it all he could do is brace for impact."

Aspelin told Slate she was driving the ambulance, with its lights and sirens activated, south on First Street to a vehicle crash,. She said she slowed near Tucumcari Boulevard and just before entering the intersection, the traffic-control light turned green. Aspelin estimated her speed to be no more than 30 mph.

She said she never saw the sheriff's vehicle until it crossed in front of her. Fire chief Casey Mackey, a passenger in the ambulance, gave Slate a similar recollection of the crash. According to the report, the ambulance was three-fourths of the way through the intersection when the collision occurred.

Three people, including two inside the nearby La Cita restaurant, told Slate they saw the accident.

Slate wrote that evidence from the scene stated the ambulance had right of way at the intersection and that the driver of the sheriff's vehicle "is the cause of the crash."

Davis was issued a citation for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle by summons through Quay County magistrate court.

Sheriff Russell Shafer stated in an email Thursday that Davis is on administrative leave pending further investigation by his office.

"A review of the policy and procedures for emergency vehicle operation is being conducted on whether or not they were followed and what action were taken that led up to the crash," Shafer wrote. "Deputy Davis will remain on administrative leave pending the conclusion. At the conclusion of the Internal investigation I will present the findings to Deputy Davis."

Shafer said the investigation should be completed this week.

According to a law incident report by the sheriff, Davis was given a drug and alcohol test after the crash. Both results were negative.

The sheriff also stated that both parties suffered minor injuries from the crash.

"... All involved are doing good with only minor bumps, bruises and sore muscles," he wrote.

Both vehicles were listed in the report as sustaining heavy damage and required towing from the scene.