By Ryan Boetel
The Daily Times, Farmington, N.M.
FARMINGTON — A man charged with vehicular homicide was accidentally released from the San Juan County Detention Center last week.
Joe Gallegos, 44, was released from jail July 15. He hasn't returned, and Chief District Judge John Dean issued a warrant for his arrest on Tuesday afternoon. If he is again booked into jail, Dean said he will be held without bond.
Jail staff released Gallegos because they thought charges against him had been dismissed, said Tom Havel, the administrator of the detention center.
On July 12, prosecutors dismissed a heroin possession against Gallegos.
But he is still charged with homicide by vehicle, knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing great bodily harm or death, trafficking a controlled substance, aggravated drunken driving, careless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia and reckless driving, according to court records.
"It's embarrassing," Havel said. "The responsibility falls on me. I'm the administrator, and I take full responsibility."
Havel said the jail has a new computer system that attributed to the error. Jail staff saw the heroin charge was dismissed but didn't notice Gallegos was facing several other charges.
"It's a reason, but it's not an excuse," Havel said. "I just want him to get back in the facility and make sure he gets his day in court."
Cosme Ripol, Gallegos' attorney, told Dean on Tuesday that Gallegos will turn himself in on Wednesday. Ripol said Gallegos was attending his mother's funeral, who died about the same time Gallegos was released.
"He did authorize me to inform the court that he is getting his mother buried, and he will turn himself in tomorrow, tomorrow evening by the latest," Ripol said.
Ripol said he has never had a client be accidently released from jail.
"My understanding is a jailer walked in and told him, 'Get your stuff, you're outta here,' and my client said, 'What? What?'" Ripol said. "About an hour after he was released, I got a call from the jail and they said he was accidently released. But I didn't have a way to get a hold of him. It's been a 'Keystone Cops' sort of affair."
Gallegos, who was a contract driver for The Daily Times, is accused of running over a San Juan County woman while he was high on narcotics.
On Oct. 24, 2012, Gallegos made a left turn onto Court Avenue from Main Street. He struck Delandra Pioche, 32, at about 5:15 p.m., police said.
Witnesses told police that Pioche was thrown into the air and then run over and dragged about 30 feet before the vehicle came to a stop, according to court documents.
She died at the scene.
Gallegos allegedly fled east after the crash and was arrested at a nearby mobile home. Police said he failed field sobriety tests, and he was in possession of large amounts of heroin and cocaine, though the heroin possession charge was dismissed.
Gallegos has a prior conviction for vehicular homicide. He was convicted of vehicular homicide in April 2004 in Estancia District Court, according to a state court website.
In that case, Gallegos was drunken driving and crashed in Torrance County. His passengers — his 28-year-old half-brother, Manuel Ruiz, and a 49-year former superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools, Joseph Vigil — were killed in the crash, according to news reports.
Gallegos was released from prison in March 2011.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 The Daily Times