Vehicular homicide case ongoing

........................................................................................................................................................................................

The state's criminal case against vehicular homicide suspect Lonnie Dean will move forward no matter how federal officials decide to handle drug charges against him, according to 13th Judicial Deputy District Attorney Ron Lopez.

Lopez said state prosecutors are "waiting to see" what happens in the federal drug case against Dean, where authorities said he fled from Drug Enforcement Agency officers who had been conducting a drug investigation in Valencia County in May 2011.

Authorities said Dean crashed his red Ford Mustang into a silver Chrysler Sebring driven by Roberta Torres of Belen. Torres was taken from the scene of the crash near Don Felipe and Lopez roads in Belen to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Valencia County prosecutors are handling the vehicular homicide charges against Dean while federal prosecutors are managing the drug trafficking charges.

In the drug case, Dean was arrested on federal charges of assault on a federal officer and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

"If (the federal case) doesn't get resolved, we'll have no other choice but to go to trial," Lopez said.

Lopez said a plea deal could be offered before the next hearing date, which is scheduled for June 24.

During a hearing on Monday, Assistant District Attorney Bryan McKay said a plea deal has been offered to the defense in the case.

"It sounds like we have a plea," McKay said. "But a lot of it is counting on what the feds do."

District Court Judge Violet Otero said the Dean case would take priority over others since the process of getting him into court is lengthy.

State officials must work with the U.S. Marshal's Service to transport him to Valencia County for court hearings.

Lopez said the state has had to "jump through all kinds of hoops" to transport him to court.

"It's up to (U.S. Marshal's Service) total discretion on whether or not to bring him to court," Lopez said.

At the state level, Dean faces anywhere from probation to six years with the New Mexico Department of Corrections on the vehicular homicide charges if convicted.

According to Lopez, the federal case could bring "a lot more time" if Dean is convicted. He said the case is complicated since two jurisdictions, federal and state, are involved in the case.

Lopez said the state must go through the U.S. Department of Justice to get witnesses such as the DEA agents to testify in court.

Last January, a Valencia County Grand Jury indicted Dean on one count of vehicular homicide, one count of great bodily injury by vehicle and one count of aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer.

"It's complicated," Lopez said. "But we will continue with our case."


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.