One of two teenagers charged with engaging in a speed contest and reckless driving that caused a three-car crash on Main Street in Cortez Sept. 14 has pleaded guilty.
In exchange for a guilty plea, Clemeaton Benally, then 18, received a 24-month deferred judgment and must pay restitution, according to a plea deal with the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
If Benally does not violate any law other than minor traffic infractions, and complies with conditions of the plea deal, the guilty plea will be withdrawn and charges dismissed.
The restitution amount is tied to covering medical costs of victims injured in the crash, said Assistant District Attorney Will Furse.
As part of the plea deal conditions, Benally must complete a safe-driving course, and shall not drive without a valid and driver’s license. The restitution amount is pending.
The other defendant in the case, Kaleb Barkhurst, now 19, was also charged with engaging in a speed contest and reckless driving, and has entered a not guilty plea, according to court records. His trial is set for May.
According to police reports, on Sept. 14 Barkhurst and Benally were westbound on Main Street in separate lanes, when they allegedly entered into a speed contest.
Barkhurst’s BMW crossover slammed into the side of an eastbound Ford pickup at the intersection of Mildred Road and Main Street, and Benally’s Honda Sedan received a glancing blow in the crash.
The driver of the truck and two passengers in the BMW were transported to the hospital by ambulance, reported Cortez Police Department Lt. Andy Brock. A long skid mark was visible in the westbound lane of Main Street approaching the intersection. Brock said speeds were estimated to be 20 mph over the 35 mph speed limit.
The driver of the Ford truck with New Mexico plates was turning left on either a green arrow or a flashing yellow signal, Brock said, and was not cited because of the excessive speed factor of the oncoming cars.
Airbags deployed in the Ford and BMW vehicles, and debris was strewn across the intersection. First responders attended to three patients at the scene, including one on the lawn of the Cortez Welcome Center.
The pickup and BMW sustained significant damage, and the BMW caught fire.
Brock said civilians grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out and also pulled people from the car.
Conviction on engaging in a speed contest offense is a 12-point deduction against a driver’s license, Brock said. Reckless driving carries an 8-point deduction.