CNJ staff writer: Sharna Johnson
A Portales man died Sunday morning when the car he was driving crashed into a tree while police were trying to pull him over, according to Portales police.
Miguel Gutierrez Ornelas, 25, died at the scene, according to a police press release. A passenger in the car, Celio Salazar, 30, was airlifted to a Lubbock hospital. Salazar was listed in serious but stable condition Monday afternoon, Portales police Capt. Lonnie Berry said.
Patrol officer Leslie Tibbs saw the 2000 Plymouth sedan Ornelas was driving veer off the roadway as it was heading east on Spruce Street about 7:40 a.m., police said.
When Tibbs turned around to conduct a traffic stop, Ornelas accelerated and turned onto Avenue A, running two stop signs before hitting a tree, according to a Portales police news release.
It was about 30 seconds from the time Tibbs turned and began following Ornelas until the crash occurred, Berry said.
Tibbs was not sure how fast he was going and a speed has not been calculated for Ornelas, Berry said.
It’s about five blocks from the intersection of Avenue A and Spruce to the crash scene on the corner of Maple Street.
“We know they were going fast, that’s not a question,” Berry said.
Luze Gutierrez, Ornelas’ sister, said she does not know where her brother was going on Sunday morning and the family is seeking answers to multiple questions.
“Who knows what was on his mind at that time. He must have gotten scared. … (But) there was no reason for the police to chase somebody,” she said.
“It was in a residential (neighborhood). My opinion is they could’ve gotten his license plate (number), they could’ve gotten him (another way) but he was chased. They could’ve taken more lives. … We’re just in shock.”
Portales police are conducting an investigation and two crash experts from the department will be involved in reconstructing the crash, Berry said.
Berry said police have video from a camera in Tibbs’ vehicle that should have been activated when Tibbs turned on his emergency lights.
District Attorney Matt Chandler said his office was notified of the crash and, though not directly involved, will be kept abreast of the investigation.
“It’s my understanding that the safety pursuit act and the department’s policies were followed, but the investigation is still ongoing,” Chandler said.
Chandler said the criminal aspects of the investigation are moot because of the fatality.