Police: Drugs found after fatal car chase

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

Police said cocaine and alcohol were found in a vehicle driven by a 25-year-old Portales man who was killed Sunday when he fled from police and crashed into a tree, according to a report released Wednesday.

Miguel Gutierrez-Ornelas died at the scene. His passenger, 30-year-old Celio Salazar, is listed in stable condition at a Lubbock hospital where he is awaiting reconstructive surgery, according to family.

One opened beer was found in the console between the driver and passenger, two unopened beers were found on the floor board in front of the passenger’s seat, two beer cans matching the brands found in the car were found along the road they had traveled and another opened beer can was found in the trunk, according to the report.

The report said a cellophane wrapper from a cigarette pack containing cocaine was also found in the center console of the crashed 2000 Plymouth sedan.

After seeing the vehicle drive erratically, a Portales police officer followed Ornelas’ vehicle at a speed of about 50 mph with his lights on, the report said.

In his report, officer Leslie Tibbs said Ornelas pulled away from him, accelerating and eventually crashing into a tree at the intersection of Maple Street and Avenue A.

Police said they will release a video from Tibbs’ onboard camera later in the week, but Wednesday they allowed a Freedom New Mexico reporter to view the footage.

In the video, activated when Tibbs turned on his emergency equipment, the car driven by Ornelas could not be seen — all that could be seen was a cloud of dust in the distance.

The officer was traveling through a cloud of dust when he came upon the crashed vehicle, stranded on a fence between two trees with heavy damage to its front end.

On the video, Tibbs could be heard calling for an ambulance immediately after getting out of his car and looking in the wrecked vehicle, reporting on the radio that the driver was unconscious.

Police have said Tibbs was trailing behind at a distance of around three to four blocks for about 30 seconds prior to the crash with his lights on.

Salazar has told family he begged Ornelas to pull over and doesn’t understand why he didn’t, according to Salazar’s sister, Anselma Navarrate, who was at the hospital with her brother Wednesday morning.

Navarrate said the morning of the wreck, Ornelas called her brother for a ride, so Salazar drove his girlfriend’s car to pick up Ornelas.

Salazar is having difficulty communicating because of his injuries and family is still trying to piece together exactly what happened, including why Ornelas was driving, she said.

“(My brother) just said he screamed at him and yelled at him to stop and they just crashed. After the crash he doesn’t remember anything, he just said (Ornelas) didn’t listen to him,” Navarrate said.

“He said he was going very fast… whenever they hit and then he doesn’t remember.”

Navarrate could not be reached for comment regarding the discovery of drugs and alcohol in the vehicle and efforts to reach Ornelas’ family Wednesday were also unsuccessful.

In a previous interview with the CNJ, Ornelas’ sister Luze Gutierrez said she didn’t know why her brother didn’t pull over but that police should not have chased him through a residential area.

Court records show Ornelas had received at least three citations in the last four years for driving without a license and had an outstanding warrant.

A bench warrant was issued Oct. 16 out of Portales Magistrate court after Ornelas failed to pay court costs on a May guilty plea for driving without a license. He was also cited for driving without a license Aug. 25 and in October 2004, court records show.

Capt. Lonnie Berry said Portales police are awaiting the results of a toxicology screening conducted in conjunction with the autopsy.

It will take a couple of weeks to receive results on alcohol levels in his system, longer for a drug screening, he said.

“(If stopped), he would have gone to jail based upon the warrant,” Berry said.

Portales police are conducting an investigation.

— Freedom New Mexico reporter Sarah Meyer contributed to this report.