A Roswell woman was convicted of vehicular homicide in District Court on Friday in connection with a head-on collision just north of Portales in July 2001 that took the life of a Ruidoso mother of two.
Deanna Willis, 29, a single mother of four sons, faces a maximum penalty of six years in prison after a Portales jury found her guilty during a three-day trial in the Ninth Judicial District Court.
Don Hoover, whose 40-year-old wife Deborah was killed in the accident, thought the verdict was just.
“DWI is a huge problem in New Mexico and has to be dealt in this way,” he said. “The right thing happened today.”
According to prosecutors, Willis drove south in the northbound lanes of U.S. 70 for about 2 1/2 miles before hitting a vehicle driven by Don Hoover head-on. Willis entered the divided four-lane highway that connects Portales and Clovis from State Route 202.
The Hoovers were driving from their Ruidoso home to visit relatives in Oklahoma when the crash happened, reports indicate.
Prosecutors said Willis had been drinking just prior to the accident. To support that argument, they pointed to a blood-alcohol content of .05 — taken four hours after the collision. The state said a process known as retrograde extrapolation that is used to estimate prior levels of alcohol in the blood proved Willis had a blood-alcohol level of between .09 and .13 at the time of the accident.
The legal blood-alcohol limit in New Mexico is .08.
“How can we say that driving down the wrong side of the road for 2.7 miles, with people honking horns and flashing lights at her, is not a willful disregard for the safety of others?” said Assistant District Attorney Andrea Reeb, pointing to one of the definitions for vehicular homicide.
During his closing statements, defense attorney Doug Jones-Witt said his client turned into the wrong lane on account of unfamiliarity with the area. He concentrated on the question of Willis’ sobriety and pointed out that she had passed a field sobriety test at the scene.
“They know they’ve got a problem with retrograde extrapolation. It’s not an exact science. It’s guesswork,” Jones-Witt said. “They know they didn’t do the blood test in time, they know my client passed a field sobriety test. Doubt is infused in the state’s case; inherent in the state’s case.”
Reeb said while Willis’ sentence could be as much as six years for the third-degree felony, District Judge Ted Hartley also had the option of putting the defendant on probation at sentencing.