State police: Officer not at fault

By Jared Tucker: PNT staff writer

State police say a Portales police officer who rolled his car responding to a call Saturday was not at fault in the crash.

State police Capt. Jimmy Glascock said Tuesday the state agency would recommend to magistrate court that Officer Lee Ferguson be cited for not wearing a seat belt.

Ferguson suffered minor injuries after rolling his vehicle while swerving to avoid another vehicle on U.S. 70 near Wal-Mart.

Glascock said the driver of the other vehicle, 75-year-old Ramon Paiez of Portales, would be cited for failure to yield.

“The driver … had an obligation to yield at the stop sign and he didn’t. That was the major contributing factor to the accident,” said Glascock, noting Paiez told officers on scene he didn’t see the police cruiser.

Ferguson was enroute to what initially was broadcast as the kidnapping of a child.

After reviewing dash-cam video on the police car and comparing it to evidence at the scene, Glascock said officers estimated 60 mph might have been the minimum speed Ferguson was traveling when he crashed. The speed limit in the area is 45 mph.

According to police records, Ferguson has been involved in two other on-duty collisions, one as a Portales police officer on Oct. 12, 2008, and one on Jan. 4, 2007, when Ferguson was working for the village of Melrose.

Ferguson received a citation for failure to yield in the Melrose accident, and was given a deferred sentence and a $55 fine, according to court records. The charge of failing to obey traffic control devices in the Oct. 12, 2008, accident was dismissed when the prosecuting officer failed to appear in court.

Ferguson, who declined comment on Tuesday, was released from the hospital Saturday and is back at work. Portales Deputy Police Chief Lonnie Berry said Ferguson’s duties have not changed as a result of the car accident. Paiez could not be reached for comment.

Berry said he commends Ferguson for avoiding the Paiez vehicle and preventing a more serious accident.

Berry added, however, that he has concerns about Ferguson’s driving history.

“I only have so many vehicles available for my officers to drive,” said Berry.

Berry declined comment on any possible administrative action.

Berry said an insurance payoff on the police cruiser likely won’t be enough to replace it. He said the department may ask Paiez’s insurance company to pay the difference since investigators have decided he caused the crash.