A Bloomfield, New Mexico, man accused of crossing the centerline on U.S. Highway 160, west of Hesperus, and killing a 56-year-old woman was sentenced Wednesday to three years’ probation after pleading guilty to careless driving causing death.
Authorities say Donald Mills, 31, was headed west when he lost control of the box truck he was driving around 7:25 a.m. Dec. 26, 2018, hitting head-on a Ford Explorer with a family of four.
Tary Martinez of Cortez died as a result of her injuries. Her husband, Douglas Martinez, and two grandchildren, ages 5 and 8 at the time, were taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center with injuries.
The case was taken to trial in January, which resulted in a mistrial after the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision about whether to convict.
Another jury trial was scheduled to take place in October, but a plea agreement was reached that called for three years’ probation. Mills must also pay for two highway memorial signs at the scene of the crash, as well as pay court fees and restitution, which have not yet been determined. He is not allowed to consume alcohol or drugs during the course of probation.
Judge Dondi Osborne accepted the plea agreement Wednesday.
According to the crash investigation, Mills was traveling about 50 mph on the highway when he hit an icy spot that caused him to lose control of the vehicle. The Martinez family was traveling about 39 mph before the crash.
“Mr. Mills, you should have been driving that truck slower,” Osborne said. “You lost control ... took Tary Martinez’s life and changed the Martinezes’ (lives) forever. And that loss for the Martinezes is immeasurable.”
Deputy District Attorney William Baird, prosecuting the case, said the plea agreement made the most sense given the circumstances. Mills was not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash.
“It’s an understatement to say this is a tragedy,” Baird said.
Members of the Martinez family spoke at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. While ultimately supporting the plea agreement, they said they would have liked to see Mills receive jail time.
“We wanted a more severe punishment, but we need to move on,” Douglas Martinez said. “If he breaks (the terms of probation), I think he needs to do jail time.”
Mills’ defense attorney, Katie Whitney, said the plea agreement was a compromise for both sides.
“Not a day that’s gone by he hasn’t thought about the accident,” Whitney said. “It’s just awful all around.”
Mills chose not to make a statement to the court Wednesday.
The one issue Osborne did point out is Mills’ seemingly “callous” reaction to the crash and his actions that day. Mills reportedly told investigators he didn’t think he was breaking the law and the crash was nothing more than an accident.
“I understand you didn’t do this on purpose, but careless driving is a crime,” Osborne said. “You accept responsibility in the form of a guilty plea, but I’m unclear whether it’s in your heart.”
According to an obituary, Tary Martinez is survived by her husband, two sons and four grandchildren.