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Homicide charge dropped against Ambien driver

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Police and firefighters inspect one of five vehicles involved in the May 18, 2015, fatal crash in downtown Roswell. (RPD Photo)

Assistant DA calls judge’s ruling ‘a sad situation’

Charges against a Roswell man previously accused of homicide by a vehicle in 2015 have been dropped per a Chaves County judge’s order in late-October.

On June 28, 2017, a criminal complaint filed against 68-year-old Orlando Padilla alleged that he caused a five-vehicle crash that occurred on May 18, 2015, in downtown Roswell, which led to the death of 77-year-old Zora Lykins.

“The case is pretty clear about what happened and what we alleged with the driver,” explained assistant district attorney Michael Thomas, who prosecuted the case. “The first vehicle was going towards a red light, a light that was changing from green to red.

“They didn’t look like they were slowing down, and then they slowed down to stop for the light. The vehicle behind them didn’t slow down and ran into them. The lady who was injured wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, and was thrown forward in the vehicle and suffered serious injuries. I mean, I believe she broke her neck, and she was never able to recover after going to the hospital.”

Roswell Police officer Benjamin Lankasky later received consent from Padilla at a hospital to receive a blood sample.

Months later, authorities received blood results from Padilla, confirming that he had Ambien, a sleep aid, within his bloodstream at the time of the crash.

Padilla

Thomas said the sleep aid in Padilla’s blood was at “therapeutic levels.”

“Which is at the level that, if you took at it the way the doctor prescribed you to take it, he had an amount in his body (where) the Ambien (was) doing what it’s supposed to,” Thomas said.

Thomas added that Rong-Jen Hawang, Ph.D., explained the Ambien found in Padilla’s blood to the court, along with how sleep aids affect people.

After the charges were filed against Padilla on June 28, an investigating RPD officer attempted to make contact with him the same day. While the officer was initially unsuccessful, they were able to make contact with his adult son, who was informed of the warrant and asked to tell his father to turn himself in.

Padilla turned himself in to authorities five days later, where he was booked into the Chaves County Detention Center and released on a $5,000 bond.

While district Judge James M. Hudson signed off on the criminal complaint to issue the arrest warrant and the charges, the case was assigned to Judge E. J. Fouratt in magistrate court.

Padilla was charged with a homicide by vehicle DWI charge, a third-degree felony, and a second offense of driving while under the influence of drugs, a misdemeanor.

While the complaint states sufficient probable cause exists against Padilla, Fouratt determined otherwise.

Assistant DA Thomas said after the judge heard all of the evidence against Padilla, Fouratt disagreed with the finding of probable cause.

“We were kind of set back by the judge’s finding, but — and I know he’s not going to comment either,” Thomas said. “The judge doesn’t really announce the reasons for his findings — he just tells us what his finding is.”

On Oct. 24, a preliminary hearing was held for Padilla, which included more evidence against Padilla than what was mentioned within his criminal complaint.

“The complaint really just outlines the basic charges and allegations,” Thomas said. “But the state has to present all of its evidence — enough to show probable cause at the preliminary hearing.”

Following the hearing, Chaves County Magistrate Judge E. J. Fouratt discharged Padilla of the homicide by vehicle count.

In addition, the DWI count was dismissed.

“It was pointed out by the defense attorney that it was beyond the statute of limitations for the misdemeanor to be charged,” Thomas explained. “They have two years they have to be charged within — and this case happened a little over two years ago.”

Thomas said in this case, there’s nothing more the DA’s office can do.

“We can only charge again if we had new evidence, but to my knowledge, there’s nothing out there that we could learn or get that would allow us to refile the charges,” Thomas said. “We don’t get to take another crack at it.”

Thomas said Tim Lykins was the main family member of Zora Lykins he had been working with.

Thomas said he knew Tim was disappointed with the conclusion the court had reached.

In a letter to the editor, the Lykins family said “someone dropped the ball.”

“The Lykins family would like to voice their discontentment in the lack of abilities of the privileged parties that were responsible in safeguarding the evidence,” the family said. “As for the defendant whom was set free, we can only pray that he takes advantage of the ‘lottery ticket’ he has been awarded in hopes he does not take for granted the time that has been restored to him and his family.”

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.