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Judge dismisses case against former senator

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Former state Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, pictured standing at the lectern at a full City Council meeting last November. A judge Thursday granted a motion by Jenningss attorney, asking that a case against him be dismissed with prejudice, meaning the charges can not be refiled. (Alison Penn Photo)

A judge granted a motion Thursday made by an attorney for former state Sen. Timothy Jennings, D-Roswell, to dismiss a case against the former legislator for failing to immediately report a vehicle accident to law enforcement.

Buddy Hall, a magistrate judge from De Baca County who heard the case Thursday during a motion hearing in Chaves County Magistrate Court, granted the motion by the defense to dismiss the case with prejudice — meaning charges can not be refiled. Hall was designated to hear the case after Chaves County Magistrate Court judges E.J. Fouratt and K.C. Rogers recused themselves from the case.

Hall said in granting the motion that Jennings probably did not do what he was supposed to do on the night of Jan. 30 when he rolled his SUV into a drainage ditch near Cottonwood Lane and Brasher Road, but agreed there was not enough evidence to move forward.

Jennings — who represented New Mexico Senate District 32 from 1978 to 2013 — had been charged with failure to give immediate notice of accidents.

When deputies arrived, they did not see anyone at the scene of the accident and began searching for Jennings, whom the vehicle was registered to. Deputies later found Jennings when they went to his house that night, and he admitted to not having called them when his car got stuck in a ditch after he swerved to miss a mountain lion.

At Thursday’s hearing, B.J. Crow, Jennings’ attorney, motioned for the court to dismiss the case due to a lack of full discovery — the procedure where all parties in a case have access to evidence before a trial.

Full discovery in this case would include photos or video of the damage, as well as statements from witnesses and body shop estimates on how much it would cost to repair the vehicle, Crow said.

Crow said he had been told by Andres Salas, a deputy with the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, that no photos, body camera footage or body shop estimates existed.

The New Mexico statute Jennings was charged under states that a driver in a vehicle accident that results in death or bodily injury to a person, or property damage of $500 or more must immediately report the accident to law enforcement.

Because there were no deaths or bodily injuries as a result of the incident, the question if there was a crime hinged on whether the state could prove there was an accident and whether there was damage in excess of $500.

Hall disputed there was an accident, stating no other vehicles were involved and no other property was harmed.

“And getting your vehicle stuck in a ditch is not an accident,” Crow said.

He added there was no credible evidence to suggest Jennings’ vehicle sustained $500 or more in damage, or that any damage to the vehicle was caused by the Jan. 29 incident.

Andres Salas, a Chaves County deputy who was at the hearing and had been at the scene when the vehicle was discovered, admitted to the court that no video or pictures of the vehicle damage existed.

Salas said there was other evidence though, such as testimony from another deputy who was at the scene that could support the case against Jennings. The deputy added that when Jennings was questioned by deputies hours after the incident, he had admitted to not calling deputies to inform them about the incident.

An expert in auto body repair could access the vehicle and determine how much damage was done to it, Salas said.

Crow said it was too late to have someone determine how much damage was done to the vehicle because the vehicle is no longer in the condition that it had been on the night in question.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.