A woman who says she witnessed the end of Saturday night’s police pursuit on Interstate 25 contends that the wrong-way driver did nothing to provoke being shot.
Helen Vargas, of Romeroville, told the Optic that she and her husband heard the commotion on the interstate and went to see what was happening.
State police have said in news releases and in court documents that the wrong-way driver, 72-year-old Albert Urban of Hamburg, N.Y., was shot after he “drove aggressively towards one of the officers.”
In a letter to the editor published in today’s edition, Vargas states that the shooting occurred in front of her house, and she adds that the allegation that Urban drove aggressively toward an officer “is absolutely wrong.”
Sgt. Damyan Brown, a state police spokesman, said the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
“The claims made by the couple in the letter received by you have not been corroborated,” Brown said in an emailed statement. “The New Mexico State Police conducts investigations that are transparent and factual in substance. By no means is anything ever hidden from the public. Upon the conclusion of this investigation, the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review and disposition.”
State police have identified the officer who shot Urban as Jonathan Wright, who has been with state police for two years. Wright has been placed on standard leave.
As of Wednesday, Urban was still at University of New Mexico Hospital in stable condition. Police say his injuries are not life-threatening.
Urban has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and one count of aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, all felony counts. His bond has been set at $100,000 cash.
Vargas said in an interview that she doesn’t know Urban but is speaking out because she wants the truth to come out.
Urban was driving northbound in the southbound lanes of Interstate 25 late Saturday night, and police have said he refused to pull over even after they caught up with him.
“He was being followed by four state police cars at a very low speed behind the minivan,” Vargas wrote. “We witnessed one of the patrol cars that was following get next to the minivan and shoot three shots. No PIT maneuver was done. Mr. Urban was not driving aggressively. We never saw the minivan drive towards the officers. They were behind him the whole time.”
Vargas added that the van went down the embankment when the shots were fired at the minivan.
It’s unclear why Urban was driving the wrong way on the interstate. State police have said he wasn’t lucid when they tried to interview him. According to police, Urban thought he was in Buffalo, N.Y.
“If this was a medical issue, Mr. Urban should have been helped, not shot,” Vargas states in her letter. “He was probably confused and afraid.”
Vargas’ version of events leading up to the shooting contradicts the criminal complaint filed in San Miguel County Magistrate Court on Monday.
According to that court document, Urban’s speed fluctuated but averaged about 60 miles per hour.
When Urban wouldn’t pull over, state police have said, officers were forced to deploy a tire deflation device and to use a PIT maneuver to stop him.
The court document states that the van rolled once but ended up on its wheels after the PIT maneuver was used.
“Officer Wright parked his unit in front of the Ford and exited his vehicle,” the court document states. “The (van’s) wheels spun as it accelerated towards Officer Wright’s unit. The Ford struck the front end of Officer Wright’s unit, pushing it back approximately one foot.
“Officer Wright discharged his firearm, striking the (van’s) driver, Albert Urban.”
According to the court document, officer Raymond Montoya “reported that he feared for his life and was going to shoot the (van’s) driver but did not because Officer Wright fired and the action stopped.”
Vargas said she and her husband met with the state police investigator handling the case to let him know what they witnessed, and she said the investigator didn’t seem to believe them.