POSTED: 05:58 a.m. HST, Jan 19, 2012
FARMINGTON, N.M. >> A New Mexico man hogtied a suspected drunken driver accused of barely avoiding several head-on collisions on a stretch of highway that has recently become known for rampant drunken driving and traffic fatalities, authorities said.
Justin Canuto was seen driving southbound in the northbound lanes of U.S. 550 on Sunday night, the Farmington Daily Times reported. The 22-year-old pulled over next to a convenience store where he was confronted by several witnesses who had followed him into the store’s parking lot.
Canuto became belligerent and tried to run away, prompting another man to tackle and hogtie him before sheriff’s deputies arrived, San Juan County Sheriff’s Sgt. Al Jamison said. Canuto was later charged with drunken driving.
“They were all very adamant that they wanted something to happen,” Jamison said of the witnesses.
While deputies don’t recommend tying up suspected drunken drivers, no charges were filed against the man who tied Canuto.
“I think they were trying to save lives, and if you look at that intent, I’ll stand behind them every day,” Sheriff Ken Christesen said.
Canuto was arrested just hours after Navajo Nation, state and county officials met in Nageezi to discuss the problem of drunken driving along the stretch of U.S. 550 between Bloomfield and Cuba in the northwestern part of the state. A section of the road runs on the Navajo reservation.
Six people have died on the rural four-lane stretch of road in a six-week period, including three fatalities Jan. 1 in two unrelated mishaps.
The recent number of deaths prompted local law enforcement agencies to band together and ramp up patrols. Navajo Nation officials also joined the effort on Jan. 8 when they passed a number of resolutions calling for a better law enforcement presence in the area.
State officials have also been waging a yearslong battle against drunken driving. New Mexico was once notorious for having the highest number of DWI fatalities per capita, but the number of deaths has dropped 35 percent in recent years.
While that rate continued to drop last year, a rash of deadly accidents in November and continued reports of people being arrested multiple times for drunken driving has the governor pushing a series of legislative measures that include a statewide vehicle seizure program for those with more than one DWI arrest and increased penalties for repeat offenders.