Civil case moving from 7th District


The plaintiff in a civil lawsuit involving the death of a woman who was trapped and died in the trunk of her car removed the case from the Seventh Judicial District Court in Socorro.

The plaintiff removed the lawsuit from the district because three district court judges — Matthew Reynolds, Kevin Sweazea and Edmund Kase — recused themselves from it.

The lawsuit charged that the city of Socorro, the Socorro Police Department and several individuals in local law enforcement and dispatch should be held responsible for the wrongful death of Mary Theresa Saiz.

That trial will have to wait though. The lawsuit has not found a district in which to be heard yet. Michael Griego, the lawyer for the plaintiff, Janice Blevins, who serves as the personal representative for Saiz, could not be reached for comment. The lawsuit alleges that dispatcher Guadalupe Tarango received a “frantic” 9-1-1 call from Saiz on June 8, 2010. She was “crying, screaming and begging for help and rescue from the trunk of her green Dodge Neon.”

Saiz told Tarango her cell phone was about to die, but he kept her on the line, effectively wasting the remaining battery life of her phone.

Saiz told him the contact information and description of John Hayden, who was convicted last year for her death, and the description of her car. She also told him the contact information of her parents.

In the gathering of this information, Tarango failed to handle the dispatch in a “professional, courteous and timely manner,” the lawsuit claims.

Tarango then told officers that Saiz was “possibly” trapped in the car’s trunk and that she had “refused” to pick up her cell phone when attempts to reach her had been made, according to allegations made in the lawsuit.

Tarango then contacted Socorro Police Officer Stanley Montano, who was on duty at 7 a.m. that day.

Officer Montano received the dispatch that Saiz was locked in her trunk and that a suspect, John Hayden, had been named. He spoke to Hayden, who admitted to having an argument with Saiz earlier that morning and that he had crashed into her car around 4 a.m. No arrest was made.

After his shift was over, the lawsuit alleges, Officer Montano “abandoned the search” and “went home.” He told Officer Bobby Aragon, who was also on duty that morning, about the dispatch call.

Aragon “did not make the search for Mary Theresa Saiz a priority and then at the end of his shift went home,” according to allegations made in the lawsuit.

That same morning, Socorro Police Capt. Lawrence Montano listened to the recording of Saiz’s 9-1-1 call, believing the “desperate” call to be a prank, according to the lawsuit’s allegations. Montano also “made no effort to initiate an intense or comprehensive search” for Saiz, the lawsuit alleges.

He did not make calls to off-duty officers to come in to assist with the search and he did not contact Police Chief George Van Winkle or Assistant Police Chief Mike Winders.

The lawsuit claims Montano also did not contact Saiz’s family or put resources into investigating Hayden.

Socorro Police Sgt. Gilbert Padilla, who came in to work at 2 p.m. (seven hours after dispatch received the 9-1-1 call from Saiz) for a regular shift, served as supervisor for the Saiz case after listening to the dispatch call and meeting with her parents. Allegedly, Padilla made no effort to find Saiz or arrest Hayden.

The lawsuit also claims that Socorro Police Capt. Angel Garcia, who came in the same time as Padilla, “did nothing on his shift to search for Mary Theresa Saiz” despite being aware of the situation. “Garcia went home at the end of his shift,” according to the lawsuit.

Sgt. Richard Lopez, who was on duty at 8 a.m., called Verizon, Saiz’s cell phone provider, at 10:30 p.m. on June 8 in an attempt to track her call, since Saiz’s cell phone had died earlier while the dispatcher had her on the line and the police were unable to track her phone, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that these six officers “negligently failed to respond to an emergency” and “failed to exercise care ordinarily exercised by reasonably prudent officers in similar circumstances.”

These alleged failures resulted in the death of Saiz, according to the lawsuit.

Because of her death, Saiz’s parents lost their primary caregiver. Saiz lived with her parents a majority of the time, as well as had her own residence, and cooked, cleaned and drove them to doctor appointments.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Socorro Police Department failed to respond to the 9-1-1 call in an appropriate manner, that its officers were not trained properly and that its officers did not conduct themselves professionally.

Assistant Police Chief Mike Winders said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Also, the city of Socorro, the lawsuit alleges, was “negligent in its delay of the upgrade” to dispatch equipment that would have allowed the police to trace Saiz’s phone call and find her location.

Hayden was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery. He was sentenced to serve 4 1/2 years in prison.