No pedestrians were killed on Taos roadways in 2016, according to Taos Police records, and before 2017 wound its way to a close, town police say they were looking at another safe year – relatively speaking – with some pedestrians injured in vehicular accidents, but none fatally.
That changed late Friday night (Dec. 29), when a driver, Montana Valencia, 21, of Ranchos de Taos, struck and killed Amanda Marie Tafoya, a 29-year-old Peñasco woman, at the intersection of Paseo del Pueblo Sur and Paseo del Cañon West near the town’s southern boundary – the first and only such fatality of the year.
First responders were called to the scene of the accident just before 11 p.m.
Medical units and multiple law-enforcement agencies assisted in blocking the major Taos intersection, halting traffic in all directions of the four-way stop. Vehicles, including that of the driver who struck the woman, had pulled off to the shoulder. A crowd of people gathered at a Shell gas station across the street looked on as medics covered the body of the victim with a yellow blanket near the middle of the roadway.
Taos Police Chief David Trujillo said an investigation at the scene indicated that the driver was not intoxicated or speeding at the time of the accident.
“Based on statements from witnesses, the driver and the outcome of the crash investigation, the driver was not impaired and speed did not appear to be a contributing factor in the cause of the crash,” Trujillo said in a press release.
The woman who was killed, however, was wearing dark clothing and wasn’t carrying any personal identification, according to police, leading to a slight delay in identifying the victim. Trujillo said a toxicology report will be completed to see if Tafoya had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident. The results of the report may take as long as six weeks to come back.
For Taos police, other law enforcement and Taos County Emergency Services, whose medics frequently respond to crash scenes throughout the county, each accident can offer a moment to step back and examine how drivers and pedestrians can keep themselves and others safe on Taos roadways.
‘Be alert, especially when you’re in town’
“The advice that we would give to our motorists would be to stay vigilant out there,” Trujillo said, adding that winter and summer tourist seasons can be especially dangerous given the higher number of pedestrians.
Taos police officers often respond to calls from pedestrians complaining of near misses with vehicles driving carelessly, they say. Some of the reports are valid, Trujillo said, although others can indicate a greater need for pedestrians to know and follow the rules.
It’s not uncommon for pedestrians to be seen crossing roadways in Taos without using a crosswalk at all. But even when locals and visitors cross in between the boundaries of those broad white lines, it’s important to follow some basic guidelines, law enforcement says.
“If a car is right here, and I enter the crosswalk,” Trujillo said, gesturing to illustrate an example of a vehicle already within the lines, “it’s my fault as the pedestrian. I have to wait, make sure it’s OK, and then go.”
Lt. David Maggio explained that using a cell phone while walking can be a major distraction for pedestrians, who should be establishing eye contact with drivers before crossing a roadway. “You have to make it known that you’re going to enter a crosswalk,” he said. “The driver has to have knowledge that you’re going to cross, and you have to have knowledge that they see you.”
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe advised that pedestrians should take other steps to make themselves visible, especially when walking at night or when walking with children. “Wear brightly colored, visible clothing, and consider having, using a flashlight,” Hogrefe said. “When walking with children, position them farthest away from the traffic lane.”
And both agencies cited the basics many people learn as children – “always look both ways before crossing a roadway.”
Trujillo is compiling an annual report on crime and accident statistics to be unveiled at the next Taos town council meeting. Given Friday’s accident, roadway safety will likely figure as part of the discussion.