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Kill two, maim two, pay $125 fine

In a surprise move, a youth who killed two motorcyclists and maimed their passengers when he crossed the center line and hit them in New Mexico has pleaded "no contest" to charges related to the crash.

His penalty?

A $125 fine.

Gerald Bailon, then 15 years old, was driving a pickup truck alone on a learner's permit near Taos, New Mexico, on May 30, 2004 when his truck crossed the center line and hit a motorcycle ridden by Leslie Walker, 59, of Colorado, killing him. Walker's passenger, Kathleen Pullara, lost her left leg below the knee as a result of the crash.

Timothy Searles, 41, and his wife, Jennifer, were riding a bike along with Walker. Timothy died later from injuries he suffered in a crash while avoiding the pickup, and Jennifer suffered crippling injuries.

Later, District Attorney Donald Gallegos dropped manslaughter charges against  Bailon, saying the charges wouldn't stand up in court because of the legal requirements necessary to charge someone with manslaughter, or the greater charge of vehicular homicide.

Gallegos referred the case to another district attorney for review, who ultimately charged Bailon with careless driving, driving left of center, and driving without a license.

On July 19 of this year, Bailon pleaded not guilty to the charges. But later that day, Bailon returned to court and changed his plea to "no contest."

The magistrate accepting the plea dropped the charge of driving without a license because Bailon, now 16, had obtained a driver's license since the time of the crash.

The magistrate then fined Bailon $125 and ordered the youth to pay $110 in court costs.

This is just one of many cases the AMA has been watching as part of our Justice for All campaign. You can learn more about the campaign by contacting AMA Grassroots Manager Terry Lee Cook at (614) 856-1900, ext. 1288; by e-mail at tcook@ama-cycle.org; or by going to the Justice for All page.

Related Stories:

Charges dropped against driver who killed two motorcyclists

Manslaughter charges have been dropped against a 15-year-old youth who killed two motorcyclists while driving on a learner's permit in New Mexico on Memorial Day weekend 2004.

District Attorney Donald Gallegos, who dropped the charges against Gerald Bailon, said that, unfortunately, manslaughter charges wouldn't stand up in New Mexico court. The problem appears to be wrapped up in the legal requirements necessary to charge someone with manslaughter, or the greater charge of vehicular homicide.

According to New Mexico Supreme Court cases Gallegos cited, the driver must be committing an unlawful act at the time of the deaths. Driving with a learner's permit without an adult in the vehicle, as Bailon was, isn't considered "unlawful'' in the narrow context spelled out in those cases, Gallegos said. Therefore, he could not file charges.

"I think the case speaks for itself,'' Gallegos said on January 14. "I think there's been a whole lot of unwarranted reaction to this case. Even though it was severe, even though it was very terrible, but actually, legally, as to what I can do for charges, or could have done, it just wasn't there.''

On May 30, 2004, Bailon was driving a pickup truck alone near Taos, New Mexico, when his truck crossed the center line as it went around a curve, striking a motorcycle ridden by Leslie Walker (above), 59, of Colorado, killing him. Walker's passenger, Kathleen Pullora (below), 45, lost her leg below the knee as a result of the crash.

Timothy Serles, 41, and his wife, Jennifer, 39, were riding a bike along with Walker. Timothy died later from injuries he sustained in a crash while avoiding the pickup.

LeAnn Short, Walker's daughter, was stunned to learn that officials had dropped the charges.

"I'm just dumbfounded. I just can't believe it," Short said.

Gallegos said the case has been referred to another district attorney's office in nearby Clovis for review, including whether vehicular homicide charges should be filed.

"Now, the victims are very adamant that there may have been some reckless driving involved (which would be an "unlawful act" under New Mexico law), although we didn't have that information in the beginning,'' Gallegos said. "I have taken myself out of this case for review. The case file is being sent to another district attorney's office for review and possible prosecution if they find any or enough evidence to do so."

The latest news leaves Short wondering if justice will be served in the case.

"For him to not have to pay any consequences for that is tragic," she said. "For this kid to not have to own up to that is wrong."

But Gallegos says that in cases like this, the law does not allow him to act.

"This isn't the first case (like this),'' he said. "I had one with a logger who killed five people because he fell asleep at the wheel. I had another one with a gentleman who was going into diabetic shock, and swerved off the road and killed two people. There was one just recently in Albuquerque where a lady ran a stoplight and killed, I believe, it was a motorcyclist. And New Mexico law just does not have that rising to the felony level."

The American Motorcyclist Association will continue to monitor the case.

2005, American Motorcyclist Association

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