Shiprock woman pleads guilty to assault charge

May 30, 2013

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A LBUQUERQUE – U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales and John Billison, Director of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety announced that Tina Benally, 38, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Shiprock, N.M., pleaded guilty on May 22 to a federal assault charge.

Benally pled guilty and admitted that on March 2, 2012, after drinking alcohol, she drove her vehicle at excessive speeds and crashed into a semi-truck, which had two passengers, including a minor child. The adult passenger suffered multiple fractures that required surgery. She was charged with assault and abuse of a child.

Benally remains in federal custody until her sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. At sentencing, Benally faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court.

Sheep Springs man facing multiple charges

WINDOW ROCK – A Sheep Springs, N.M. man is facing multiple charges after leading Navajo police and deputies for the McKinley County Sheriff's Office in a pursuit on May 21 that went from Gallup onto the Navajo Reservation.

It began with a sheriff deputy noticing a car almost struck a pedestrian as it was coming off of Interstate 40 just south of the Rio West Mall in Gallup. The deputy said the woman had to jump back to avoid being hit and that the driver of the vehicle then waved his fist at her as he went by.

The deputy followed the vehicle as it headed north of U.S. 491. He was told by metro dispatch that there had been another complaint about the man almost hitting another pedestrian.

The officer said the vehicle continued north into Navajo Nation territory and was still unable to stay in his lane. But the vehicle didn't speed, maintaining a speed of about 50 miles an hour.

The sheriff deputy, along with a Navajo police officer, followed the vehicle as it reached Tohatchi, N.M. The driver reached the gate of the Tohatchi teacher housing and then abandoned his vehicle.

He was caught, however, before he got 20 feet from his vehicle and taken into custody. At that time, police learned that the man was Herb Sam, 25, of Sheep Springs. Police also found an opened can of malt liquor within reach of the driver.

He was turned over to the sheriff's office and charged with aggravated fleeing of an officer, aggravated assault (use of a deadly weapon), DWI (second offense), reckless driving, having a suspended license and having an open container.

Man pleads guilty to second-degree murder

WINDOW ROCK – Luke Spencer, 48, who was charged with committing second-degree murder on the Navajo Reservation in 2010, pleaded guilty Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter in a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In his plea agreement, Spencer admitted that, on the evening of Oct. 2, 2010, he permitted Thomas Benally, 53, to drive his truck even though he knew that Benally was intoxicated. 

Benally is Spencer's cousin and he also faces charges in connection with this incident.

While driving the truck with Spencer's permission and with Spencer as a passenger, Benally ran over their uncle, a 71-year-old Navajo man. Spencer acknowledged that both drove away in the truck without making any effort to check on the victim's condition or calling the authorities to report the accident.

The victim died and a passerby found his remains on Oct. 7, 2010. On Tuesday, Spencer admitted that he contributed to the victim's death by giving the keys to his truck to Benally and permitting him to drive while intoxicated.

At sentencing, Spencer faces a maximum penalty of eight years in prison. Under the terms of the plea agreement, the second-degree murder charge against Spencer will be dismissed after he is sentenced.

Benally has been in federal custody since his arrest on March 13, 2012.  He has entered a not guilty plea to the second-degree murder charge against him.

Two die in vehicle rollover

WINDOW ROCK - The McKinley County Sheriff's Office arrested Darryl John Paul, 22, of Continental Divide on May 10 in connection with the death of a Church Rock, N.M. woman.

Paul has been charged with homicide by vehicle and DWI in connection with the death of Sandy Lisa Tom, 19, who was in the vehicle with him when it rolled over on I-40 around the 37 mile marker about 11 p.m.

Sheriff deputies said Paul at first tried to convince them that Tom had been the driver. When police first got to the scene, Paul was seen kneeling by Tom's side, holding her and asking "Why did you do it."

After Paul was taken to the Gallup Indian Medical Center for treatment, however, the county's medical examiner, Richard Malone, said evidence at the scene showed that Tom had been ejected from the passenger side window and not the driver's.

Deputies also reported that both Tom and Paul had strong odors of intoxicating liquor coming from their bodies. Paul had blood tests done at GIMC and was arrested. When he got to to the county jail, he was placed on suicide watch because of the severity of the incident.

Sanostee man gets five years for sexual abuse

WINDOW ROCK - A Sanostee, N.M. man pleaded guilty on May 15 to a federal charge of aggravated sexual abuse.

Lorenzo Begay, 49, had been arrested in January 2012 on a criminal complaint alleging that he sexually abused a child under the age of 12 for almost a year.

Begay subsequently was indicted on that same charge. According to court filings, the investigation into Begay was initiated after law enforcement authorities received a referral from the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services after the child victim disclosed the sexual abuse to a school social worker.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Begay will be sentenced to five years in federal prison, followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. Begay also will be required to register as a sex offender.

During the hearing, Begay entered a guilty plea to a felony information charging him with aggravated sexual abuse and admitted sexually abusing the child. He will remain detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

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