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Peshlakai Angels vs. Drunk Driving’s message continues

Peshlakai Angels vs. Drunk Driving’s message continues

By Chael Moore
Special to the Times


After thirteen years, the Peshlakai family continue their fight to raise awareness surrounding the consequences of drunk driving.

On March 5, Darlene Peshlakai, mother of the Peshlakai sisters, and her family joined forces once again with the Santa Fe Police Department and fellow community members to hold their annual Angels vs. Drunk Drivers DWI checkpoint in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This was the first year in a while since the family’s annual checkpoint was held on the exact day of the incident according to Peshlakai. The Peshlakai sisters suffered a fatal crash on March 5, 2010, after their family was returning home to Naschitti, N.M. after a basketball game in Santa Fe.

According to public records, the crash was caused by a five-peat DWI offender, James Ruiz, who had slammed into the car of the Peshlakai family after a drinking binge at The Blue Corn Cafe/Brewery (now called Hidden Mountain Brewing Co.) and Applebee’s.

Ruiz was recorded to have had a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.22, three times the state’s legal limit.

The binge ultimately caused the death of Del Lynn Peshlakai, 19, and DeShauna Peshlakai, 17, that night. The offender was convicted of a DWI, two counts of homicide, and bodily damage by vehicle, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Ever since that day, the Peshlakai family has done their due diligence every year to raise awareness surrounding the loss of their two baby girls 13 years ago.

Healing isn’t linear

In the years passed, Darlene has actively been learning the healthiest way to grieve the loss of her daughters, as a parent, and as a mother, sharing that sadness and grief come in waves.

The idea of receiving closure isn’t in Darlene’s vocabulary as it was her “two babies” involved and her fight will never stop when it comes to family.

Honoring the lives of her daughters has been achieved through numerous community events and is one of many ways the Peshlakai family keeps Del Lynn and DeShauna’s memories alive.

Darlene shared that she hoped that her daughters could have lived on to pursue their individual dreams such as pursuing a degree in Kinesiology, continuing their passion for basketball, and even graduating from college. Her end goal remains the same: to raise awareness for her girls.

Honoring their angels

Over the years, the Peshlakai family has held numerous events since 2010 to educate and raise awareness regarding the effects and consequences of drunk driving. All with the hope that their message continues to reach their state representatives, police departments, and the surrounding community.

They’re famously known for their memorial “don’t drink and drive” basketball tournament, bike run, motorcycle runs, and rodeo events. Additionally, their annual DWI checkpoint has been hosted almost every year with the Santa Fe Police Department. Some of those checkpoints have also been coordinated with the Navajo Nation Police Department in the past as well. Both of whom have been very supportive of the family’s message according to Darlene.

During the height of the COVID pandemic, the Peshlakai family took a hiatus but began some of their regular events in 2022.

“We’re contemplating what kind of events that we will share. It’s all in the name of don’t drink and drive. Keeping their memory alive to warn people about not drinking and driving. That’s the kind of issue we’re dealing with, and we want to make sure that they think about it before they do drink if they decide to drink. That’s our message of awareness, to make better choices and to not have to go through what we had to,” Darlene Peshlakai said.

As long as police departments are willing to invite the Peshlakai family and speakers at events continue to offer Darlene or family members a platform to speak, Darlene shared that she and her family will continue to show up.

For 2023, the family is actively thinking about what events they want to continue and shared no plans of retiring their message of no drinking and driving to the public anytime soon. If they are physically able to, they will show up, Darlene stated.

“I don’t really have a set date or a time when I’m going to stop, when and if I do. Right now, my goal is to continue, how I can, when I can, and where I can,” she said. “It’s been thirteen years, but it’s still good to get out there and get the message out there.”

An issue at large

Reports for 2021-2022 are in progress, but according to an extensive 2020 report from the New Mexico Department of Transportation, there were a total of 2,020 alcohol-involved crashes reported statewide, with 134 of them being fatal.

The report stated that the total number of DWI arrests have decreased in 2020 compared to previous years, potentially due to the decrease in volume and traffic during that year. However, the number of drivers refusing BAC testing has risen within the last eight years, with a 30% increase.

Total crashes statewide (including non-alcohol related) had decreased in 2020 overall, however, the number of crashes that were alcohol-related barely reduced according to the report.

Therefore, alcohol-related crashes alone have actually increased by 5.5%, which is the highest percentage it’s been in the past decade.

Young adult drivers (ages 20-24) made up 22% of the drivers involved in the 2,020 alcohol-involved crashes reported according to the report, making it the highest rate of alcohol-involved drivers in crashes. Drivers in their 30s were the second highest percentage.

The Peshlakai family continues their efforts to raise awareness of the consequences of drunk driving in both urban and rural communities due to statistics reported.

Darlene shared that she and her family were present at the beginning of the 2023 legislature and were invited to speak briefly at the roundhouse in Santa Fe. Bills related to DWI policy reform were proposed. Currently, proposed bills to reform the DWI testing requirements and the DWI Act, including the introduction of an oral fluid roadside detection pilot program have been discussed.

Anti-drunk driving technology a possibility

Drunk driving is a prevalent issue found nationwide. According to the Biden administration, in 2021 they proposed an infrastructure bill regarding an “anti-drunk driving system mandate for new cars”. The bill proposed that automakers in the states would be required to install anti-drunk driving systems in all new car models beginning in 2026.

The proposal indicated that the systems would be new technology (different from a standard interlock system) and would be able to monitor the performance of the driver, while also detecting blood alcohol concentration.

These could range from cameras on the dash monitoring eye gaze or sensors in the start button or steering wheel that could determine the alcohol content present in a person’s sweat. Other systems could even measure alcohol content in the air.

The bill varies in support and there is no evidence that it’s been officially passed and demand by consumers for these systems could the deciding factor. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 30% of all fatal traffic crashes in the U.S. involved drunk drivers (with a BAC over 0.8) annually. Efforts to decrease the statistics of drunk driving and the number of crashes per year by state and by independent families are evident.

Don’t drink and drive

On Sunday, Darlene and her family began their with a briefing at the Santa Fe Police Department. After, they made their way to the site of the checkpoint on Cerrillos Road. Family members and volunteers assisted police officers at their checkpoint and handed out awareness bags to drivers and passengers who passed through throughout the night.

Darlene’s family message remains the same: Do not drink and drive. They hope their message continues to reach people and their daughters’ story helps people think twice before getting behind the wheel after they’ve drunk alcohol.

Despite some negative feedback received from the public over the years, Darlene reiterated that her family can only do so much, and they are not “judge and jury,” they are just one family. If their story can save one life, it’s enough of a reason to continue.

On choosing to drink alcohol, Darlene said it is a personal choice.

“So, make the right choice. I just want to remind the community and remind the people, the public, to make good choices for yourselves. If you’re going to drink, make a plan. Get another person’s number. If you’re in the city, get an uber, or a taxi. Make the plan. Don’t think you can jump in your car and drive. That’s what alcohol makes you think you can do. Make the plan,” she shared.


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