A New Mexico man who was driving while intoxicated without a valid license drove through a parade celebrating Native American culture in the western part of the state, injuring at least 15 people, officials said Friday.
Jeff Irving, 33, was arrested Thursday night and faces charges of aggravated drunk driving, fleeing officers and injuring bystanders and two Gallup police officers who attempted to arrest the vehicle, according to court documents.
In a statement, New Mexico State Police said investigators had no reason to suspect the crime was motivated by hate. No one was killed. Those injured, including police officers, mostly sustained minor injuries, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and his family were among those nearly hit as the Chevrolet Tahoe rolled through the parade route. The vehicle drove through downtown Gallup approximately 15 minutes into the nightly parade that kicked off the centenary celebration of the 10-day Gallup Intertribal Ceremony.
According to court records, Irving’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for driving. His license had been revoked or suspended for another drunk driving charge and the SUV had no registration or insurance, police said.
Court records did not mention an attorney for Irving who could speak on his behalf. His two passengers were arrested and taken to a rehab facility in Gallup, state police said in the statement.
Many of the crowd of thousands lining the parade route past businesses selling Native American jewelry, arts and crafts captured the chaotic scene on video.
As the SUV accelerated near the parade, videos on social media showed people shouting for others to move aside and some pushing parade-goers to safety. Video showed parade-goers shouting obscenities at the driver and passengers of the SUV as they were handcuffed to the ground.
Children performing traditional dances appear to have been among the first to see the SUV heading their way, the videos show. They ran to the side amid screams and others rushed to get away.
Footage also showed blankets, shoes, banners and umbrellas strewn along the street and on sidewalks as people fled.
Lujan Grisham said Friday the state will send additional police officers and a behavioral health crisis team to Gallup for the remainder of the ceremony.
Nez said the vehicle was coming towards him and a group of tribal leaders marching in the parade. He thanked people for acting quickly to get spectators and attendees out of harm’s way.
“We just ask for your prayers for everyone involved,” Nez said in a video posted to social media. “We are all shaken. You’d see it on TV, you’d think it would never happen here. I’m sorry to say it happened here in Gallup, New Mexico.
Tonya Jim said she went to the parade with her parents, grandchildren and children. Her 5-year-old granddaughter, KaRiah, was chosen from the crowd to join a group of dancers. Shortly after, the vehicle sped into the parade route, flipped over and hit a man in front of them who was sitting in a folding chair, she said. KaRiah was helped off the road by someone and was not injured.
“I’m glad whoever was holding her hand continued to hold her hand and ran with her to get her out of the way,” Jim said. “I don’t know who she was, but I’m grateful to her.”
Jim said the family burned cedar and prayed when they got home and said a prayer against tobacco smoke on Friday morning to calm down.
“I blessed my children and thanked the creator that they are always with me and (to) pray for the families who are hurting,” said Jim, who is Navajo and lives in Fort Defiance.
During the chaos, the SUV swerved down a side street and pulled into a parking space before trying to pull back again. He hit a parked car and backed into a police cruiser, state police said. Officers converged on the vehicle and arrested the driver and two passengers whom Irving identified as his brothers, according to court documents.
Irving initially told police he didn’t drink before admitting to having had at least a few beers, according to court documents. He is from the small community of Pinedale and faces 21 charges, according to documents and police.
The nightly parade is a highlight of the ceremonial celebration, which was founded in 1922 as a way for merchants to showcase the culture and art of the region’s Native American tribes, said Kyle Tom, chairman of the board. of the Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial Association.
A daytime parade will take place as planned on August 13, the day before the closing events, Tom said. Other events include dances, rodeos and a juried art exhibition.
People travel to Gallup from the vast Navajo Nation that stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and from other tribal reservations to attend parades and events. Nose, tribal lawmakers and others expressed anger and disbelief at what happened.
“It’s supposed to be a party, but today was a tough time for us,” Nez said.
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