ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Pieces of the wreckage are still strewn down the embankment where the car landed, and there’s a makeshift memorial that marks the place where a life was lost too soon.
It’s been more than a year now since Starr Olsen died in a violent car wreck off Interstate 25, about 20 miles south of Truth or Consequences, just two weeks after her 19th birthday.
The driver of the car was Starr Olsen’s aunt, Christina Montoya.
The crash and its aftermath show how a tragic accident can tear a family apart. No charges have ever been filed, but officials say the crash is still under investigation.
“My heart will never be back. It’s just when she died, a part of me died,” Olsen’s mother, Antoinette Sena, told KRQE News 13. “It was the worst day of my life.”
There were some indications that alcohol may have been involved.
Montoya maintains that she hadn’t been drinking at the time of the crash. She said she is remorseful for the death of her niece.
Montoya, now 40, was driving her niece to El Paso, Texas from Albuquerque in the early morning hours of Feb. 1, 2013. Montoya initially told State Police investigators a semi truck had clipped the car.
Investigators refuted the claim, according to police reports obtained by News 13. Their conclusion was that the car became airborne for no apparent reason before skidding down an embankment.
Olsen, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected, police said. She died instantly.
It was some time before emergency crews were able to locate the car. When officers arrived, Montoya complained of back pain and was flown to University Medical Center in El Paso.
“Any time there’s anyone that’s suffering any sort of critical condition and being that it’s a remote location, they are going to get air lifted,” New Mexico State Police Lt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez said there was no indication Montoya may have been drunk at the scene of the crash. However, emergency personnel smelled alcohol on Montoya once she was in the confined space of the helicopter.
“By the time they air lifted her and got closer to El Paso, they started detecting the odor (of alcohol), and basically as this is going on, time is of the essence,” Gutierrez said.
Back at the crash scene, officers found open bottles of Patron Tequila and Bud Lime.
No field sobriety tests were conducted because of Montoya’s injuries, Gutierrez said. And authorities in New Mexico weren’t able to contact Texas police to get a search warrant that would’ve allowed a blood test on Montoya.
“We weren’t able to step down to get that help of anyone to step up to say, ‘hey we’ll come help you guys out,’ ” Gutierrez said.
New Mexico police also learned Montoya had become belligerent at the Texas hospital and claimed she was pregnant. During a medical examination, hospital staff determined she was not pregnant but found $1,000 in rolled-up twenty-dollar bills in her vagina.
But without field sobriety tests or a blood draw, police and the district attorney said DWI would be hard to prove.
Montoya walked out of the hospital a few days later, family members said.
Sena and Starr Olsen’s father, Marvin Olsen, said they are frustrated no one has been held responsible for their daughter’s death.
“We have to live with it everyday that she’s not here, but the whole world has just moved on in a sense, and we still haven’t gotten any closure or anything,” Marvin Olsen said.
Sena said she has no relationship with her sister.
About two weeks after the crash that killed Starr Olsen, the case took another twist.
Isleta Police arrested Montoya and charged her with aggravated DWI after she rolled her car on I-25. According to the police report, she told officers the wind blew her over. However, the investigating officer suspected she may have been drinking and conducted field sobriety tests.
Montoya performed poorly, the report states. Police gave her a breath test, but Montoya was unable to provide enough air pressure to register a result.
A Belen magistrate judge convicted Montoya of drunken driving in December. She has since appealed the conviction.
KRQE News 13 spoke with Montoya about both crashes. She said she wasn’t drunk at the time of either crash.
“It was actually my potassium,” Montoya said about the second crash. “I got my blood drawn, and there is no alcohol in my system, no illegal drugs. What happened was my potassium was dangerously low, and I could have had a heart attack they said between five to 10 minutes.”
KRQE News 13 also asked Montoya about the open bottles of alcohol found among the wreckage from the first crash – and the fact that emergency personnel on-board the helicopter smelled alcohol on her.
“You know what, I believe honestly, I did not know this until I came back, but I didn’t know my niece had ended up taking alcohol with us, and I was not aware of it,” she said.
Montoya maintains her innocence and said she is remorseful for Starr Olsen’s death.
Her sister said otherwise.
“She’s never once shown remorse. She’s never said sorry,” Sena said.
More than a year later, police and the district attorney said the crash that killed Starr Olsen is still under investigation.
“We want to bring closure to the family, and that’s why we’re putting so much into this case,” Gutierrez said. “For the ripple that we’re feeling, it’s probably a wave they’re feeling.”
But the months have dragged on. Holidays have passed. On Jan. 20, the family faced another difficult milestone: Starr Olsen’s birthday.
Family and friends gathered at her grave at Sunset Memorial Park in Albuquerque to celebrate what would have been her 20th birthday with notes written on balloons. They were purple, Starr Olsen’s favorite color.
“It’s like we’re her voice,” Sena said. “We’re the ones that are here, going to fight for her, make sure she gets justice, and I leave it to God. I pray everyday and I pray for justice.”