New Mexico representative aims to stiffen reckless driving penalties

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The 22-year-old accused of racing down I-25 over the weekend and ultimately killing a 10-year-old girl in a crash won’t face up to 15 years as written in a new New Mexico law.

Instead, Xavier Nelson faces up to six years for driving recklessly and killing Carmen Esmeralda Rivera. Had he been drunk or under the influence of drugs, it would be much more time.

Until this year, recklessly driving and killing someone and killing someone while DWI used to hold the same penalty: up to six years per victim.

But a law passed that went into effect in July now means whoever is convicted of DWI and killing someone faces up to 15 years.

District 15 Representative Sarah Maestas Barnes co-sponsored the bill this last legislative session that initially sought to increase both.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t what we intended. We wanted the stiffer penalties for reckless driving,” Maestas Barnes said.

Maestas Barnes says the provision to increase the punishment for recklessly driving and killing someone was dumped in a Senate committee.

It would have bumped up recklessly driving and killing someone to a second degree felony from a third.

It also would have stiffened the penalties for those who cause great bodily harm while driving drunk and/or intoxicated or driving recklessly. Those provisions, too, she says, were dropped as lawmakers honed in on DWI resulting in death only.

But this hasn’t discouraged her.

“I do have every intention of introducing the provision that were amended out this upcoming legislative session,” she said.

Maestas Barnes says one of the reasons she’s so passionate about the bill is street or drag racing. She says it’s a big problem in her district, and points to the incident involving Esmeralda over the weekend.

“We need to let these individuals know that are drag racing that there are consequences for their actions,” she said. “And no human being should ever be lost because of person that wants to drag race on our streets.”

Police say Nelson was found with prescription pills in his pocket that didn’t belong to him. At this point, however, he’s not suspected of being under the influence at the time of the crash. He was charged for possession of those drugs. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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