Man who stole tow truck in 2017 takes plea deal

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 7/4/19

A 23-year-old Taos man charged in 2017 for stealing a tow truck and leading law enforcement on a frenzied, nine-mile car chase faces up to 16 and a half years in prison after accepting a plea …

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Man who stole tow truck in 2017 takes plea deal

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A 23-year-old Taos man charged in 2017 for stealing a tow truck and leading law enforcement on a frenzied, nine-mile car chase faces up to 16 and a half years in prison after accepting a plea agreement on Monday (July 1).

Corwynn Valencia pleaded guilty to a total of 10 counts spread across two cases related to the tow truck incident, in which he was accused of stealing a flatbed truck from Vigil’s Towing Unlimited that had a Toyota 4Runner tied to its bed, setting off a police pursuit that lasted into the early morning hours of Sept. 11.

Valencia pleaded guilty to nine counts in the first case, including two counts of unlawful taking of a motor vehicle; three counts of criminal damage to property in excess of $1,000; one count of aggravated fleeing from a law enforcement officer; two counts of leaving the scene of an accident involving damage to a vehicle; and one count of resisting an officer.

As part of the deal, the state dismissed four counts of aggravated assault upon a peace officer that were also filed in the case based on evidence that Valencia attempted to use the truck as a weapon the night of the incident, colliding with at least one police cruiser during the pursuit.

The state also dismissed a case filed against Valencia in January of this year after the defendant was granted a pretrial release from jail. The case alleged that Valencia failed to stop for a New Mexico State Police officer and resisted arrest, but court records were unclear as to the reason for the traffic stop.

The 10th count Valencia pleaded guilty to on Monday was the only count filed in the second case, a receiving stolen property charge related to the fact that the Toyota was strapped to the bed of the tow truck when he stole it.

Revisiting the incident

The report of the stolen tow truck from the Camino de La Merced towing company came in just before midnight on Sept. 10, 2017. Officer James Suazo of Taos Police Department was one of the first to take the call.

Dash and body camera footage released to The Taos News in 2017 showed Suazo catching up to Valencia as he fled along the back streets near the business.

On the video, Valencia can be seen briefly stopping the truck on Herdner Road in Taos and then quickly reversing into Suazo’s police cruiser, prompting the officer to exit the vehicle and fire a shot at Valencia with his service pistol, striking him in the hand.

Officers with the Taos County Sheriff’s Office and Taos Pueblo Tribal Police joined in the chase, setting up roadblocks on side streets around Taos. That night, they could be heard strategizing over radios about how to bring the tow truck to a stop before it caused further damage or injured an officer or innocent bystander.

The officers were able to force Valencia to slow to another stop at a roadblock they had set up on Blueberry Hill Road. They can be heard shouting at Valencia to get out of the truck. At one point, a deputy says, “If he moves forward ... shoot him.”

Eric Montoya, a tribal officer, shot out a tire on the tow truck as Valencia continued driving the truck, which finally lumbered to a stop on Sacred Vista Road several minutes later in El Prado.

Deputies rushed the driver’s-side door and pulled Valencia to the ground, arresting him.

Prison time

While Valencia faces a possible sentence of 16 and a half years, he would have faced a possible 51 years if he had been convicted at trial on all three cases that were pending against him, a possibility that his defense attorney, James Mamalis, acknowledged at Monday’s hearing.

“Your honor, I believe that a jury could find him guilty,” Mamalis said, addressing Taos District Court Judge Emilio Chavez.

Chavez noted on Monday that Valencia is classified as a habitual offender because he has two prior felony convictions – a 2016 criminal damage to property charge and a 2013 nonresidential burglary conditional discharge, which still counts as a prior felony under New Mexico legal statutes.

But Valencia may not have to serve the full 16 and a half years as a question remains of whether he will serve time for Monday’s convictions concurrently (all at once) or consecutively (one after the other).

Mamalis and John Lovelace, the state prosecutor assigned to Valencia’s case, will make their arguments as to the defendant’s sentence at a date that was yet to be set by the court as of press time Tuesday (July 2).

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