Published: 12:52 pm, Thu. Jan. 11th, 2018Updated: 12:48 pm
“I hope the next time you choose to drink, you think like a responsible adult,” Shelly Granado told Blake Bollema Wednesday.
Bollema, the 32-year-old Artesia man who drove his pickup into a SUV carrying Granado and her family on the night of July 1, 2016, was sentenced Wednesday afternoon in Fifth Judicial District Court in Carlsbad to the mandatory penalty of 10 years, two of which will be spent in prison with the remaining eight on supervised probation.
He was also ordered to pay the Granado family full restitution and submit to alcohol screening and any recommended treatments the screening suggests.
Bollema pleaded no contest earlier this month to the multiple charges against him in the incident, which included six counts of great bodily harm by vehicle (third-degree felony), misdemeanor aggravated DWI (second offense), leaving the scene of an accident involving great bodily harm or death (fourth-degree felony), failure to give information and render aid (fourth-degree felony), and petty misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and failure to yield.
Before district judge Lisa B. Riley, Artesia fire marshal Brenden Harvey, who was on the scene of the wreck that night as an EMT, described the chaotic scene.
Harvey told the court he entered the Granados’ SUV through its broken rear window and immediately noted Shelly Granado pinned behind the driver’s seat by the steering wheel. She had a laceration to her head and was in obvious pain, Harvey said. Her husband, Gabriel Granado, had been thrown backward and was also suffering from a severe laceration to the head.
One of the Granados’ young sons had been able to exit the vehicle after impact and had aided Good Samaritans in pulling his 5-year-old brother’s car seat from the wreckage. The younger boy’s leg was broken.
As Harvey tended to the Granados’ nephew, who was still in the backseat, he said he noticed a dark shape in the floorboard. It was the family’s 8-year-old daughter, unconscious. Harvey said he and other EMTs were able to remove her through the back window. She suffered a seizure on scene and at one point stopped breathing.
Harvey told the court it was 45 minutes before crews were able to remove all family members from the SUV. The 8-year-old girl and Shelly Granado were airlifted from the scene, and the 5-year-old boy was also later taken to Lubbock, Texas, for his injuries. Michael Granado, his son, and his nephew were treated at Artesia General Hospital.
The prosecution also played 911 calls from witnesses at the scene.
“They’re screaming, and we can’t do anything to help them,” said one.
Another told dispatch they had seen a male walking, then running away from the pickup that had caused the accident by running the stop sign at the intersection of North 13th Street and U.S. 285 going northbound on 13th, striking the SUV as its headed southbound on 285.
According to the New Mexico State Police, while those rescue efforts were ongoing, Bollema, the driver of the pickup, had left the scene. He returned an hour later, telling police he had gone to find aid for one of the two passengers in his vehicle.
One of those passengers told the court Wednesday Bollema had gone after him; the passenger said he was dazed and had just “started walking” away from the scene. Bollema’s attorney, Gary Mitchell, said Bollema was the third person out of his vehicle, as the driver’s side door was stuck.
Prosecutor Ariane Navarrette argued all of that was irrelevant. She said the bottom line was that Bollema had left a family of six injured in their vehicle without attempting to render aid.
The prosecution told the court receipts show Bollema had purchased five beers at 8:29 p.m. at a local restaurant; less than 15 minutes later, surveillance video from a convenience store shows him purchasing a 30-pack of beer and a bottle of whiskey. Navarrette says Bollema and his two companions then went to a local residence to play pool and continue drinking before making the decision to travel to the Gomez Club between Lake Arthur and Hagerman.
The prosecution provided photos from the accident scene that showed the interior of Bollema’s pickup, which contained open and empty beer cans, along with the fifth of whiskey, half empty.
Navarrette told the court Bollema had, at some point after his departure from the scene, borrowed a phone from a passing motorist and contacted a friend to pick him up.
It was 12:15 a.m. before Bollema returned to the scene. According to the NMSP report, he emitted a “strong odor” of alcohol. He refused field, breath and blood sobriety tests, and Navarrette said it was 4 a.m. before the NMSP were able to obtain a warrant for a blood sample. Bollema’s blood alcohol level was still .08.
“This family has to live a life in pain, suffering, fear and stress because Blake Bollema chose to drink and drive,” Navarrette said. “When you break the law, your actions have consequences. You don’t get to just say ‘I’m sorry’ and it all goes away.”
Bollema made his apology to Shelly Granado Wednesday in court, saying it was the first opportunity since the accident he had had to do so.
“I didn’t see the car,” Bollema said in a brief statement. “I went and helped my buddy.”
He told the court he’d like to “make plans for his future.”
As part of Bollema’s plea agreement, the prosecution had agreed to ask for no more than five years in prison. Mitchell requested probation only, telling the court it was to the Granados’ advantage that Bollema be released and allowed to continue earning money.
“From Day One, I told the insurance to pay the Granados the maximum $500,000, and we are cooperating with their personal injury lawyers,” Mitchell said. “He can’t pay restitution if he’s in prison.”
Mitchell also painted a picture of 13th and 285 as a dangerous intersection. Using photos from Google Maps, he spoke of 13th Street’s six- to eight-foot rise in elevation up to 285, and stated the area had “14 lanes of traffic” – two driving lanes, along with right- and left-turn lanes on both sides of the highway, and two driving lanes and a turning lane on both sides of 13th.
Mitchell told the court the intersection was poorly lit and that a vehicle entering the right-turn lane to exit 285 onto 13th Street had blocked Bollema’s view of the Granados’ SUV. He said there were also indications the child in the car seat was the only occupant of the SUV who was restrained.
A pair of character witnesses spoke on Bollema’s behalf at the hearing, and the court acknowledged having received a number of letters.
Colleen Bollema, the accused’s mother, told the Granados, “We’re truly sorry. It’s not his character. His character is helpfulness. He’s not a horrible person. I told him, ‘You’re not a horrible person. You’re a person who made a horrible mistake. This accident does not define you; what you do from this day forward is what defines you.’”
Mitchell asked the court for probation on the grounds Bollema needed to continue working in order to earn restitution money for the injured family as well as support his two children’s households.
Navarrette, however, said Bollema’s previous DUI conviction in 2007 needed to be taken into account, as well as the impact the incident has had on the Granado family.
“Things could have been different if you hadn’t driven drunk,” Shelly Granado told Bollema. “Look at the pictures and put yourself in our shoes. Every day is a challenge. We can’t go anywhere because my kids are afraid to be out after dark. They’re afraid of drunk drivers.”
The 8-year-old daughter was the most severely injured of the family, suffering a traumatic brain injury. She was on life support for nine days and spent 28 days in hospitals between Lubbock and Albuquerque. Navarrette told the court Gabriel Granado lost his job over the fact he had to travel to Albuquerque to be with his daughter while his wife was still hospitalized in Lubbock.
“This was his second conviction,” Navarrette said. “But how many other times were there?”
Riley told the parties she agreed there was no “evil” person involved in the case.
“There is so much pain on both sides, but this is something you don’t walk away from without some type of punishment,” Riley said. “I agree with the defendant’s mother when she told him this accident does not define him.
“You need to take your punishment and move on to a successful life.”