BASALT - A domestic dispute between a midvalley couple escalated into a high-speed car chase - with speeds reported at 110 mph - that ended with a five-vehicle crash in Basalt that law enforcement officials said easily could have led to tragedy.
Jesenia Alvarez, 32, and Carlos Diaz, 36, both of the Blue Lake subdivision, are facing multiple charges in connection with the incident, which closed the eastbound lanes of Highway 82 at Willits Lane for 3 1/2 hours, according to the Basalt Police Department. They are being held in Pitkin County Jail.
Basalt Sgt. Penny Paxton said Diaz and Alvarez are married. Alvarez allegedly became upset Thursday morning when Diaz gave a 16-year-old girl a ride to Basalt High School. Alvarez followed Diaz to the school in a separate vehicle, Paxton said. Diaz sped away on a school road when he realized Alvarez was tailing him and then halted for a stop sign at South Side Drive with the girl still inside, Paxton said. Alvarez allegedly rammed the 2006 Honda Odyssey van she was driving into the back of the van Diaz was driving, Paxton said.
Diaz fled the scene, zipped through streets in the Southside subdivision to Highway 82 and then headed west at a high rate of speed, according to authorities. The following are details of the accident supplied by Paxton and the Colorado State Patrol:
Diaz allegedly ran a red light at the Highway 82 intersection with Willits Lane, close to the Willits Town Center. Alvarez also allegedly ran the light as a 2008 Audi was turning toward Aspen on Highway 82 from the north side of the intersection. Alvarez swerved at the last moment, according to witnesses, and struck the front of the Audi. She then sideswiped a 1995 BMW stopped at the traffic signal in the left eastbound lane of Highway 82. Alvarez's van continued westbound and collided head-on with a 1997 Dodge Stratus that was slowing as it came to the intersection. The Stratus was knocked backward into a stopped 2005 Toyota Tundra pickup.
Two people were transported to an area hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said. A total of nine people in five vehicles were checked for injuries.
Paxton, a veteran police officer, said she has never seen an accident with so much vehicular carnage that didn't result in serious injuries.
"There was debris everywhere," Paxton said. "It looked like those cars exploded."
Cpl. Shauna Swale, of the Colorado State Patrol, said if the van had struck the Audi more directly on the side - called a T-bone - there likely would have been injuries.
"It could have been a lot worse," she said.
Paxton said the young female driver of the BMW that was struck while waiting at the traffic signal said she saw the van approaching her on two wheels after striking the Audi. It was fortunate the BMW wasn't struck head-on, Paxton said. By the time Alvarez's vehicle struck the Dodge, its speed was reduced, she said.
Swale said airbags deployed in three of the five vehicles in the accident and that all parties reported wearing their seatbelts.
The crash was reported to authorities at 7:40 a.m., at the height of the morning commute. Eastbound traffic was diverted onto East Valley Road until about 10:15 a.m.
The incident is even more strange because the mother of the 16-year-old girl riding in Diaz's vehicle was riding with Alvarez, according to Paxton. Alvarez suspected that her husband was having a relationship with the juvenile girl, who is 16, Paxton said. Both the 16-year-old and her mother live with Alvarez and Diaz in their Blue Lake home, according to Paxton.
Immediately after the accident, Diaz allegedly turned around into the City Market area and took the juvenile back to Basalt High School, according to Paxton. He did not stop to check on the condition of his wife, Paxton said.
Colorado State Patrol handled the accident investigation and ticketed Alvarez for careless driving causing bodily injury.
Paxton opened a separate investigation as information was reported about Alvarez allegedly ramming Diaz near Basalt High School. She said Alvarez's story changed numerous times and that Diaz was initially uncooperative when she contacted him at his home in Blue Lake.
Paxton summonsed Alvarez with felony menacing with a connected charge of domestic violence for allegedly ramming her vehicle into the vehicle of Diaz. The felony charge is pending. Alvarez was also charged with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, for putting so many lives at risk by her driving, Paxton said.
Diaz was charged with reckless endangerment, speeding and false imprisonment, according to Paxton. He allegedly refused to let the juvenile female out of his van as she requested after it was rammed by Alvarez, Paxton said.
Alvarez and Diaz were booked in Pitkin County Jail because the ramming near the high school occurred in Pitkin County, Paxton said. The five-vehicle accident happened in Eagle County. Alvarez and Diaz are allegedly not in the country legally, Paxton said. That means that even if they can post bond, they will remain detained until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement explores their cases, she said.
The state patrol reported Alvarez's name as Ivania Alvarez Lopez. The discrepancy with the name was she booked into jail under wasn't immediately explainable.