New Mexico Father, Joe Torres Sr., and Stepmother Charged in Suicidal Son's Death

PHOTO: Joe Torres Sr. has been charged with intentional child abuse and negligent resulting in the death of his son.
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A New Mexico father and stepmother have been charged in the death of their suicidal and drug-addicted 15-year-old son, who lost consciousness after a night of drinking with them and then died 10 days later, according to police.

Joe Torres Sr., 39, and Heather Soto, 31, both have been charged with intentional child abuse resulting in death and negligent child abuse resulting in death.

"Since the boy had suicidal tendencies and previous rehab stints for alcohol and drug abuse, the fact that his father and stepmother allowed him to consume alcohol is kind of like feeding gas to a fire," said Dan Trujillo, a spokesman for the Las Cruces Police Department.

Though Torres Sr. and Soto were under arrest, an official with the Las Cruces Magistrate Court said she did not know if they had yet retained lawyers.

According to a police timeline of events, the family was at a relative's house on the night of July 3 and returned home at around 2 a.m. on July 4.

Around 6:30 a.m., a relative called police to Torres' home in Las Cruces, N.M., where Joe Torres Jr., 15, was unconscious police said. Police believe members of the family may have spent up to a half an hour trying to resuscitate the teen before calling 911.

The boy was rushed to a local hospital before being moved to the University Medical Center of El Paso.

"For at least five hours at the hospital, they denied that he drank any alcohol or that they knew he drank any alcohol," Trujillo said.

It was not until detectives found text messages on the teen's phone bragging to friends that he was getting drunk with his parents that Torres Sr. and Soto admitted that Torres Jr. had been drinking with them the night before.

Detectives discovered that Torres Sr. had allowed his son to drink beer and Soto had given him a wine and brandy concoction, according to the Las Cruces Police Department.

The teen had moved from Colorado, where he lived with his mother, to Las Cruces to live with his father.

Both Torres Sr. and Soto, according to a police statement, "knew that Joe Jr. had a self-destructive behavior and received therapy in Colorado for suicidal tendencies, alcohol abuse and overdosing on medication."

"It's very unusual and very tragic," said Dona Ana County District Attorney Amy Orlando., "because the mother of the child had tried to do something to protect him from mental issues that he was dealing with. So to send him to another parent that you hope will help and take care of him, it's sad that that becomes the outcome."

Hospital examinations determined that Torres Jr. had a blood alcohol level of 0.115 and opiates in his system, according to police.

Aside from it being illegal for a 15-year-old to consume alcohol, the blood alcohol level at which it is illegal for an adult to drive a car in New Mexico is 0.08.

Torres Jr. died on July 14 after being removed from life support. He was in critical condition and unconscious for the 10 days he was in the hospital. Medical professionals told detectives that not knowing exactly what Joe Jr. had ingested hindered their ability to treat him.

Torres Sr. and Soto were arrested on Wednesday. Each is being held on $50,000 bond and could face up to 18 years in jail.

Torres Sr. was arrested in El Paso, Texas, which is 45 miles from Las Cruces, and is expected to be extradited to New Mexico. Authorities do not know what he was doing in Texas.

Soto was arrested in Las Cruces.

"He's 15, his dad and stepmother knew he had suicidal tendencies and was addicted to drugs -- over the counter and prescription narcotics," Trujillo said, and they still allowed him to consume alcohol with them. "That's a shocking and deadly combination."

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