April 7, 2011 -- A New Mexico man drove the decomposing body of his paraplegic friend around for three days, unaware that she was dead despite what others described as an overpowering stench and a horde of flies around the body.
Amy Marquez, 33, had been slumped in the passenger side of the car, but her friend Jerry Maestas, 64, assumed she was sleeping, police said. It wasn't until her back began turning blue that Maestas brought Marquez to a hospital, police said.
Lt. Christian Lopez said when he arrived at the parking lot of Espanola Hospital, the odor emanating from the car was overwhelming.
"There were flies all over. I don't know how he didn't know," Lopez said. "He's not all there, I guess. I have no confirmation that he has a mental illness but this guy isn't running on all cylinders."
Police determined Marquez had been dead about 66 hours.
Lopez said Maestas told him that Marquez was fine on Sunday, and had spent the day drinking alcohol with him as he drove around town with no destination in mind. Maestas told the officer that he didn't think anything of Marquez lying still since, as a paraplegic, she cannot move the lower half of her body, Lopez said.
Lopez said Maestas reasoned that because she wore an adult diaper she would not have needed to use a bathroom during her three-day excursion around town.
Maestas, a retired prison guard, admitted to Lopez that he drank alcohol most of Sunday with Marquez and that after she fell asleep, he continued driving around town and would stop to drink alone.
"From the position she was in, and the fact that she was drinking large amounts of alcohol, my guess is that it was a positional asphyxiation," Lopez said. He explained that people who suffer from paralysis don't get signals to their brain alerting them to a body position that may be cutting off their oxygen supply.
Hospital nurses said that when Maestas arrived at the emergency room, he told them his friend was ill and needed a wheelchair, but when they got to the car, they found Marquez's decomposing body.
"We handled the situation as best we could," Cheryl Marita of Espanola Hospital told the told ABC affiliate KOAT-TV in Albuquerque.
"There's no way to describe what we're dealing with," Lopez said.
An autopsy was performed Wednesday and there were no preliminary reports of foul play, Lopez said. Toxicology reports will reveal how much alcohol Marquez may have had in her system and whether she had been taking any drugs. The results won't be in for at least four weeks, he said.
Driver Didn't Realize His Paraplegic Passenger Was Dead
They charged Maestas, of Espanola, with failing to report a death, a petty misdemeanor. A judge set a $500 bail, but no one has yet posted a bond for Maestas, Lopez said.
Marquez became a paraplegic 11 years ago after she was struck by a car driven by a drunk driver.
"She was pinned underneath the vehicle," said Lopez, who handled that investigation too. Lopez said her life changed dramatically after that point. She gained a lot of weight.