Judge: Blood tests in alleged drunk driving killing can be used at trial

  • Kayla Baker is charged for allegedly killing a man in a DWI crash on June 16, 2018 near Navajo
  • Baker was released back to Arizona where she worked as a nurse
  • Prosecutors indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash

See the full case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Cornfields, Ariz. woman will not have her 0.15 blood-serum test thrown out as evidence in her involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor case following a federal district court judge’s ruling, April 9, 2020, that she voluntarily gave them access to her medical records.

Photo of the Navajo Code Talker Monument in Window Rock, Arizona, with the Window Rock in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC-BY

Kayla Baker, 24, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury after she allegedly drunkenly crashed her car into oncoming traffic on June 16, 2018, on Route 12 outside the town of Navajo, near the border with Arizona. She does not appear to have ever been charged in magistrate court with J.G.’s death, rather, a federal grand jury indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash, according to court documents.

Baker allegedly tried to pass a woman on the two-lane highway and slammed into a car carrying a man, only named J.G. (YOB: 1988, enrolled Navajo National tribal member) in court documents, his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the woman’s 17-year-old sister, according to court documents.

Baker’s attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, tried to get all the test results thrown out under the theory that she did not voluntarily consent to give them to tribal investigators Farrell Begay and Samantha Yazzie when they interrogated her at a jail in Window Rock, Ariz., following the crash. No court documents state she was charged with, or by whom, while she was held in Window Rock.

A separate blood test at the FBI crime lab showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, according to court documents.

District Judge William Johnson dismissed the motion on April 9, 2020.

Johnson also dismissed a motion, on March 6, 2020, to dismiss the charge of assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

Elsenheimer wrote in the motion that the assault charge, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life, required prior knowledge and intent, that is, that Baker knew and intended his 17-year-old victim was underage when she allegedly drunkenly crashed into her. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years — the mandatory minimum for its counterpart done to a minor.

On Feb. 28, 2020, Johnson granted a motion to continue the case for a jury trial tentatively set for July 6, 2020.

The incident

On June 16, 2018, Baker was driving on Route 12 (mile post 36), near Navajo, New Mexico, when she allegedly tried to pass another car on the two-lane road, FBI Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.

Baker allegedly crashed head-on into a Ford Fusion carrying J.G. (YOB: 1988, a registered member of the Navajo Nation), his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the “common-law wife’s” 17-year-old sister, referred to as C.H., according to a response to the motion to dismiss filed by prosecutor Nicholas Marshall.

Navajo Police Officer Cherlyn Owens allegedly found that Baker smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and a lack of balance and tried to conduct a field-sobriety test, which Baker failed, Roundy wrote.

In the car, Owens found beer bottles and a “bottle of alcohol” in the passenger side, he wrote.

Navajo Police Officer Irene Six found C.H. injured on the ground outside the car. She was flown to a hospital in Fort Defiance, Ariz., before being flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital for a broken leg, Roundy wrote.

A year later. C.H. needed follow-up surgery a year later “on the hardware placed in her leg and to aid in her recovery” and still receives physical therapy, Marshall wrote.

Medics, and a physician who stopped to help, tried to save J.G., and he was flown to Fort Defiance as well, where he was pronounced dead, Roundy wrote.

J.G.’s girlfriend said she remembered trying to hold on tightly to her toddler during the crash. Both her and the toddler suffered minor injuries and were released from the hospital, Marshall wrote.

Navajo Criminal Investigator Farrell Begay interviewed Baker following the crash, but Roundy did not write if Baker waived her Miranda rights.

Roundy wrote:

“During the interview, Baker admitted to purchasing Blue Moon beer and a bottle of Southern Comfort liquor. Baker stated she consumed half a can of beer before driving her car on Route 12. Baker did not recall any details after turning on to Route 12, but did recall waking up in the hospital.”

After federal investigators obtained her medical records, they showed she had a “blood serum of .151 of alcohol,” while an FBI crime lab test showed a she had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12. The legal limit is 0.08, in addition to THC, Marshall wrote.

Marshall wrote:

“The crash data information recovered from the vehicles indicated Defendant was in a passing zone, and went into the other lane, and was accelerating at the time of the crash. There is no indication of Defendant braking, or even swerving, to avoid hitting the other vehicle nor any indication that she even saw the other vehicle. Both cars were driving above the speed limit at the time of the crash.”

Following the crash, Begay and Yazzie interrogated Baker at the Window Rock Department of Corrections in Window Rock, Ariz.

During that interrogation, Baker consented to giving investigators her medical records, including the blood test results.

Indictment and release

On Nov. 19, 2019, 17 months after J.G. died in the crash, a federal grand jury indicted Baker on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury. (LINK)

While involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years, assaulting a minor carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years with a maximum sentence of life. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, but not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

After Begay arrested her on Nov. 25, 2019, at the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, she was brought to federal court in Albuquerque where federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered her held without bail until a detention hearing on Dec. 3, 2019, where she was ordered released by Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. (LINK) She pleaded not guilty during her arraignment the day before.

Marshall opposed her release, but the minutes contain no documentation of why.

According to the conditions of her release, she was released into the custody of Carol Tapaha and ordered, with the exception of travel to court, to stay within Apache and Coconino counties in Arizona. She is also supposed be monitored for alcohol use.

After her release, Baker was fired from her job as a nurse “in an emergency room setting,” her attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, wrote in a motion to modify the conditions of her release.

Her unnamed employer took the restriction of her release, that she have no contact with the victims or their families, to mean she could not work at the hospital and he wanted the judge to change the conditions so she could have incidental contact. Marshall did not oppose the motion, he wrote.

Khalsa granted it.


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