Police: Poor decision cause of Ute Lake drownings

Angela Peacock

By Angela Peacock
Freedom Newspapers
Angela_Peacock@link.freedom.com
Two Portales men who drowned in Ute Lake last August made a “bad decision” to leave their boat and try to swim through unfamiliar waters in the dark, a state police official said Monday.
Toxicology reports released Monday show small amounts of alcohol were present in the bodies of both victims, but State Police Patrolman Paul Bell said he doubts alcohol was a factor in the deaths.
Frank Davis, 38, Sam Sanchez, 57, and Jimmy Park, 35, all of Portales, were on the lake near Logan when their boat ran aground on a sandbar. The men abandoned the boat and attempted to swim an estimated 150 yards to shore.
Davis and Sanchez drowned. Park was the only survivor.
At the scene, Bell said he discovered the men’s life jackets were left in the boat along with empty beer cans, which he said led to concern that the men were under the influence of alcohol when they decided to abandon the boat. Toxicology reports from the State of New Mexico Medical Investigator show Davis had alcohol in his system while Sanchez had alcohol and traces of cocaine, but Bell said neither had enough to be considered impaired.
Davis’ blood-alcohol level was .012; Sanchez’s blood-alcohol level was .066, reports show. A blood-alcohol level of .08 is considered drunk in New Mexico.
“They may have had a beer or two apiece, but I don’t think they were drunk. Sanchez had some cocaine in his system but a very small amount,” Bell said. “They made a bad decision of getting off that sand bar. It was dark, they weren’t familiar with the depth of water. If anything they should have at least put on their life jackets, but the bottom line is if they would have stayed on they would have gotten help.”
Family members of Davis and Sanchez could not be reached for comment on Monday. Park agreed with Bell’s conclusion about the death of his friends, but said he believed both men were good swimmers and that none of them were drunk.
Park said he doesn’t understand how he was able to make the journey while his friends did not.
“We just figured as shallow as it was right there we wouldn’t need life jackets because we’d be able to just walk back up to the shore,” Park said. “I knew they were both swimming behind me for a while, but when I got to that first buoy they weren’t there any more.”
Davis made national headlines in 2001 when he spent $360,200 to purchase a celebrity-autographed Harley Davidson motorcycle. The money went to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.