Saturday, January 24, 2004




Albuquerque Journal Staff and Wire Report


The 1998 hit-and-run death of Bernalillo resident Gabino Venegas is being re-examined by state police.


The state agency decided to reopen the case two weeks ago but had not contacted the family, said Lt. Pete Kassetas, head of criminal investigations for the State Police.


Venegas, 34, was killed riding his bicycle home at night six years ago.  Kassetas said he decided to take another look at the case after talking with a private investigator hired by the family.  "He dug up some information that really does need to be looked at further," Kassetas said. "We're going to give this case a review or assessment and see whether we can further the investigation."


Kassetas said a press conference held by two dozen families earlier this week did not spark the fresh investigation.


The families, who have formed the New Mexico Justice Project, held a news conference Wednesday to demand accountability from law enforcement agencies they contend botched investigations into their loved ones' deaths.


Venegas' father, Gabino Venegas, is a member of the project.


"This is excellent news, but I have mixed feelings," Venegas said of the decision to reopen his son's case. "I hope they are not doing this because of the press conference but because it's the right thing to do. I'd feel horrible if they were looking at my case just because I held the press conference."


Kassetas said he might not be able to find who was responsible for Venegas' death, but said the department owes the family and others like it a second chance.


"I tell my officers to put themselves in the family's shoes," Kassetas said. "No one wants their case files in the closet with the doors shut. If it's solvable, we need to do that. If it's not, we need to help the families face reality."  He said Venegas' death is the only case reopened so far.