Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez and his family were among those nearly hit when a large SUV drove through a parade celebrating Native American culture in western New Mexico, injuring at least 15 people, officials said.
Gallup police took the driver into custody on Thursday and later said he had consumed alcohol before descending the parade route that kicked off the 10-day Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial Centennial Celebration.
The vehicle sped through downtown Gallup about 15 minutes after the nighttime parade began and thousands watched. Many captured the chaotic scene on video, some shouting obscenities at the driver and SUV occupants who were held and handcuffed.
As the SUV drove near the parade, videos on social media showed people yelling for others to get out of the way and some pushing parade-goers to safety.
Children performing traditional dances appeared to be among the first to see the SUV coming toward them, the videos show. They ran to the side amid screams and others scrambled to get out of the way.
The footage also showed blankets, shoes, banners and umbrellas littered the streets and sidewalks as people fled.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that the state will send additional police officers and a behavioral crisis team to Gallup for the remainder of the event. She said 15 people were injured and most of the injuries were minor. Among the injured were two Gallup police officers.
Nez said the vehicle was approaching him and a group of tribal officials marching in the parade. He thanked people for their quick action to clear spectators and participants.
“We only ask your prayers for all participants,” Nez said in a video posted on social media. “We’ve all been shaken up. You’d see this on television, you’d think it would never happen here. I’m sorry to say it happened here in Gallup, New Mexico.”
Tonya Jim said she went to the parade with her parents, grandchildren and children. Her 5-year-old granddaughter, KaRiah, was chosen from the crowd to join a group of dancers. Shortly after, the vehicle rolled down the parade route, turned and hit a man opposite them who was sitting on a folding chair, she said. KaRiah was helped off the road by someone and was unharmed.
“I’m glad whoever held her hand kept holding her hand and riding with her to get her off the road,” Jim said. “I’m not sure who she was, but I’m grateful to her.”
Jim said the family burned cedar wood and prayed when they got home and said a tobacco smoke prayer Friday morning to calm them down.
“I have blessed my children and thanked the creator for still being with me and (for) praying for the families who are injured,” said Jim, who is a Navajo and lives in Fort Defiance.
During the chaos, the SUV veered into a side street, pulled into a parking lot before trying to pull out again, then collided with a parked car and backed up into a police car, the New Mexico state police said. Officers gathered in the vehicle and handcuffed the driver and two passengers, police said.
The nighttime parade is a highlight of the ceremonial celebration, which was established in 1922 as a way for merchants to showcase the culture and art of Native American tribes in the region, said Kyle Tom, board president of the Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial Association.
A daytime parade will continue as scheduled on Aug. 13, the day before events close, Tom said. Other events include dances, rodeos and a judged art show.
People travel to Gallup from the vast Navajo Nation that stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and from other tribal reservations to attend the parades and events. Nez, members of the tribal council and others expressed anger and disbelief at what was happening.
“It was supposed to be a party, but today was a tough time for us,” Nez said.
–The Associated Press