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Sandoval County sheriff's investigators released photos of a bloodied stolen truck and five people they are trying to identify who may be connected with a possible homicide.
Photo credit: —Sandoval County Sheriff's Office

Sandoval County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Strand and Sgt. Carrie Estrada investigate a crash that seriously injured the driver of a pickup truck on State Route 165, west of the Placitas village.

A calamitous month for Sandoval County

Signpost Staff

A seriously injured driver, an injured hiker, a ruptured gas line, and an abandoned, bloody truck added to the workload of Sandoval County law enforcement and emergency services in recent weeks.

  • The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department is still investigating a March 10 crash that left a battered pickup truck in a gully and its driver in critical condition.

At last report it was unclear if Ramón Gonzales, 74, of Placitas might have experienced a medical episode before his westbound pickup crossed the eastbound lane of State Route 165, struck a guardrail broadside on the driver’s door and flipped into the gully, sheriff’s Lt. Keith Elder said. Deputy Robert Strand, the investigating officer, had not yet been able to interview Gonzales, he added.

In late March a spokesperson for UNM Hospital said Gonzales was listed in critical condition. Strand reported Gonzales was ejected from the truck and was unconscious when first responders arrived.

The crash happened less than a mile west of Placitas village.

  • On Febrary 22, a man hiking Tunnel Springs Trail above Placitas fell about eight feet injuring himself in a location that brought out the county’s Regional Technical Rescue Team.

The team set up a rope rescue to bring the man up to the trail in a Stokes basket and then attached a wheel to the litter to walk him out.

Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon said rescuers walked the litter about two miles to the trailhead and drove him to the fire station on State Route 165. There, a CareFlight helicopter based at the Santa Ana Pueblo station airlifted him to a Rio Rancho hospital.

The man, whose name and the extent of his injuries were not released, was visiting the area from the East Coast and hiking with another person when he fell. Thirteen members of the technical team and other responders from the county department joined in the rescue, Maxon said.

  • The driver of a road grader suffered reportedly minor injuries when he ruptured a high-pressure gas line while blading a road on the Navajo Nation.

The March 10 incident just inside McKinley County drew first responders from Sandoval County’s Torreón Fire District, the closest help available. The grader from the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation was working on Horse Canyon Road when rocks and dirt thrown by the erupting gas shattered its windows. The gas did not ignite.

Twenty homes in the area were evacuated until valves on opposite sides of the break could be closed and the escaping gas dissipated, New Mexico Gas Company spokesperson Teala Kail told the Signpost. The gas was in an eight-inch line and under pressure of 450 pounds per square inch, she added.

Kail said the line was buried five feet deep when it was installed in the 1970s, but years of road grading left it near the surface. The pipe has been covered temporarily, and the company has long-term plans to bury the line deeper, she said.

Kail also took the opportunity to promote the free Call Before You Dig service. Call 811 several days before any digging to have utility lines marked.

  • Sandoval County sheriff’s investigators have released photos of a stolen pickup truck and several people they connected to it in what appears to be a homicide case. The gray Ford F-150 was found abandoned on March 1 in a remote section of Diamond Tail Ranch about six miles east of Interstate 25 off Hagan Road. The unpaved road connects the interstate at San Felipe Pueblo with State Route 14 near Golden. Investigators found blood throughout the cab of the truck, reported to have been used in a crime spree in Albuquerque.

“During the processing of the interior of the pickup, the investigators found evidence likely associated with death,” a news release from the sheriff’s office states. The Office of the Medical Investigator is conducting DNA tests in hopes of matching the blood with available records to identify any apparent victim or victims.

Investigators have released little other information, but say the photographs of people they want to identify come from retail stores in Albuquerque. Anyone with information on the case can contact Detective Eric Miller at 867-7520.


Placitas area fire insurance upgrade

—James Maxon, Fire Chief, Sandoval County Fire Department

The Sandoval County Fire Department has eight districts and twenty fire stations throughout Sandoval County, including the South Fire District that covers Placitas, Algodones, and Santa Ana Pueblo. The Placitas Fire Brigade that was founded in 1973 became part of the South Fire District several years ago.

The South District Chief is Humberto Macias, a longtime resident of Placitas, who reports directly to the Sandoval County Fire Chief. Chief Macias oversees five stations within his district, three of them located in Placitas. Firefighters across this district respond to an average of seventy emergency calls each month, the vast majority of which (at least with 85 percent) are emergency medical calls.

I am glad to report that the Sandoval County Fire Department’s South District was recently rated by the Insurance Services Office. The district’s fire protection was raised from a Class 6 to a Class 5. This means homeowners in the Placitas area may qualify for lower insurance rates (if you are within one thousand feet of a recognized fire hydrant). This is the best fire insurance rating that we’ve ever had in the Placitas area. We are only 1.5 points from an even better Class 4 rating, which I expect to happen within the next 12 months.

The Insurance Services Office (ISO) has been rating fire departments in the United States since 1971. The ISO rating is based on how well the fire department is anticipated to control and extinguish a structure fire. The rating is comprised of fifty percent fire department ability, forty percent water system ability, ten percent dispatch ability, and extra credit for fire-prevention activities. The best ISO score is a Class 1 with a Class 10 being no fire department or an area that is five road miles from a fire station.

The water supply in the South Fire District area is in greatest need of improvement. The following water systems do not qualify as recognized fire-protection water supplies either because of capacity or lack of water main size: Apache Mesa, High Mesa Water Association, Overlook Water Association, and the Algodones water system.

The county will be working with these water systems to see if improvements can be made to enhance their ability to be recognized as a fire-protection water source. The county fire department will still use fire hydrants on these water systems in most instances, however insurance companies view them as being inadequate.

The South Fire District scored 2.83 out of 15 points in the “staffing” category in the recent ISO rating. The district currently has four career firefighters on duty each day (two at the Petroglyph Trails fire station and two at the Santa Ana Pueblo fire station by the Casino) and an average of eight volunteer firefighters available to respond for structure fires. We will continue to recruit volunteer firefighters and evaluate our paid staffing.

We have a dedicated team of volunteer and career firefighters that proudly serve their community. We are proud of our accomplishment in upgrading the South District’s ISO rating and will certainly be there for you if you need us.

For more information about the Sandoval County Fire Department, visit www.sandovalfire.org.


Mosquitoes—an issue here even if Zika virus is not

Zika virus disease was confirmed for the first time in New Mexico in March, 2016, but it came by jet, not mosquito.

A 46-year-old Bernalillo County man tested positive for the disease after contracting it while traveling in Central America, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. No information was released on the man’s condition or treatment.

“We have anticipated that travel-related cases would be identified in New Mexico,” NMDOH Deputy Secretary Lynn Gallagher said in a news release. “We have been working closely with CDC to prepare for Zika cases in New Mexico.”

While only 20 percent of those infected show generally mild symptoms with few fatalities, Zika has been linked to a rare birth defect. All 258 cases reported so far in the U.S. have been travel-related, and 18 involved pregnant women.

While most cases start with mosquito bites, the virus can be transmitted by sexual intercourse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mosquitoes associated with the virus have been found in three southern New Mexico counties but are not known in central and northern New Mexico.

However, that hasn’t kept local fears from reaching the Bernalillo County-city of Albuquerque mosquito-control program.

“The program is aware of the public concern with the Zika virus,” Bernalillo County spokesman Andy Lenderman told the Signpost. “Currently, Zika is not an issue for residents in Bernalillo or Sandoval Counties because the vectors of Zika virus, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are not found here.

“Surveillance will continue to detect if species composition in the area changes.”

The Bernalillo County program goes after mosquitoes in various ways including stocking ponds with larvae-eating fish and urging its residents with concerns to call a 311 citizen-contact line. The Albuquerque flood-control channel, where water often stands near the Sandoval County line as part of keeping sediment out of the Rio Grande, is one place the program monitors.

While Zika is not currently a local issue, west Nile virus is and has been for many years. In 2015 NMDOH confirmed 14 cases of the mosquito-borne disease scattered around the state from summer into fall but with no fatalities.

There were 24 cases in 2014, five of them in Sandoval County.

Unlike its neighbor to the south, Sandoval County does not have a formal mosquito-control program although its emergency-management team does respond if a crisis is brewing, county spokesman Sidney Hill said. So that puts the burden on residents not to let water pond and to screen rainwater-collection systems to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

Tips for avoiding both diseases are largely the same including wearing long pants and long sleeves, using approved insect repellents following their directions especially for children, and making sure window screens are in good condition to keep the mosquitoes out.

Online information on west Nile virus can be found on the NMDOH website NMHealth.org while the CDC has a section on Zika virus at CDC.gov/Zika/.


Sandoval County mailbox vandal update

—Allen Mills

Recently in Placitas and other areas of Sandoval County, several U.S. Mailbox clusters have been vandalized and mail stolen from the boxes. This has been happening all over the state and due to Tax Season, I suspect it will continue.

On February 8, Deputies arrested two individuals in a stolen car who were breaking into the newspaper machines at the Merc. Information was obtained that indicates the individuals were involved in the theft of mail from the cluster mailboxes in Placitas, Rio Rancho, and ABQ. Sandoval County Detectives, along with the Postal Inspector, are working this case.

A week later, on February 17, Deputies arrested three more individuals in a blue truck who were breaking into mailbox clusters in the Placitas Trails West area. Sandoval County Detectives, along with the Postal Inspector, are working this case.

Postal Inspectors across the country work hard to protect your mail. But with deliveries to more than one hundred million addresses, the Postal Inspection Service can’t do the job alone. Here’s what you can do to protect your mail from thieves:

  • Use the letter slots inside your Post Office for your mail, or hand it to a letter carrier.
  • Pick up your mail promptly after delivery. Don’t leave it in your mailbox overnight. If you’re expecting checks, credit cards, or other negotiable items, ask a trusted friend or neighbor to pick up your mail.
  • If you don’t receive a check or other valuable mail you’re expecting, contact the issuing agency immediately.
  • If you change your address, immediately notify your Post Office and anyone with whom you do business via the mail.
  • Don’t send cash in the mail.
  • Tell your Post Office when you’ll be out of town, so they can hold your mail until you return.
  • Report all suspected mail theft to a Postal Inspector.
  • Consider starting a neighborhood watch program. By exchanging work and vacation schedules with trusted friends and neighbors, you can watch each other’s mailboxes (as well as homes).
  • Consult with your local Postmaster for the most up-to-date regulations on mailboxes, including the availability of locked centralized or curbside mailboxes.

Please be alert for any suspicious persons and/or activity in your neighborhood. Do not confront suspicious persons. Simply document as much information as you safely can (from a distance) that would aid the Sheriff’s Office in identifying the suspicious persons /activity. Report suspicious persons/ activities to the Sheriff’s Office via Sandoval County Regional Emergency Communications Center’s non-emergency telephone number: 867-4581.

If you know or suspect that a burglary or another crime is in progress, immediately report it to the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office by dialing 911

 
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