Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety

Sandoval County firefighter-paramedic Daniel Barela rappels over a cliff off U.S. Highway 550 to help rescue two girls from a truck that crashed forty feet into the canyon below.

The truck that slid off U.S. Highway 550 and over a forty-foot cliff with a father and his two daughters aboard is shown where it landed at the bottom of a narrow canyon.

Responders rescue family after truck dives into canyon

—Bill Diven

A father and his two young daughters emerged shaken and cold after their pickup truck plunged off a cliff during a snowstorm.

The trio was on a ski trip, headed north on U.S. Highway 550 when their truck slid off the road about halfway between San Ysidro and Cuba on January 15. The truck landed nearly upright in the bottom of a narrow canyon estimated to be forty-feet deep.

A Sandoval County sheriff’s deputy was first on the scene responding to a report at around 7:00 p.m. of a man on the shoulder of the highway waving a flashlight at passing traffic.

“He was able to climb down,” sheriff’s Lt. Keith Elder told the Signpost. “He gave them blankets and checked them for injuries.”

The man with the flashlight was the father who told rescuers they’d been in the canyon for about two hours before he decided to try to climb out. The canyon was some distance from the highway, and the truck was not visible from the road.

The Cuba Fire Department responded along with the Sandoval County Fire Department and the Regional Technical Rescue Team, a joint effort of the county, Rio Rancho and Corrales fire departments. About 15 responders joined in the rescue.

“We set up a rope rescue system and were able to bring them out,” said SCFD Chief James Maxon, who was on the scene during the rescue. “The frame of that truck was bent in a U shape, and they are just extremely lucky… They had their seatbelts on. Otherwise there would have been a worse outcome.”

Carlos Wong, 48, and Daniela, 14, and Carolina, 10, of El Paso, Texas, were taken to a Rio Rancho hospital to be checked for what appeared to be only minor injuries.

“In the emergency services, we see lots of tragedy,” Maxon said. “You get one of these, and it can make up for a hundred of those calls that didn’t go so well. It’s good for the responders.”

At last report, the truck remained wedged in the rocks at the bottom of the canyon. Wong was not cited.

Stranded and shoveling in Las Huertas Canyon

The Yahoo Express

Evan Belknap

With the holiday season finally over, and me back from Michigan itching for a mountain adventure, I borrowed my parent’s Subaru and, like many yahoos before me, charged up the backside of the Sandia Mountains as far as I could get, a mile or so past the Sandia Man Cave, and expertly got stuck in a ditch.

The sun cascaded down through the trees and lit the snow and my girlfriend rolled her eyes and politely said nothing as we gathered some sticks and stuffed them pathetically under the tires in the powder-dry snow. I realized that I had gotten so far solely because the tire tracks leading up to my highpoint were packed down—outside of the tracks, the road turned to an inescapable sinkhole of light, fluffy crystals. Each effort I made sunk me deeper and deeper to the left until all hope was lost, and new realities had to be recognized. I became aware of several other car-sized holes in the snow around mine.

On our walk back to Placitas—wishing we had gone cross-country skiing in the first place—we noticed the evidence of so many other stuck cars, and played out their trials and tribulations in our minds. We got a bar of service, and I called for rescue. My mother, having no car at the house, and with my dad out snowboarding, called around to friends with trucks, and within an hour, journalist Bill Diven came charging up after us in his bright red Jeep—a trunk full of kitty litter, shovels, and a chain. He emerged from his car and immediately took our picture for the Signpost. If nothing else, he would get a good story out of his efforts.

For the next two and a half hours, we dug and spread kitty litter and managed to pull the Subaru about hundred feet downhill, all the while entrenching it more. The sun got low on the horizon and even Bill was out of ideas. He drove us back into Placitas.

Signpost editors Barb and Ty were somewhat displeased when informed that their beloved Subi was still up in the mountains awaiting inevitable vandalism, snowstorms, raptor nesting, etcetera, and so further plans were developed over dinner, the worst of which was the idea of a night rescue mission. I desperately tried to describe the treacherous conditions of the road, imagining yet another stuck vehicle and an even-worse walk out.

We decided instead to go first thing in the morning with other friends who were sure they could pull us out. It was a formidable bunch of men, to be sure, and we had high hopes upon going to bed that night.

Seven a.m. came soon, and by 8:30, we were staring at the green Subaru in the ditch. We had two heavy trucks, four chains, six shovels, and four buckets of dirt. Then someone came up with the idea to ratchet the front of the Subaru to a tree across the road to ensure that we wouldn’t just continue to drag the car down the ditch. With this idea, lots of shoveling, and a bit of trial and error, the car was slowly but surely creeping its way back onto the road—at the expense of a groaning tree that we all stayed far away from. After three or four attempts and repositioning the chains, we were triumphant! We backed down to the picnic area to turn around, with minimal pushing and digging, and were soon back on the plowed road by Sandia Man Cave.

We cancelled the tow truck, which, upon further research might not have come for us there anyway, and definitely not for less than a small fortune.

I guess the moral of the story is don’t drive up Highway 165 through deep snow in the winter. Some people have had to leave their cars until springtime when it finally thaws and then they get stuck in the mud. Beware of the Yahoo Express.

Prescribed burns conducted in Sandia Ranger District

Fire managers on the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands conducted a prescribed burn on the Sandia Ranger District starting January 13, 2015. The burn was located near Cole Springs, west of New Mexico Highway 14 and Cañoncito Road in Cedar Crest. Operations may continue over the next several months, as conditions permit.

This prescribed burn was a planned ignition, conducted under specific conditions to meet resource management objectives. Approximately 130 acres of Ponderosa pine, pinyon, and juniper burn piles were treated in an effort to reduce hazardous fuels and improve wildlife habitat. The pile burn is part of the Hondo Environmental Assessment, undertaken to create a fuel break between the Sandia Mountain Wilderness boundary and the private land boundary to the East.

Prescribed fires are planned with the New Mexico Department of Environmental Quality ( Smoke impacts may occur in the Cedar Crest area and New Mexico Highway 14. Smoke sensitive individuals are encouraged to take precautionary measures. Air quality information can be found at For more information, go to or call the Sandia Ranger District at 281-3304.  Follow the conversation at

AG warns New Mexicans of Craigslist apartment rental scams

—James Hallinan, Communications Director, Office of the Attorney General, State of New Mexico

Attorney General Hector Balderas recently issued a Scam Alert in response to a recent uptick in reports of Craigslist apartment scams from consumers across New Mexico. This scam typically occurs when someone is looking for an apartment or house to rent on Craigslist. The “landlord” will not be available to show the property personally as they claim to be out of town, but they promise a great deal on the rent. Typically, the person posting the photo and ad does not own the property. The scammer will request deposit money to be sent to another state or country. Once that money is gone, it’s gone for good.

“Right now scammers are targeting college students, working professionals, and families across New Mexico who are looking for a good deal on rent,” said Attorney General Balderas. “Never wire money or send prepaid debit cards in response to Craigslist ads, and never give out your financial information online. Protect yourself so you don’t become a victim.”

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