Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety

A sequence of events captured after a driver crashed his truck into a home in Bernalillo.
Photo credit: Kent Gurley

Truck punches into Bernalillo home

—Bill Diven

The driver trapped after crashing his pickup truck into a Bernalillo home managed to extricate himself and open a door to let police into the residence.

Bernalillo police reported that the 36-year-old man was headed south on Athena Avenue when he crossed Richardson Drive at a T-intersection and plowed into the mobile home. No one was home at the time, and the crash left the Toyota truck about two feet off the ground and protruding from where the front steps and door had been.

The first officer on the scene reported the driver trapped in his truck but trying to get out. While the officer looked for a way into the home, the driver managed to free himself and unlock the back door.

The driver said he’d just been released from the hospital and blacked out while driving, according to the crash report. The driver, who lived nearby, had cuts on his head and was taken to UNM Hospital, the officer reported.

There was no immediate report of any citations being issued or of an update to the man’s medical condition. The crash report noted the driver was insured.

Firefighters and Placitas Community Library soldier on after well failure

Signpost Staff

Add the Placitas Community Library and neighboring Fire Station No. 41 to the list of Placitas residents who’ve seen their wells run dry.

It’s still business as usual at both places, except for the prominent positioning of portable toilets, and the use of hand sanitizers and bottled water.

“We’re asking people to bring their own water and be prepared for it to be a little primitive for a while,” Library Director Marian Frear told the Signpost. “Our patrons have been very supportive and understanding, but it’s a little hard on our staff.”

The twenty-year-old well was drilled for the fire station and shared with the library to keep costs down for its new building, which opened in early 2010. The problem arose during the first weekend of December this year.

“A firefighter called and said there was no water pressure at the station,” Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon said. “The county hired an engineer who determined the well is at the end of its life.”

The county requested the engineer expedite the report, and it’s expected early this month, he added.

The fire station and library are on State Route 165 in the Sandia Mountains foothills about 1.5 miles west of Placitas village. The geology underlying the area and much of Placitas is complicated and fractured with sources of potable groundwater “highly variable,” according to a report by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.

As other residents have discovered, drilling a new well can be something of a gamble.

“If we do drill another well, is there a chance we’re going to hit water or not hit water?” Maxon said. “We’re trying to gauge what the fiscally responsible solution is and get the water back on.”

Fighting fires is not an issue since trucks fill up elsewhere and are always ready to go, he added. And the large storage tanks recently placed outside the station are not being engineered to connect to the domestic well.

For its part, the library doesn’t have deep pockets, as it relies totally on fundraising and gifts to cover the operating budget. “We’re already chipping in for the Porta Potti,” Frear said. “We try to plan for contingencies, but this one caught us.”

Speed restrictions lifted at Rail Runner crossings in Santa Fe

—Augusta Meyers

Santa Fe residents will now see an even higher level of safety at Rail Runner crossings in their area. This move follows a collaborative four-month review of those crossings where trains operated at slower speeds through the crossings, and there were flaggers regularly stationed at the crossings to provide warning.

“Throughout this whole effort, maintaining safety in the Rail Runner was our number one concern,” said Dewey Cave, Executive Director for the Mid-Region Council of Governments, the agency that operates the NM Rail Runner Express. “We were very fortunate to have members of the Federal Railroad Administration, the PRC, NMDOT, and the City of Santa Fe working with us to review these crossings.” As of now, all Rail Runner trains will resume operating at normal speeds through the corridor.

Killings by cops are much more common in Western states

—Jonathan Thompson

 As darkness and a chill fell over northwestern New Mexico on a Friday in late November, two men flagged down a San Juan County Sheriff’s Deputy to report a scuffle, with at least one firearm involved. The altercation was going down in Spencerville, an ad-hoc collection of homes, beat up cars, and dust, that lies just off the highway that links up the towns of Aztec and Farmington. As the deputies responded, they heard gunshots, and called for backup. Three more deputies arrived, along with a New Mexico State trooper.

As the five deputies approached the area from which the shots came, the trooper flanked off to one side, armed with an AR-15. He saw a “silhouette of a person raising a weapon,” according to a court document, and fired two shots. When a male voice screamed that the trooper had missed, he ran to another location, took aim and fired two more shots. The “silhouette,” a 27-year-old Navajo man named Myles Roughsurface, fell to the ground, dead.

Roughsurface was the third person killed at the hands of law enforcement officers in San Juan County this year, and the tenth in New Mexico. As of early December, the cop-related death toll for 11 Western states was at least 181, based on a Wikipedia survey of media reports. National attention has, of late, been on the police killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner in Missouri, Ohio and New York, respectively. But when it comes to the rate of police-related killings per capita, the West is the worst.

The statistics on such things are notoriously incomplete, depending upon individual law enforcement agencies to report the numbers. And the numbers, of course, don’t reveal the circumstances of the death; whether a cop fired out of self-defense or to save the life of an innocent, or whether he acted with excessive force without adequate justification. But regardless of which set of stats one uses, this is clear: Westerners are almost twice as likely as Americans as a whole to suffer from “arrest-related death,” as the Department of Justice terms it, or fatal injury due to “legal intervention,” per the nomenclature of the Centers for Disease Control.

From 2004 to 2010, Americans died from legal intervention — which includes not only homicide, but also dying in custody from accidental causes or suicide — at a rate of .13 per 100,000 people. During that same period of time, legal intervention killed Westerners at a rate of .23 per 100,000. New Mexico cops used lethal force at a higher rate than those in any other state, Oregon and Nevada were close behind, and every other Western state had a rate higher than the U.S. average. As was the case in the U.S. as a whole, African-Americans were the most likely to be killed by cops in the West over that particular period, followed closely by Native Americans, Hispanics and, finally, non-Hispanic whites; during other periods of time, Native Americans are victimized at the highest rate. Three Navajos were killed over a period of just six months in late 2008 and early 2009; one of the victims was killed by the same trooper who shot Roughsurface last month.

The heartbreaking stories do little to hint at the reasons for what appears to be a Western epidemic. Yet correlations with other stats hint at directions to be explored. Western states, for example, have a much higher suicide rate than other states, a possible indicator that mental illness that goes untreated is more prevalent here. Oftentimes, the victims of police shootings are exhibiting signs of mental illness when they’re shot; one of the victims in San Juan County, after behaving erratically and while fighting with police, slashed his own throat just before an officer shot him in the head.

There’s also a loose correlation in the West between police-related shooting rates and economic health. New Mexico, for example, leads the nation in arrest-related deaths, and also has among the highest rates of poverty and income inequality. That can create an environment of desperation, leading to more crime, which leads to more confrontations between police and the citizenry.

And then there’s the West’s gun-loving culture and high rates of firearm ownership and firearm-related killings. Gun rights advocates argue that the ubiquity of guns deters crime, because a criminal never knows which average Joe might whip out a pistol and blow the would-be criminal away. That same wariness must extend to police officers: If they’re in a region where guns are everywhere, then when a suspect reaches for something in his pocket, it’s reasonable to suspect that it might be a gun, giving a reason for the police officer to shoot first.

Whatever reason we might come up with for this sort of violent tragedy, it’s not likely to soothe the sorrow of the victims’ families and friends — or the trauma felt by a police officer who shoots and kills someone, particularly if by mistake.

About a week after Roughsurface died, I happened to be driving past the area where the shooting took place. I turned up the county road into Spencerville. It’s rough, to put it mildly, a place where poverty lies out in the open like the torn up mattresses and wheel-less cars. But to those who live there, it’s home and, presumably, a sort of sanctuary. Dusk was just giving way to dark, and I drove slowly past the humble houses and the single-wides, not sure what I was looking for.

And there, next to a metal fence, a Christmas-themed teddy bear lay in the dirt next to a row of votive candles, some glowing pale. It was here that Roughsurface went from being a living, breathing soul — an intelligent, "easygoing, mellow guy until someone riles him up," his mother told the Farmington Daily Times —to being just a memory, another statistic.

Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor at High Country News. He writes from Durango, Colorado.

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