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The Gauntlet

Carnations placed in memory

Romero Memorial Walk raises DWI-crime awareness

Barb Belknap

Two hundred and fifty burgundy-red carnations were passed out to approximately two hundred people who walked together on September 14 in memory of Danielle Romero, an eighteen-year-old Placitas woman who was killed in an automobile accident on August 15, 2002.

Romero, who was driving from Placitas to Bernalillo on Highway 165, was hit head-on in her westbound lane by a pickup truck driven by Earlene Nakai, a twenty-seven-year-old Shiprock woman who had lost her way to Farmington. Minutes before the crash, Nakai had seen by local residents making multiple U-turns in the road and driving erratically. Nakai, who was thrown from her vehicle to the middle of the road, was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital. Her condition has since been upgraded from critical to stable with head injuries. She is not expected to be released from the hospital for a few more weeks.

The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department has completed their investigation into the cause of the accident and determined that Nakai was driving under the influence of alcohol. A Sandoval County grand jury indicted Nakai on one count each of vehicular homicide DWI and failure to maintain a traffic lane. Sandoval County district attorney Lemuel Martinez said, Nakai could face up to seven years and eighty-nine days in prison.” The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department stated that when she is released from the hospital, she will be taken into custody.

Local residents are outraged that this DWI crime has hit so close to home. In an effort to comfort the family and community, two concerned women, Linda Perini and Vicki Davis of the Placitas Elementary School PTO, organized the September memorial walk. They also hoped that the walk would create a greater community awareness about the consequences of DWI.

The memorial walk began at Placitas Elementary School with a tearful invocation by Linda Perini, a supporter of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving program. Following a silent prayer, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department patrol cars controlled traffic as the group walked along Highway 165 to the shrine at the crash site where some participants placed the carnations in memory. Neighbors stood arm in arm, sang “Amazing Grace,” and paused with the family for reflection. The walk ended only a few hundred yards away at the Our Lady of Sorrows cemetery where Danielle Romero was buried next to her grandmother.

Father Virgil of Our Lady of Sorrows prayed with those gathered at the grave while people placed the remaining carnations atop it. A somber chorus of “Ave Maria” was sung. Father Virgil entreated the group to think of Danielle’s life and death not as a loss but as a blessing whose consequences and implications are yet to be realized. He implied that good would come from her untimely death.

Though it is too soon for the Romero family, friends, and a community overwhelmed by grief to be proactive about the cause of Romero’s death, movement is afoot locally toward greater DWI awareness. A fund has been set up at First State Bank to receive donations to be given to MADD in Romero’s honor with the hope that future tragedies may be avoided.

MADD was founded in 1980 by Candy Lightner, whose daughter was tragically killed by a drunk driver who was a repeat offender. The goal of MADD was to reduce drunk-driving traffic fatalities, and the organization has been highly effective in raising public disapproval of drunk driving. The proportion of traffic fatalities that are alcohol-related has dropped dramatically, in part because of MADD's efforts. Last year, New Mexico ranked fifteenth in the United States for alcohol-related traffic deaths:  46 percent of all traffic deaths in New Mexico in 2001 were alcohol-related. The national average was 41 percent.

To donate to this fund, visit any First State Bank and ask to make a deposit to the Danielle Romero Memorial Fund, or mail a check made out to the fund to: First State Bank, 221 Highway 165, Placitas, NM 87043.

The family would like to extend their appreciation to all of the people in the community who have helped them through this sorrowful time and strengthened the memory of their beloved daughter.

In turn, Linda, Vicki, and the other memorial walk organizers would like to thank the Romero family for allowing them into a family’s most private time for the dual purpose of remembering Danielle and creating greater awareness of DWIcrime within the community.

West Nile Virus confirmed in ten New Mexico counties

A crow from near Peña Blanca and a jay from Chaves County have shown positive tests for the West Nile Virus. The birds were collected from the field and tested at the New Mexico Scientific Laboratory Division in Albuquerque.

The virus has now been confirmed in ten counties in New Mexico: Curry, Quay, Roosevelt, Lea, Colfax, Union, Chaves, Eddy, San Miguel, and Sandoval.

Department of Health secretary Jack Callaghan urged residents to follow official recommendations for personal protection. "It is becoming increasingly important for residents to take these personal precautionary steps," he said.

Recommendations for protection from West Nile Virus include:

  • Stay indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks whenever you are outdoors.
  • Use insect-repellent products with no more than 35 percent DEET for adults and less than 10 percent for children from ages two to twelve. Alternative products not containing DEET are available.
  • Keep windows and doors closed if not screened. If you leave your house doors or windows open, make sure screens fit tightly and are in good repair.
  • Do not allow water to stagnate in old tires, flowerpots, trash containers, swimming pools, birdbaths, pet bowls, etc.
  • If you have a rain barrel, make sure a tight fitting screen or cover is in place to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

The West Nile Virus can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea, headache, and muscle aches,” Mack Sewell, state epidemiologist said. “In most cases, people who are infected never become sick or have only very mild symptoms for a few days. However, the virus can in rare cases cause encephalitis and death. If someone feels as if they have the flu, they should see their health-care provider.”

“During this time of year, mosquitoes are still very active,” Paul Ettestad, state public health veterinarian, said. “It is also important for owners to have their horses vaccinated.”

Most mosquitoes do not carry the virus and most people bitten by a mosquito have not been exposed to the virus. Less than one out of 150 people who are bitten by an infected mosquito get severely ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been no laboratory-confirmed tests in humans in New Mexico.

More information is available at

In addition, the CDC hotline that people can call if they have questions about West Nile Virus is at 1-888-246-2675. There is also a Spanish hotline at 1-888-246-2857 and a hotline for the hearing impaired at 1-866-874-2646.





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