Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety

Sandoval County deputies talk with the father of at least one of the two teens who rolled their Volkswagen on the Camino de las Huertas switchbacks near Cedar Creek Road in Placitas on August 14. A report on the crash and any citations was not available by Signpost deadline, but skid marks suggest the driver took the turn too fast and flipped as he nosed into the hillside.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Mailboxes on Camino Barranca show damage from thieves using a cutting torch to break in.
Photo credit: —Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office

School burglaries unsolved, arrests in murder, other cases

~Bill Diven

Police, sheriff’s investigators, and even federal postal inspectors have been kept busy this month as thieves attacked mailboxes, trailheads, a home, and the Placitas Elementary School. They have also had to deal with a road rage murder.

Burglars score laptops at Placitas Elementary School

The Bernalillo Public Schools district is still tallying the damage after someone broke into Placitas Elementary School making off with 25 laptop computers and other electronics.

The burglary, discovered on August 1, possibly occurred over the weekend. Superintendent Allan Tapia told the Signpost the district tapped its inventory of laptops so the school’s computer lab would be ready when classes began on August 16. A large touch-screen computer and monitor mounted to a wall were also taken.

The district is still assessing the loss before deciding whether to file an insurance claim given its ten thousand dollar deductible, Tapia added.

Some of the items were found in mid August in a stolen car in Albuquerque, sheriff’s Lt. Allen Mills told the Signpost. At last report investigators were working to identify suspects.

Sheriff’s deputies reported doors and windows at the school were locked, and although two access hatches on the roof were not secured, it’s not clear how the thieves got into the building.

In March, someone broke into the school through an unlocked roof hatch and made off with nearly five thousand dollars in audio-visual equipment, including microphones, speakers, and a sound mixer, according to deputies’ reports. That case remains open, although DNA samples and other evidence were collected at the scene and sent to the state crime lab.

The school board recently devoted a work session to security issues. Tapia said the district is planning to add security cameras and intrusion alarms to Placitas Elementary and other schools not already equipped with them.

Mail recovered after Homestead mailbox theft

Mail thieves stepped up their game in mid-July using a cutting torch to break into cluster boxes on Camino Barranca in the Homesteads neighborhood.

A passing bicyclist spotted the damage on a Sunday morning and told the responding sheriff’s deputy the boxes were fine when she walked by the previous evening.

A resident told the Signpost that the boxes at 201 Camino Barranca had just been replaced after being mutilated in a previous theft.

Both the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating the crime. Lt. Mills said they are actively pursuing leads and recovered some mail that would be returned to victims shortly.

In February, the sheriff’s office made arrests in two cases related to mail thefts in Placitas

The Postal Inspection Service says residents can help protect themselves by picking up mail promptly and either taking important outgoing mail to the post office or handing it to a mail carrier. Additional tips are on the service’s website

Roadway fight leaves man dead

Bernalillo police reported a fatal fight beside U.S. Highway 550 that may have begun as an incident of road rage. Investigating officers have not detailed how that factored into the fight at the intersection of US 550 and Santa Ana Road during the afternoon commute on August 17.

Witnesses told police that a man wielding some kind of club, possibly a crowbar, beat the other man, pushed him into a canal, and then drove away.

One witness got a license number leading investigators to Lonnie Snyder, 63, of Rio Rancho. He is being held on an open count of murder. Richard Wall, 45, also of Rio Rancho, was found face down in the water and later died. An autopsy will determine his cause of death.

Rainbow Valley home burglarized

An August 10 break-in on Rainbow Valley Road netted electronics, tools, and a firearm, plus evidence that may help identify the suspect, according to the sheriff’s office.

The crime likely occurred around sunset or later in the evening in the area off State Road 165 across from the Placitas Community Library. A car with a nice electric-blue paint job driven by a man either bald or with a buzz cut was seen in the area prior to the burglary.

Investigators say anyone suspecting a crime in progress can call 911, while suspicious activity can be reported through the non-emergency number 867-4581.

Stolen vehicle recovered

An on-board tracking system helped guide Sandoval County deputies to Placitas and a stolen GMC Yukon. They reported finding a woman hiding just off Camino de las Huertas on August 12, who then led them to a friend’s home where the Yukon was parked. The victim’s wallet and other property were found inside and returned.

The woman was arrested on outstanding warrants with new charges related to the vehicle theft pending

Arrest made in trailhead crimes

A store camera recording use of a stolen credit card led to the arrest of a man suspected of breaking into cars parked at forest trailheads, the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Thomas L. Brown, 29, was arrested on August 3 after detectives learned he had been seen camping in the Jemez Mountains, searched campgrounds, and then spotted him driving a truck near Jemez Springs.

“Brown was taken into custody without incident,” a statement from the sheriff’s office said. “Stolen property, identified from car burglaries as far back as last year, was recovered inside Brown’s vehicle and from the search of his home located in Rio Rancho.”

Online court records show Brown was charged with fraudulent use of a credit card and has bonded out of jail. Additional felony charges are pending, according to the sheriff’s office.

Paul Sandoval, owner of Roadrunner Public Health, Inc., sits with one of his fogging trucks on an evening too windy to spray for mosquitoes.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

County on offense in battle against mosquitos

~Bill Diven

As Florida officials scramble to rein in mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, Paul Sandoval and his crews are quietly attacking mosquito-borne diseases already present in Sandoval County.

“A lot of people think it’s a mosquito-control program,” Sandoval said. “It is a public-health program… As long as we keep the virus load down, we’re doing our job.”

The disease best known in New Mexico is West Nile virus, although there are less-common ailments that can give people and horses forms of encephalitis and afflict dogs with heartworm, he added.

Sandoval, who holds a doctorate in environmental health from the University of New Mexico, owns Roadrunner Public Health, Inc. of Albuquerque. The company has a one hundred thousand dollar contract with Sandoval County to provide multiple services in addition to fighting mosquitoes in rural areas, Corrales, Bernalillo, and some tribal lands.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, from 2013 through 2015 statewide there were 566 confirmed cases of West Nile virus with 22 fatalities. Sandoval County recorded forty cases in those years but none in 2015, a year that saw no deaths from the virus in the state.

A forty-year-old woman in Rio Arriba County was this year’s first confirmed west Nile case, and she has since recovered.

The science, technology, regulation, and record-keeping involved in mosquito control has evolved over the years, becoming much more complex and aware of environmental protection, according to Sandoval.

“It used to be two guys and a truck with a fogger,” Sandoval added. “There’s a lot of science and chemistry behind this that people don’t think about.”

The first goal is to control breeding, he continued, so seeing a pickup truck with a rotary atomizer, better known as a fogger, usually comes later.

“We try to control them on the ground before they get into the air,” he said. “We always try to go with biological first.”

That can mean stocking permanent and temporary ponds with Gambusia, a fish that eats mosquito larvae, or adding briquettes of Bti, a naturally occurring protein fatal to the larvae.

Wind conditions and closeness of waterways can limit fogging, which generally is done in early morning and evening when mosquitoes are most active. The insecticide is mixed with water and reported to degrade rapidly in sunlight.

The company generally honors requests from beekeepers not to spray near their hives.

“We do all we can to avoid them, but the flip side is if we do, we’re not going down your road,” Sandoval said. The insecticide in the fogger is in a water base.

While West Nile produces mild or no symptoms in most people, serious complications can occur. Zika, which can be similarly mild, has been linked to severe birth defects and recently was shown to be transmitted by sexual activity as well as mosquitoes.

“There’s no need to panic, but there are steps we can take to protect ourselves and our communities,” Elizabeth VinHatton, an environmental scientist with NMDOH told the Signpost. “These are preventable diseases.”

Those steps include removing standing water where mosquitoes breed, using insect repellant, wearing long sleeves and long pants, maintaining door and window screens, and curtailing outdoor activity during peak mosquito hours.

NMDOH lists 58 types of mosquitoes in the state including two shown to carry Zika virus elsewhere. Those have been found in southern counties, and NMDOH and researchers at New Mexico State University are working research to determine their range.

By mid-August, NMDOH had confirmed four Zika case here—two in Bernalillo County and one each in Chaves and Doña Ana County—although all were in travelers infected elsewhere.

“There has been local transmission in Florida,” VinHatton said. “We don’t know if we’ll ever have local transmission in New Mexico, but we’re preparing for it.”

NMDOH, working with its Bureau of Health Emergency Management, has joined a group of border states to share resources and information, produced fliers and website material, and contacted local emergency and insect-control managers, public health offices, obstetricians, and gynecologists.

“We’ve been trying to build the coalition ahead of time so it’s well-established if we ever need them,” VinHatton added.

Additional local information on both west Nile virus and Zika as well as tips for reducing mosquito exposure can be found on the NMDOH website The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also posts updates on Zika on its web page

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