Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety

Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon stands with the certification presented to him after completing the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. The four-year professional development program required about 700 hours of study and producing four research projects relevant to administration and organization in the fire service.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Cause of dangerous Placitas house fire remains a mystery

--Signpost Staff

Investigators have been unable to find a specific cause for the June 23 fire that destroyed a home in the Placitas village and threatened to spread into the national forest.

"They have ruled it as 'undetermined,'" said Carlos Padilla of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, which oversees the State Fire Marshal's Office. They did, however, exclude arson and found no sign of the fireworks reported in the neighborhood the night before, he added.

"There is no indication it was caused with any malicious intent," Padilla told the Signpost.

The fire began shortly before 3:00 p.m. on the porch of the home near the intersection of Paseo de San Antonio and Camino Camposanto on the eastern edge of the village.

"The woman was in the kitchen area," Padilla said. "Her dog was barking, and she thought someone was at the door… When she walked to the door and looked out, that's when she noticed the porch was on fire."

Investigators considered whether a cigarette from smoking on the porch might have sparked the fire but couldn't reach a conclusion, he said.

Flames moved into trees and other vegetation around the house as embers flew east over a neighbor's home and across Camino los Altos where they started a spot fire, which was quickly put out by a crew from Bernalillo. About fifty firefighters from multiple agencies contained the blaze before it spread farther up the ridge. By then, water-dropping helicopters were on their way but were not needed.

County replaces jail leadership after latest escape

~Signpost Staff

Interim leadership took control of the Sandoval County Detention Center (SCDC) in August after a third inmate escaped, this time by allegedly tricking jail officers into setting him free.

After a mostly closed special meeting on August 16, county commissioners named sheriff's Sgt. Victor Rodriguez, a past officer at SCDC, to be interim warden. Current SCDC Capt. Chris Urbanic became the interim deputy warden.

The Sandoval County Sheriff's Office took over SCDC operations on July 31 five days after Ryan Griffin, being held without bond on credit card and other charges, convinced three jail employees he was another inmate scheduled for release. Griffin was taken back into custody on July 26 after being tracked to a home in Albuquerque.

"In addition to stealing the ID, Griffin took the extra step of shaving his head and groomed his facial hair on that day so he would look more like his cellmate, who had a clean-shaven head," a statement from the county read. "With the stolen ID and altered appearance, Griffin responded when the other inmate’s name was called to go through the release process. Officials believe the other inmate was still sleeping."

At the time, Warden Matthew Elwell said three employees, two of them supervisors, faced disciplinary action for their roles in the mistaken release. One, who failed to ask Griffin a series of personal questions intended to confirm his identity, already had announced his resignation and was let go immediately, according to the statement.

The staff already had gone through refresher training on jail procedures after two inmates escaped through a hole in the recreation yard fence on May 5. On July 31, the county fired both Elwell and Deputy Warden Bobby Brookhouser.

"Recent events at the detention center make these management changes necessary," County Manager Dianne Maes said. "Community safety is our first concern, as is detention center staff safety, as well as inmate safety."

In the May jailbreak, two men, one an alleged killer misclassified as a minimum-security inmate, exploited the damaged fence to reach the roof of the detention center, then the street, and eventually Bernalillo. About two hours passed before their absence was noticed. Within days both were recaptured.

The county is bringing in the New Mexico Association of Counties and outside experts to assess the facility and begin the three-year process toward accreditation by the American Correctional Association. Among other benefits, accreditation potentially reduces the cost of insurance at the detention center, currently $517,000 a year, by $25,000 annually.

"It's amazing to me the facility has not been accredited," Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald said. "We're looking at 37 years without savings like that.

Rodriguez said that while the jail met federal standards allowing it to house federal inmates, accreditation provides extra incentives to follow good practices… This is welcome news by the employees at the detention center who have been looking for this kind of change. I feel strongly we have the support of most of the staff."

Meanwhile the county's consulting firm also is helping the search for a permanent warden for SCDC.

Coffee with cops

On September 30, from 10:00 to noon, Sandoval County residents are invited to stop by the Placitas Café to say hello to Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office deputies and voice their concerns, ask any questions, and enjoy some coffee and breakfast. The Placitas Café is located at 221 Highway 165 in Placitas.
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