2012 Year in review

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Before moving forward into 2013, El Defensor Chieftain offers a look at some of the highlights of 2012. In this final edition of 2012 we look back at some of the most life changing stories of  the year. It has been a year of change for Socorro County and 2013 promises more positive advancement. Stories are presented here in order of the dates they happened around the year.
Although the myriad of events and presentations of the year do not appear here as stories, they have certainly guided and framed the area with activity and energy. Each event, like the Magdalena Old Timers Reunion, Alamo Indian Days, SocorroFest, the Pie Town Pie Festival, the Festival of the Cranes celebration of 25 years and the variety of the Performing Arts Series, to name but a few, have contributed to the unique flavor of 2012 Socorro and Catron counties.

 

New Confederate monument causes controversy

A monument to commemorate the sacrifice of Confederate soldiers who “gave their all to liberate our beloved Texas and southland” 150 years ago in the Civil War was erected in the westernmost portion of Socorro’s cemetery in February.

File photo: A monument to commemorate the sacrifice of Confederate soldiers in Socorro and across the south.

The marker, and the establishment here in Socorro of New Mexico’s only Confederate Memorial Cemetery, was a project of the New Mexico Confederate Historical Society; the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Texas Division; and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, New Mexico Division.

The design of the monument emulates Confederate headstones throughout the South.

“If you notice, it has a pointed top,” said Charles Mandeville, a local re-enactor. “Federal headstones are rounded on top. The reason for the pointed top was because Confederate veterans never wanted a Yankee to be able to sit on their headstone.”

Just by looking at the tops of the headstones, it’s possible to stand in a turn of the century cemetery anywhere in the country and pick out the graves of Confederate soldiers, Mandeville said.

The memorial weighs 5,300 pounds and is made from a pink granite quarried from central Texas.

A ceremony to mark the monument was featured during the February Civil War re-enactments of the Battle of Valverde and the Battles for Socorro in 1862.

Questions were raised about the erection of the monument in the middle of a Socorro cemetery. Letters to the editor printed in the Chieftain asked if the cemetery is city owned, whether the message engraved in the stone was vetted or approved by the City Council or city administration, whether the monument represents a thinly veiled “neo-Confederate” white supremacist intent, and if the message of the monument was historically accurate.

Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker expressed some concern over the controversy, and said he would be reviewing expenditures related to the city-sponsored Civil War Re-enactment events to make sure public money is not being spent in support of the monument.

Electric co-op member-owners defeat amendments at meeting

Socorro Electric Cooperative district elections were held in October, bringing some order out of a confusing and chaotic process.

File photo: Close to 700 people overflow the New Mexico Tech Macey Center on April 14 for the Socorro Electric Cooperative’s annual membership meeting to discuss proposed new bylaws.

During the June trustee meeting, in light of some controversy over whether or not present members should be allowed to serve out their current elected terms, the meeting specifically noted state laws require Districts 1, 4 and 5 to hold elections in 2012. Co-op member-owners decided in 2010 that the board should be downsized to five members. The four trustees that have one year remaining on their elected terms are to finish out those terms, regardless of recent redistricting.

According to a presentation given at the June meeting by Patty Williams, of Williams, Wiggins and Williams Law Firm, “Case laws say that if a member of a board is elected, qualified to have run and won an election, they have the right to serve out their term.” As qualifications for trustee position changed, all existing members were given a technical clean slate in relation to their term limits. This means they will, regardless of past terms served, be allowed to serve two more four-year terms if elected.

The District 4 election took place Oct. 6, District 1 took place Oct. 13 and District 5 took place Oct. 27.

In the District 4 Socorro Electric Co-op election, held at San Antonio Elementary School, David Wade, trustee incumbent, won the trustee seat against opponent Gayl Dorr by three votes. After the votes were tallied, including 47 mail-in votes, Wade came in with 122 votes and Dorr received 119.

Longtime Socorro Electric Cooperative trustee Leo Cordova won the District 1 election held at La Promesa School cafeteria in Las Nutrias. Cordova received 118 total votes while his opponent, James Bockenstette, received 56.

In the Socorro Electric Cooperative District 5 election held at Datil Elementary School, Anna Dorough won the trustee seat by defeating Buster Green by a margin of 12 votes, 60 to 48.

All three elected trustees were certified by the election officials and should take their seats on the board for the January meeting.

 

Cat hoarding case brings attention to animal control problem in county

Until May 22, Mary Baca, 52, lived alone with at least 45 cats in her home. On that day, she and her cats were removed from the premises.
After several locals made a formal complaint on May 9 at the Socorro County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Ed Sweeney, along with deputies Lee Armijo and Roy Cordova, met with Baca at her home on May 12.

File photo: Deputies remove 45 cats from the home of Mary Baca in May. The Baca hoarding case became an inspiration for the people of Socorro County to come together and better address the area’s animal control problems.

After discussing her options for what could be done next, the officers made it clear that the cats would have to go. While she was unhappy with the situation, Baca was cooperative.
Over the next 10 days, Sweeney organized a task force consisting of 11 sheriff’s department employees and city employees to deal with the situation. On May 22, a task force arrived at the house; Baca left, removing 14 cats on her own, and the premises were sealed to prevent any animals in the house from straying.
“She did admit things were out of hand,” Sweeney said. “We did not realize how out of hand it was until we went in to get the cats.”
Over the next six and a half hours, the task force removed another 29 cats. Inside the house, the task force found three dead cats and the skeletal remains of at least two more. Buried in shallow graves in the back were plastic bags containing remains of over 100 more cats. Fortunately, the city furnished excavation equipment and a dump truck to assist in cleanup.
At the end of the day, the locks were changed, and the owner was left to consider what to do with the house. All 29 of the cats recovered were sent to Socorro Animal Haven, with the city footing the bill. All 29 were determined to be either too sick or too inbred to be nursed back to health and released for adoption; all of them were put down.
Baca’s case became an example of a greater problem within Socorro: domestic animal control. The city’s entire animal control staff consists of three people — Animal Control Officer Frank Marquez; Alfred Jojola, who runs the animal shelter; and the shelter’s manager, Nicole Winders.
Local veterinarians have pitched in since the Baca case, along with many others, to address animal control issues.

 

Mill levy for health care passes by voters

A mail ballot to keep Socorro County health care in healthy condition passed in September.
Socorro General Hospital administrator Bo Beames covered a lot of ground, bending the ears of the community in forums and meetings about how much the mill levy means to the area.
Beames reminded voters that voting in favor of the mill levy would not raise taxes as it has already been in place since 1980.
SGH receives around $900,000 per year from the mill levy, Beames said. All of this money goes into a federally funded Sole-Source Provider Program, which matches the mill levy money at a 2-to-1 ratio. As a result, the hospital receives a total of around $2.7 million in annual funding as a result of the mill levy.
The money has to provide for direct patient care. SGH uses it to help defray the cost for those who can’t afford care due to insurance issues.
In Socorro County, the recent Community Health Needs Assessment reflects 50 percent of households have an income of less than $30,000, which is 135 percent of the federal poverty level.

 

General election draws county out in force

File photo: Voting convenience centers in Socorro County helped the November general election flow smoothly.

Fifty-eight percent of the registered voters in Socorro County turned out for the general election Nov. 6. The county celebrated a relatively smooth election day during a time that many counties and states were experiencing long lines at the polling stations; Socorro County’s polls were done by 7 p.m. Early voting was heavy also.
Socorro County chose Barak Obama for president over Mitt Romney by 56.2 over 38.07 percent of the vote. Martin Heinrich got 52.4 percent of Socorro County’s vote as U.S. senator while Heather Wilson received 42.95 percent. District 2 U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce kept his seat and earned 3,610 Socorro County votes to Evelyn Madrid Erhard’s 3,322.
Socorro County also gets some new facilities as voters chose to support ballot questions regarding a new jail and a new building at New Mexico Tech.
A local general obligation bond issue allows up to $5 million in bonds, to be repaid from property taxes, for the purpose of designing, constructing, expanding, equipping and otherwise improving county jail facilities.
Statewide Bond Issue C provides $119 million to colleges and universities in New Mexico, primarily for construction projects, including $18 million for a badly needed Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources building on the Tech campus in Socorro.

 

State rejects ranch’s water application

An application for a permit to pump massive amounts of groundwater from beneath the San Agustin Plains in west-central New Mexico was denied by the New Mexico State Engineer on March 30.
Augustin Plains Ranch LLC first filed the application to drill 37 wells to pump 54,000 acre-feet of water per year from the basin in 2007.
The application was originally protested by close to 1,000 individuals, ranches, businesses and government agencies. The protestants had a variety of concerns, including that the application would impair existing water rights, deplete flows in the Rio Grande and Gila River stream systems, dry up springs and harm fragile ecologies.
The State Engineer denied Augustin Plains Ranch’s application for several reasons, including the application omitted basic critical details required by law — how, when, where and in what quantities the corporation intended to use water.
The denial was issued without prejudice, meaning the ranch could re-file the application or appeal the State Engineer’s decision in District Court.
The ranch appealed the denial before 7th Judicial District Court Judge Matt Reynolds, who heard the ranch’s appeal and the arguments against it in September in a Socorro courtroom. He turned down the appeal in November.
At a public meeting held in Magdalena in December, Augustin Plains Ranch officials said they may file another appeal or revise the application and submit it again.

 

Man with life sentence could get out in three years

A man convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of 24-year-old Socorro resident Crystal Houston Calderella got a reprieve when the decision was turned over on appeal.
Ramon Lopez appealed his 2006 conviction to the state Supreme Court. In August 2011, the court ruled that one witness called in the original proceedings should not have been allowed to testify, and remanded Lopez’s case to the 7th Judicial District Court to be heard again.
Originally, the retrial was to take place in May, last nine days and recall 15 witnesses in the case. But Lopez pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in a hearing at District Court on Oct. 1. Under the plea agreement made with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office, Lopez will only have to serve three more years in prison before being eligible for probation.
District Judge Matt Reynolds accepted the plea bargain and sentenced Lopez to 15 years in prison, and allowed credit for the 11 years and three days he has already served.
With good conduct, Lopez will be released on parole Oct. 1, 2015.
Bernalillo District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said while she was not pleased with the no contest plea agreement, the Lopez case was not typical. The state’s case against Lopez has been plagued with witness problems that have been exacerbated by the length of time since the crime was committed.
“It’s an 11-year-old case, which doesn’t bode well for prosecution witnesses,” she said. “Besides the usual problems with witnesses’ recall, in the Lopez case, one witness has died and others have made themselves scarce.”
In 2011, the New Mexico Supreme Court threw out Lopez’s life-sentence conviction in an appeals case, saying Reynolds had inappropriately allowed the jury to hear prosecution witnesses’ testimonies deemed to be hearsay.

 

Gallegos brothers released

Two brothers arrested for murder in the case of a burnt body and car found near Bernardo were not tried for the crime, although they could be yet if more evidence surfaces.
Joe Lawrence Gallegos and his younger brother Andrew, also known as “Smiley,” Gallegos were accused of murdering Adrian Burns and burning his body on Nov. 12. Veguita Volunteer Fire Department firefighters found the charred body near a burning car that evening in a wooded area near Bernardo and called the Socorro County Sheriff’s Office, who in turn called New Mexico State Police to investigate the murder. Burns’ cause of death was a gunshot to the head, according to an Office of the Medical Investigator forensic pathologist who testified during Joe Gallegos’ preliminary hearing Dec. 6 in Socorro Magistrate Court.
Magistrate Judge Jim Naranjo found no probable cause to bind Joe’s case over to 7th Judicial District Court after the all-day hearing, which featured testimony from Burns’ girlfriend, forensic experts, police who worked the case and more. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the District Attorney’s office can re-file charges if more evidence against the brothers is recovered.
Smiley’s preliminary hearing had been scheduled for Dec. 21, but it was canceled when the DA declared nolle prosequi Dec. 14 since no probable cause was found to bind the first brother’s case over for trial. Nolle prosequi means the DA will not pursue charges at this time.
According to testimony heard Dec. 6, Burns’ body was found 10 to 15 feet behind the open trunk of the burning car. It was lying in a fetal position with the hands cuffed behind the back. Some evidence also indicated a plastic bag had been placed over Burns’ head before his body was set on fire.
“He wasn’t pulled out of the car dead,” assistant DA Ricardo Berry said during closing remarks Dec. 6. “He was alive and shot dead — kneeling, with his hands cuffed, and he slumped over in the fetal position.”
Burns had been the Gallegos brothers’ heroin dealer, according to testimony heard in court, and the brothers were allegedly the last to see or speak to Burns alive when they bought drugs from him the night of Nov. 12. A possible motive for the crime, according to the testimony of NMSP investigating officers, was that the brothers had believed Burns had a large sum of cash hidden, as well as drugs, which they wanted for themselves.

 

Electric co-op district elections herald change in attitudes

A monument to commemorate the sacrifice of Confederate soldiers who “gave their all to liberate our beloved Texas and southland” 150 years ago in the Civil War was erected in the westernmost portion of Socorro’s cemetery in February.

File photo: Socorro Electric Cooperative election officials ponder results at the District 4 election held Oct. 6 at the San Antonio Elementary School.

The marker, and the establishment here in Socorro of New Mexico’s only Confederate Memorial Cemetery, was a project of the New Mexico Confederate Historical Society; the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Texas Division; and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, New Mexico Division.
The design of the monument emulates Confederate headstones throughout the South.
“If you notice, it has a pointed top,” said Charles Mandeville, a local re-enactor. “Federal headstones are rounded on top. The reason for the pointed top was because Confederate veterans never wanted a Yankee to be able to sit on their headstone.”
Just by looking at the tops of the headstones, it’s possible to stand in a turn of the century cemetery anywhere in the country and pick out the graves of Confederate soldiers, Mandeville said.
The memorial weighs 5,300 pounds and is made from a pink granite quarried from central Texas.
A ceremony to mark the monument was featured during the February Civil War re-enactments of the Battle of Valverde and the Battles for Socorro in 1862.
Questions were raised about the erection of the monument in the middle of a Socorro cemetery. Letters to the editor printed in the Chieftain asked if the cemetery is city owned, whether the message engraved in the stone was vetted or approved by the City Council or city administration, whether the monument represents a thinly veiled “neo-Confederate” white supremacist intent, and if the message of the monument was historically accurate.
Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker expressed some concern over the controversy, and said he would be reviewing expenditures related to the city-sponsored Civil War Re-enactment events to make sure public money is not being spent in support of the monument.
Socorro Electric Cooperative district elections were held in October, bringing some order out of a confusing and chaotic process.
During the June trustee meeting, in light of some controversy over whether or not present members should be allowed to serve out their current elected terms, the meeting specifically noted state laws require Districts 1, 4 and 5 to hold elections in 2012. Co-op member-owners decided in 2010 that the board should be downsized to five members. The four trustees that have one year remaining on their elected terms are to finish out those terms, regardless of recent redistricting.
According to a presentation given at the June meeting by Patty Williams, of Williams, Wiggins and Williams Law Firm, “Case laws say that if a member of a board is elected, qualified to have run and won an election, they have the right to serve out their term.” As qualifications for trustee position changed, all existing members were given a technical clean slate in relation to their term limits. This means they will, regardless of past terms served, be allowed to serve two more four-year terms if elected.
The District 4 election took place Oct. 6, District 1 took place Oct. 13 and District 5 took place Oct. 27.
In the District 4 Socorro Electric Co-op election, held at San Antonio Elementary School, David Wade, trustee incumbent, won the trustee seat against opponent Gayl Dorr by three votes. After the votes were tallied, including 47 mail-in votes, Wade came in with 122 votes and Dorr received 119.
Longtime Socorro Electric Cooperative trustee Leo Cordova won the District 1 election held at La Promesa School cafeteria in Las Nutrias. Cordova received 118 total votes while his opponent, James Bockenstette, received 56.
In the Socorro Electric Cooperative District 5 election held at Datil Elementary School, Anna Dorough won the trustee seat by defeating Buster Green by a margin of 12 votes, 60 to 48.
All three elected trustees were certified by the election officials and should take their seats on the board for the January meeting.

 

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