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WED: UNM Students Face Expulsion For Not Following Vaccine Requirements, + More

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University Threatens Expulsion For Unvaccinated Students - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Students at one of New Mexico's largest public universities will be disenrolled if they don't comply with a vaccine mandate or opt to get tested regularly.

The move is part of the University of New Mexico's policy for having all students inoculated, whether they're taking classes in-person or online. New Mexico State University isn't going that far but disciplinary measures can include suspension.

Overall, about 70% of New Mexicans 18 and over are fully vaccinated, but getting beyond that percentage is proving to be an uphill battle since there still is reluctance among many people to get the shots.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich is among those pushing federal officials to move ahead with vaccines for younger children. Some parents have raised concerns, saying more time is needed to determine the effects of the shots on young children.

The New Mexico senator joined fellow Democrats Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Alex Padilla of California in writing a letter urging Food and Drug Administration Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock to work "as quickly as science allows" to authorize safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12.

"Surging at alarming rates in every region of America, the delta variant has created a new and pressing risk to children and adolescents across the country. This is a risk that requires immediate attention," the senators wrote, noting that more than 5.2 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

In New Mexico, the latest data shows there have been nearly 40,500 pediatric cases overall with most of those involving kids ages 12-17. In the last week, about one quarter of the state's new cases have involved kids.

The data also shows cases are trending downward.

At the University of New Mexico, the mandatory vaccine deadline is Thursday for students and staff. The school will require those without proof of vaccination to get tested weekly. Those who don't comply with the mandates will be dropped from the rolls on or by Nov. 5.

The university also warned that disenrollment will result in termination of student employment, including graduate student contracts, and that scholarships, loans, grants or other financial aid may be affected.

Data On Child Abuse In New Mexico Called Into QuestionSanta Fe Reporter, Associated Press

Data on child abuse in New Mexico has been called into question after lawmakers raised concerns that the former director of the state's child welfare agency provided inaccurate statistics.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports legislative committee staff has since found child abuse deaths in the state have more than doubled in fiscal year 2020 from the previous year and the state has the second-highest rate of repeated child maltreatment in the nation.

In a memo last week, Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey said the state Children, Youth and Families Department also has struggled with staff vacancies and high turnover in key leadership positions and that agency oversight needs improvement.

The legislative review came after committee members raised concerns that the agency's former Cabinet secretary, Brian Blalock, provided inaccurate statistics at a July hearing.

According to Abbey's memo, Blalock reported child maltreatment rates were below national averages, but the committee's staff found rates that soared to nearly twice the U.S. rates between 2015 and 2019, when the state ranked 6th highest in the nation.

National data for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, when the state's rates dipped during the coronavirus pandemic, are not yet available. But the memo cited a likely decline in national numbers as well due to a lack of reporting as children remained isolated in their homes.

Blalock resigned in August amid a controversy centered on his department's use of an encrypted messaging app called Signal.

Blalock, who will be replaced by former state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil, has said his reason for leaving was to support his wife as she pursues a new job opportunity.

Agency spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst said in a statement that the department under new leadership will approach its work with transparency and accountability.

Tribe Says Navajo Voting Rights Advocate Agnes Laughter Has DiedAssociated Press

Agnes Laughter, a Navajo weaver who successfully challenged the constitutionality of Arizona's in-person voting procedures and restrictive identity requirements for Native Americans, has died, tribal officials said.

Navajo Nation Council officials said Laughter died Sunday, but no cause was immediately released.

Born in 1932 in a traditional Navajo hogan without running water or electricity, Laughter was 16 when Native Americans got the right to vote in Arizona.

In 2006, she was part of a lawsuit that led to the U.S. Justice Department expanding the list of documents that can serve as tribal identification at polling places.

It was in response to Arizona's 2004 voter-approved measure mainly aimed at preventing undocumented migrants from voting and receiving public benefits.

Laughter had been using her thumbprint for most of her adult life before the new law required birth certificates, bank statements or driver's licenses

"You're not welcome here because you don't have the proper ID,'" Laughter later recalled what an election official told her in 2006. "I was so humiliated. It was like I didn't even exist."

Navajo officials said Laughter — a renowned weaver from the community of Chilchinbeto — did not have a birth certificate, didn't speak English and never attended school.

In 2008, the Justice Department revised procedures to provide a broader, non-exhaustive list of documents that may serve as tribal identification to vote.

"We honor the life work of the late Agnes Laughter and the legacy she leaves behind," tribal council Speaker Seth Damon said in a statement. "Future generations will remember her as a protector of our right to vote and the beautiful Navajo rugs she created. The Navajo people are grateful for her courage."

Virgin Galactic Says FAA Has Cleared It For Further FlightsAssociated Press

Virgin Galactic said Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared it to resume launches after an investigation into why its spaceship veered off course while descending during a July flight with founder Richard Branson aboard.

The company said it was advised by the FAA that corrective actions proposed by Virgin Galactic have been accepted.

A larger area will be designated as protected airspace to ensure there is room for "a variety of possible flight trajectories during spaceflight missions," a company statement said.

Virgin Galactic said it will incorporate additional steps in its flight procedures to ensure real-time mission notifications to FAA air traffic control.

CEO Michael Colglazier said the company is committed to safety and appreciated the FAA's review.

"The updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparations as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience," he said.

During the July 11 incident, the rocketship carrying Branson and five Virgin Galactic employees deviated outside the air traffic control clearance area during descent to a runway in New Mexico. The FAA imposed a halt on flights pending the investigation.

Virgin Galactic has said high-altitude wind caused the change in flight path and insisted the two pilots responded appropriately. The company said the ship did not travel over population centers or cause a hazard to the public.

New Mexico To Try Sat Again After Virus Derails Test Mandate - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico students will take the SAT in spring 2022 as the state phases in a pandemic-delayed testing requirement aimed at increasing participation that varies widely by racial and ethnic groups.

Those disparities were stark this spring as high school students were offered the test but didn't have to take it. There were deep differences in high school juniors' participation according to racial and ethnic groups, with particularly low tallies among Indigenous students, data released by New Mexico's education department show.

The state had planned to require high school juniors to take the English and Math exams this spring, replacing previous statewide assessments. Around a dozen states including Ohio and New Jersey require students to take the SAT or list it as one of the options to fulfill federal requirements for standardized testing.

But the pandemic made it harder for students nationwide to take the SAT. Logistical complications from the virus spurred New Mexico to get a waiver from federal testing requirements.

Exactly 25% of eligible high school juniors took the test this spring in New Mexico, according to data released by the state's Public Education Department this week.

The rate was far lower for Indigenous students, with only 11% of high school juniors in that group taking the test.

In Cuba, on the eastern edge of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico, around two-thirds of high school students have roots with the tribe. Eight students took the SAT last spring, down from 60 in a typical year, said Anna Brown, a guidance counselor at Cuba High School. Three were Navajo and took the test to qualify for the Chief Manuelito Scholarship run by the Navajo Nation.

"There were a bunch of kids that signed up for it initially," said Brown, who encourages students to take the SAT because the state pays for it and it's often accepted interchangeably with the competing ACT. "Not that many kids actually showed up" and wanted to take the risk, she said.

An increasing number of universities no longer require the SAT for admission, but state officials and local guidance counselors still encourage students to take it.

"If SAT weren't the state-designated assessment for high school, some students might never realize their potential for college placement. It also allows students access to scholarship opportunities who otherwise might not be able to afford tuition," said Lynn Vasquez, Learning Management System director at the education department.

The SAT is now free each spring for New Mexico juniors. If students want to take it more than once, it can cost as much as $100 with fees, or as cheap as $6 in districts like Cuba in the fall where most or all of the students come from low-income families and are eligible for free lunch programs, Brown said.

"It's like a gift," Brown said, noting that students can take the free test as juniors and then improve their scores as seniors.

The pandemic put those gifts out of reach for many, particularly in rural areas.

New Mexico has a large Indigenous population that accounts for one in ten students in grades K-12. Many live on tribal lands, which were more likely to implement strict lockdowns. Local officials were less likely to be able to offer internet access and remote learning, despite extraordinary efforts to do so. Native American residents are more likely to share a home with relatives, and those relatives are more likely to have underlying health conditions.

Indigenous high school students in Cuba were extra careful to avoid virus risk, Brown said. Some of her students who missed out on the SAT in the spring plan to take it this fall.

Indigenous students participated at the lowest rate of any group second only to foster children, only 10% of whom took the test, according to the spring education department data. Participation rates were at 15% or lower for students with disabilities, English language learners, and homeless students.

That's compared to 50% of Asian students, 38% of white students, 25% of Black students, and 23% of Hispanic students who took the test.

Of New Mexico students who took the test this spring, 57% scored at or above the benchmark in the SAT's composite English and math tests. That's down compared to around 70% in 2019.

Biden Caught Between Allies And Critics On Border Policy - By Ben Fox and Will Weissert Associated Press

President Joe Biden is caught between a hard place and an even harder one when it comes to immigration.

Biden embraced major progressive policy goals on the issue after he won the Democratic nomination, and he has begun enacting some. But his administration has been forced to confront unusually high numbers of migrants trying to enter the country along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the federal response has inflamed both critics and allies.

Much of the anger is centered on the administration's immigration point person, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

"Getting hit from both sides in the matter of immigration is no surprise," Mayorkas said on NBC last weekend. "We are in the epicenter of the country's divide, regrettably."

The result is that immigration has become an early and unwanted distraction for an administration that would rather focus on the pandemic, the economy and other policy priorities.

Just 35% of Americans approve of Biden's handling of immigration, down from 43% in April, when it was already one of Biden's worst issues, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Immigration is a relative low point for Biden within his own party with just 60% of Democrats saying they approve.

Images of Border Patrol agents on horseback blocking Haitian migrants from crossing the Rio Grande only added to the angst. While the widely shared photos incorrectly suggested that agents were using their reins to whip at mostly Black migrants, Mayorkas and Biden expressed outrage at the tactics and Homeland Security is investigating.

The outcry was such that Mayorkas was asked if his department was a "rogue agency." He responded, "I couldn't disagree more vehemently."

Some of Biden's strongest supporters on Capitol Hill and among outside immigrant advocates had already been expressing outrage about the administration's continued reliance on a Trump-era public health authority, known as Title 42, to rapidly expel migrants, including thousands of Haitians.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and onetime co-chair of a task force on immigration meant to unite Biden supporters with more progressive primary backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders, noted that the White House "has appointed some of the best people in our movement" to help run immigration programs.

But she is among those opposed to Title 42, which the Trump administration invoked early in the pandemic, ostensibly to slow the spread of COVID-19. It prevents people from making claims for U.S. asylum.

"This is the moment when friends need to have those courageous conversations with friends," Hincapié said. "When they're making the wrong decision."

The administration's refusal to halt Title 42 — even appealing a court order to stop relying on it to expel families — along with the lack of progress in Congress on a sweeping immigration bill that Biden introduced upon taking office has prompted supporters to warn of a return to the enforcement-heavy policies of President Barack Obama.

"They've been there for eight months," said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group backed by some of the nation's largest tech companies. "The policies that they are actively pursuing are very different than the ones they promised. The policies they are actively pursuing are failing. Yet the continued direction is in the wrong direction."

The Obama administration in its early years drastically increased the number of migrants it deported in hopes of showing Republicans it had stepped up enforcement while trying to get its own comprehensive immigration package through Congress. Officials ultimately expelled a record 3 million people, which led some activists to label Obama "deporter-in-chief" but still didn't produce congressional action on an immigration overhaul.

"The calculation that the administration is making at the moment is that they will have a better chance of getting Congress to act on broader-based immigration reforms if they can get the border 'under control,'" said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "That was really the theory of the Obama administration."

As did the Obama and Trump administrations, the Biden administration has been confronting an increase in the number of migrants trying to cross the border, either illegally or to present themselves to Border Patrol agents so they can claim asylum.

The total number of encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border reached just over 208,000 for August, a slight decline from July but still the highest since March 2000 and the highest since the last big increase in 2019, under President Donald Trump.

The current total is inflated by Title 42, with about a quarter of the encounters involving people who have been recaptured after they were previously expelled under the public health authority. The numbers also have been rising due to factors that include COVID-19 ravages on Latin American economies and a perception that Biden will be more welcoming than Trump.

Biden's response has been to try to address the " root causes " of migration by increasing aid to Central America, which was cut under Trump, and restoring a program that enabled children from the region to apply for visas to join their families in the U.S.

His administration has also proposed a federal rule to protect immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

"I'm confident that the president will use every tool at his disposal, but the administrative tools are not sufficient to fix what needs to be fixed," said Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under Obama. She blames staunch Republican congressional opposition, and Senate rules she says were incorrectly applied, for the expectation that immigration reform will not pass Congress as part of the budgeting process.

Legislative efforts aside, the administration has stopped the Trump-era practice of expelling children crossing alone from Mexico under Title 42, and has allowed thousands of migrant families to remain in the U.S. while they pursue asylum claims — a process that frequently ends in denial but can take years for a final decision.

It has, however, continued to use Title 42 to expel many families and nearly all solo adults, with Mayorkas repeatedly insisting it is a necessary public health measure, aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, argues that relying on Title 42 causes more trouble than it's worth by inflating the total number of encounters, which are still far below what they were 20 years ago.

"Title 42 has created a significant amount of churn at the border, and the end result of this churn hasn't been a more secure border," Reichlin-Melnick said. "It's been a reduction in the ability of people to seek protection and an overstressed Border Patrol, which doesn't have the capacity to deal with that level of activity."

A federal judge, ruling in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, recently declared the reliance on Title 42 to deny people the right to seek asylum is likely illegal, and said he would issue a preliminary injunction halting its use. The Biden administration appealed, further infuriating the critics.

Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director, said at a forum Monday that he is broadly supportive of administrative actions on immigration and of Mayorkas. But he said the ACLU, which filed more than 400 legal actions under Trump, won't hesitate to keep challenging Biden on Title 42 and other matters.

"I think litigation is as important in holding the feet to the fire of our quote 'allies' as it is about fighting the foes of civil liberties and civil rights," Romero said, "because that is what creates the political will."

___

Associated Press writer Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

Election Nomination Process Delayed Amid Redistricting - Associated Press

New Mexico election regulators are delaying the initial nomination process for congressional and state legislative candidates for as long as three months to allows more time for the political redistricting process.

The first step toward running for public office is to gather signatures on petition forms from registered voters.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Tuesday that petition forms will be available only for candidates aspiring to statewide office on Oct. 1. Other candidates seeking districted offices such legislative seats are likely to wait until January 2022 for the forms to begin gathering signatures to run for office next year.

Pandemic-delays to the 2020 census have spilled over into the political redistricting process. The Legislature is tentatively scheduled to convene in December to approve new political districts for Congress, 112 legislative seats and a Public Education Commission that oversees charter schools.

A Citizens Redistricting Committee authorized by lawmakers is collecting public comment on several redistricting concepts, including proposals from 20 federally recognized Native American communities from across New Mexico. 

The committee's recommendation are due to the Legislature at the end of October. The Legislature can adopt the recommendation or start from scratch.

Proposed adjustments to a congressional swing district in southern New Mexico are under scrutiny. 

Last year, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell ousted a first-term Democrat from the 2nd District seat. The district's boundaries are likely to shift and contract to offset population gains in a oil-producing region in the southeastern corner of New Mexico.

Cowboys For Trump Founder Survives County Recall Campaign - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin has prevailed against efforts to recall him from office as a county commissioner in southern New Mexico.

Recall committee spokesman Scott Fredrick said a petition drive collected 1,229 signatures from registered voters in Griffin's Otero County district, short of what they needed to trigger a special election.

New Mexico requires a number of signatures equal to one-third of participation in the previous election. The recall petition fell shy, with about one-quarter as time ran out on Wednesday.

"Since we didn't meet the signature threshold, there is no next step," said Fredrick, conceding defeat Tuesday night.

A successful recall election would have allowed Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to select an interim replacement. Griffin can run for reelection in 2022, but told The Associated Press last week that he's more interested in running for sheriff in his native Catron County or governor of New Mexico some day.

Griffin has resumed traveled to political speaking engagements — in Texas, Montana and Arizona — while burnishing his image in a new video documentary as a God-fearing "peaceful patriot" who stands in solidarity with about 70 defendants jailed on charges related to the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

The failed recall petition accused Griffin of failing to attend commission meetings, using his elected position for personal gain in promoting a support group for former President Donald Trump, improper travel vouchers and violating state restrictions on gifts to public officials.

Griffin described the charges as frivolous and blamed county staff for providing bad guidance on travel reimbursements.

Griffin formed Cowboys for Trump in 2019 with a group of rodeo acquaintances, vowing to hold horseback-riding parades nationwide in support of Trump. He is confronting misdemeanor criminal charges in the Jan. 6. insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, where he appeared on an outdoor terrace and tried to lead the crowd in prayer.

Griffin denies allegations that he knowingly entering barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent of disrupting government as Congress considered the 2020 Electoral College results, though he openly ascribes to unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

In a 50-minute online documentary and political origin story released in August, Griffin recounts his own travails inside a Washington, D.C., jail for nearly three weeks after his arrest in the run-up to President Joe Biden's inauguration. Griffin says he didn't directly witness violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but believes it was perpetrated by militant leftists and not Trump supporters, contrary to extensive evidence.

"I myself wear Jan. 6 as a badge of honor," Griffin says in the film, infused with orchestral tones. "I'm glad that I went on that day. ... to stand with my fellow Americans in protest of what will one day be known as the biggest rigged election in American history."

Biden's victory was certified by officials in each of the swing states he won and by Congress on Jan. 6 — after Trump's supporters, fueled by false allegations of widespread election fraud, stormed the House and Senate chambers in a failed attempt to prevent certification of how Americans voted nationwide.

Griffin says the film about him was put together by Trump-allied attorney Sidney Powell and her group, Defending the Republic.

Powell has filed a number of baseless lawsuits challenging 2020 election results and helped fund the recent Arizona election audit.

Griffin also is challenging directives by state election regulators to register Cowboys for Trump as a political committee, arguing that financial disclosures would subject contributors to harassment. Griffin insists Cowboys for Trump is exempt as a for-profit group and wants a 2019 state law concerning independent political expenditure groups to be declared unconstitutional.

Powell is representing Griffin in that case, now before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

A public fundraising effort to benefit Griffin is underway through the online crowdsource platform GiveSendGo that has raised at least $41,500 — including a $10,000 anonymous donation and gifts as small as $5. The fund drive highlights a photograph from the White House Oval Office of President Donald Trump posing with Griffin, who wears a shirt with the Cowboys for Trump insignia.

Griffin says the money helped him travel to Phoenix last week for a "Justice for January 6" rally.

"It's just to help with the financial burdens of not only the legal defense, which that is part of it, but also just to survive," Griffin said of the donations. "I make $23,000 a year (as a county commissioner) and I do a lot of traveling and I do a lot of work. ... I'm really financially strained all the time. So it's been a blessing."

A publicly appointed defense attorney is representing Griffin in the Jan. 6 case, and Griffin says he is represented by Powell free of charge in his lawsuit against the New Mexico secretary of state.

Are New Mexico Students Learning? Hard To Say Without Tests - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press/Report For America

New Mexico Public Education Department officials say few grade-school students participated in state testing last year and that it is impossible to measure learning loss from the pandemic.

On Monday, the New Mexico Education Department said that only 10% of elementary and middle school students took tests last spring despite schools being fully open at the time.

The department also acknowledged that New Mexico won't be able to measure student increases or decreases in academic proficiency because it hasn't had standardized, comparable testing since 2018, and won't have it until 2022.

That means the department won't be able to compare one year's test results with another year's results to measure growth or loss of learning until 2023.

"We've changed and we've broken our trend line, essentially," said Lynn Vasquez, Learning Management System director at the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Student testing allows parents to see how their students are doing, using an objective measure outside their school.

Apples-to-apples test comparisons also allow state lawmakers to assess the effectiveness of new programs and consider how to spend public dollars.

Normally, 95% of third and eighth-grade students are tested in compliance with federal testing requirements, but the requirements were waived in 2020. New Mexico and some other states got an "accountability waiver" in 2021 also, with no minimum requirement for testing participation.

Public Education Department officials say they would have wanted at least 80% of students tested in order to establish a baseline of where they are at academically, but few schools did. They said only half of the school districts participated in testing at all.

Albuquerque Public Schools, which serves one in five New Mexico students, only tested 1%.

In February, the legislature will have to decide how to allocate some $3 billion in the annual education budget. They'll have little data to drive that decision making.

"You can't understand what you can't measure," said state Rep. Patti Lundstrum, a Democrat from Gallup, in a committee hearing last week focused on education testing.

In a report presented to Lundstrum and her colleagues Thursday, legislative researchers argued that some learning loss is measurable, even using data from the education department.

The legislative report determined that the proportion of grade school students proficient in English and math fell from 38% in 2019 to 31% in 2021, while acknowledging that the results only applied to those who took the test.

They concluded average proficiency was probably worse, because students underrepresented in the testing tend to be those hurt by the pivot to remote schooling, including Native Americans, students with disabilities and students whose first language is not English.

The Public Education Department isn't requiring standardized testing for all schools this fall, either.

For the third year in a row, Lundstrum and her colleagues will not have quality education data they can use to judge education investments.

That's because the administration of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ended a previous set of tests last conducted in 2018 under her Republican predecessor.

The "high stakes" tests were criticized for excessively affecting teacher performance reviews, and pigeonholing students in remedial programs if they did poorly.

Lujan Grisham's education department replaced the testing regimen temporarily in 2019, planning to pivot to another testing format in 2020, which was canceled by the pandemic. A plan to move high school students to the SAT was also delayed. Last spring only 25% took it.

Next year, Lujan Grisham will run for reelection with no benchmark through which to measure the success of her administration's handling of education. The data that exists won't be comparable to her predecessor, or to other states who also had to deal with the pandemic ( many states were not granted accountability waivers in 2021).

Legislators, meanwhile, will have to rely on information from constituents.

"The partnerships with the school districts are going to be really key," said Gwen Perea Warniment, Deputy Secretary of Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

She said fall testing will be required for schools that accept state funds in order to pay for extra school days, called K5+ in grade schools and extended learning for high schools.

Without comparable testing in schools that didn't offer the instruction, it's unclear how legislators will determine if it's working.

For vulnerable minority groups including students in poverty, Native Americans, students with disabilities and English language learners, education officials say reliable data won't be processed until 2023.

Family Files Lawsuit Over Deadly Balloon Crash In New Mexico - Associated Press

The family of a passenger on a hot air balloon that crashed and killed five people in Albuquerque in June is suing the estate of the deceased pilot and the companies that operated the commercial balloon.

The estate of Martin Martinez, 62, filed a lawsuit in state district court last week against Hot Air Balloonatics LLC, Sventato LLC, and the estate of the pilot, Nicholas Meleski. The suit accuses Meleski, who had drugs in his system, of piloting the balloon in a reckless manner.

Martinez's family is seeking unspecified monetary, punitive and other damages.

A Federal Aviation Administration report shows that Meleski, 62, had marijuana and cocaine in his blood and urine. The National Transportation Safety Board hasn't ruled on the cause of the crash.

According to the lawsuit, Meleski was an employee of Hot Air Balloonatics and one of the organizers of Sventato, which owned the balloon that crashed June 26. The balloon struck a power line and the basket toppled about 100 feet onto a busy street.

Hot Air Balloonatics declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Also killed in the crash were Martinez's wife, Mary Martinez, 59; Georgia O'Keeffe Elementary School assistant principal Susan Montoya, 65; and her husband, John Montoya, 61. Co-workers had chipped in to purchase the balloon ride for Susan Montoya as a going-away gift because she planned to transfer to another school.

Police: UFC Star Jon Jones Dented Police SUV With His Head - By Ken Ritter Associated Press

Former UFC champion Jon Jones dented a patrol vehicle with his head during his arrest last week on a domestic battery charge for allegedly grabbing his fiancée by her hair, according to an arrest report made public Tuesday.

Jones' fiancée left their room at Caesars Palace with the couple's three children and police said she had apparent blood on her clothing when officers interviewed her about the pre-dawn altercation last Friday.

Jones, 34, was walking outside the Las Vegas Strip hotel when he was stopped by officers and "became irate and smashed his head onto the front hood" of the patrol SUV, leaving a medium dent and chipped paint, the report said.

Jail and court records showed Jonathan Dwight Jones was later freed from the Clark County jail on $8,000 bail pending an Oct. 26 court date for prosecutors to file criminal charges.

The domestic battery charge is a misdemeanor. The vehicle charge is a felony, with damage reported at more than $5,000.

Court records did not reflect if Jones had an attorney.

Jones lives in Albuquerque, but attended a UFC Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Las Vegas the night before his arrest. His 2013 fight with Alexander Gustafsson was honored.

Jones (26-1, 1 no-contest) won the UFC light heavyweight championship three times from 2011 to 2020, and is widely considered one of the greatest fighters in MMA history.

His career also has been defined by misbehavior outside the cage including vehicle crashes, driving under the influence arrests and UFC discipline for testing positive for banned substances.

Official: New Mexico Ranchers Capture Texas Homicide Suspect - Associated Press

A manhunt for a Texas homicide suspect ended Tuesday in rural southeastern New Mexico when ranchers detained the man at gunpoint and handed him over to sheriff's deputies, a sheriff's official said.

Kionne Devaughn Lewis, 29, of Midland was found about 30 miles north of Roswell in an area where officers had searched for Lewis late Monday after he abandoned his vehicle, officials said.

"A couple ranchers had him at gunpoint," Chaves County Undersheriff Charles Yslas told the Roswell Daily Record.

Lewis had a weapon on him when captured but nobody was injured, Yslas said.

An arrest warrant was issued for Lewis in connection with a double shooting in which a woman was killed in her Midland apartment and a man was wounded, KOSA-TV reported.

Lewis was turned over to New Mexico State Police. That agency confirmed the capture but did not immediately release additional information.

Texas Rangers' pursuit of Lewis had crossed over into New Mexico on Monday, prompting closure of 12 miles of U.S. 285 north of Roswell as authorities searched for Lewis after he abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot.

The highway was reopened early Tuesday morning.

Navajo Nation Reports 37 More COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported 37 more COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths for the second consecutive day.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals to 33,840 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago. The known death toll remains at 1,442.

Based on cases from Sept. 10-23, the Navajo Department of Health issued an advisory for 40 communities due to an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. 

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo officials are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel. 

Officials said all Navajo Nation executive branch employees will need to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of this month or submit to regular testing.

The new rules apply to full, part-time and temporary employees, including those working for tribal enterprises like utilities, shopping centers and casinos. 

Any worker who does not show proof of vaccination by Sept. 29 must be tested every two weeks or face discipline.