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MON: NM passes 5,000 Covid-19 deaths, AD who gave Baldwin gun has previous safety complaints,+more

Brett Sholtis
Stephanie Rimel looks at a photo of her brother Kyle Dixon, 27, who died of COVID-19 on Jan. 20. She says that during his illness and after his death, some people made insensitive comments or denied the pandemic's reality.

Grim milestone: Over 5,000 deaths in New Mexico from virus—Associated Press

New Mexico has reached the grim milestone of having more than 5,000 deaths from COVID-19, officials said Monday.

Most of those hospitalized with the virus were unvaccinated.

Ninety three percent of the 1,039 people who died in New Mexico from the virus from February to Oct. 11 weren't vaccinated.

In all, the state has seen 271,212 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,002 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.

Crew member who gave Baldwin gun subject of prior complaint—Gillian Flaccus, Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A crew member says she has raised safety concerns in the past about the assistant director who authorities say unwittingly handed actor Alec Baldwin the prop gun that killed a cinematographer on a film set.

Maggie Goll, a prop maker and licensed pyrotechnician, said in a statement that she filed an internal complaint with the executive producers of Hulu's "Into the Dark" series in 2019 over concerns about assistant director Dave Halls' behavior on set. Goll said in a phone interview Sunday that Halls disregarded safety protocols for weapons and pyrotechnics and tried to continue filming after the supervising pyrotechnician lost consciousness on set.

Halls has not returned phone calls and email messages seeking comment.

This week's fatal shooting and some of her previous experiences point to larger safety issues that need to be addressed, Goll said, adding that crew member safety and wellbeing are top issues in ongoing contract negotiations between a union that represents film and TV workers and a major producers' group.

"This situation is not about Dave Halls. ... It's in no way one person's fault," she said. "It's a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture."

Baldwin fired a prop gun on the New Mexico set of the film "Rust" Thursday, killing 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her.

The gun Baldwin used was one of three that a firearms specialist, or "armorer," had set on a cart outside the building where a scene was being rehearsed, according to court records. Halls grabbed a gun off a cart and handed it to Baldwin, indicating that the weapon was safe by yelling "cold gun," court papers say. But it was loaded with live rounds, according to the records.

Baldwin, 63, who is known for his roles in "30 Rock" and "The Hunt for Red October" and his impression of former President Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live," has described the killing as a "tragic accident."

Goll said it should not have happened because there are "so many steps that you have to go through ... that the possibility of it even getting there should be impossible."

Actor Ray Liotta agreed that the checks on firearms are usually extensive.

"They always — that I know of — they check it so you can see," Liotta said in an interview Sunday at the Newport Beach Film Festival. "They give it to the person you're pointing the gun at, they do it to the producer, they show whoever is there that it doesn't work."

Rust Movie Productions has not answered repeated emails seeking comment.

Baldwin, who is a producer on "Rust," met with Hutchins' husband and 9-year-old son Saturday at a hotel in Santa Fe where the actor had been staying during filming. Baldwin and Hutchins' husband can be seen embracing in a photo published by the New York Post.

A vigil for Hutchins was held Sunday in Southern California, where attendees exchanged tearful hugs and speakers called for heightened safety standards on film sets.

Goll said in her email that during work on "Into the Dark," Halls didn't hold safety meetings and consistently failed to announce the presence of a firearm on set to the crew, as is protocol. The assistant prop master admonished Halls several times for dismissing the actors before they had returned weapons to the props table, she said.

She became most concerned, however, when the supervising pyrotechnician, who is diabetic, was found unconscious in a chair, she said. Halls wanted to resume filming after the man was removed from the set even though Goll, the remaining pyrotechnician on site, didn't have the qualifications to supervise the complicated series of pyrotechnic effects that were planned.

"One of the things that stuck out to me most about that day is the fact that he called out on radio over channel one, 'Hey, Maggie says we can keep going!' and I basically held the button down so he couldn't transmit to anyone else on that channel while I yelled out, 'No, Dave, that's not what I said. We're not doing that,'" she recalled in a phone interview.

She filed an internal complaint with the executive producers of Blumhouse Productions about that day, she said.

"To my knowledge nothing was done after my complaints," she said in an email.

"I am gutted at not pushing harder for greater accountability and safety," she wrote. "Many of us have messaged each other wondering the same thing: is there something we could have done then that would have prevented the tragedy?"


Flaccus reported from Portland, Oregon. Associated Press writers Jake Coyle and Jocelyn Noveck in New York; Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles; Walter Berry in Phoenix; and Michelle Eaton in Newport Beach, California, contributed to this report.

Let computers do it: Film set tragedy spurs call to ban guns - By Jocelyn Noveck AP National Writer

With computer-generated imagery, it seems the sky's the limit in the magic Hollywood can produce: elaborate dystopian universes. Trips to outer space, for those neither astronauts nor billionaires. Immersive journeys to the future, or back to bygone eras.

But as a shocked and saddened industry was reminded this week, many productions still use guns — real guns — when filming. And despite rules and regulations, people can get killed, as happened last week when Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins after he was handed a weapon and told it was safe.

The tragedy has led some in Hollywood, along with incredulous observers, to ask: Why are real guns ever used on set, when computers can create gunshots in post-production? Isn't even the smallest risk unacceptable?

For Alexi Hawley, it is. "Any risk is too much risk," the executive producer of ABC's police drama "The Rookie" announced in a staff memo Friday, saying the events in New Mexico had "shaken us all."

There "will be no more 'live' weapons on the show," he wrote in a note, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter and confirmed by The Associated Press. 

Instead, he said, the policy would be to use replica guns, which use pellets and not bullets, with muzzle flashes added in post-production.

The director of the popular Kate Winslet drama "Mare of Easttown," Craig Zobel, called for the entire industry to follow suit and said gunshots on that show were added after filming, even though on previous productions he has used live rounds.

"There's no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore," Zobel wrote on Twitter. "Should just be fully outlawed. There's computers now. The gunshots on 'Mare of Easttown' are all digital. You can probably tell, but who cares? It's an unnecessary risk."

Bill Dill — a cinematographer who taught Hutchins, a rising star in her field, at the American Film Institute — expressed disgust in an interview over the "archaic practice of using real guns with blanks in them, when we have readily available and inexpensive computer graphics."

Dill, whose credits include "The Five Heartbeats" and "Dancing in September," said there was added danger from real guns because "people are working long hours" on films and "are exhausted."

"There's no excuse for using live weapons," he said.

A petition was launched over the weekend on change.org  for real guns to be banned from production sets.

"There is no excuse for something like this to happen in the 21st century," it said of the tragedy. "This isn't the early 90's, when Brandon Lee was killed in the same manner. Change needs to happen before additional talented lives are lost." Lee, the actor son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was killed in 1993 by a makeshift bullet  left in a prop gun after a previous scene. 

The petition appealed to Baldwin directly "to use his power and influence" in the industry and promote "Halyna's Law," which would ban the use of real firearms on set. As it stands, the U.S. federal workplace safety agency is silent on the issue and most of the preferred states for productions take a largely hands-off approach.

Hutchins, 42, died and director Joel Souza was wounded Thursday on the set of the Western "Rust" when Baldwin fired a prop gun that a crew member unwittingly told him was "cold" or not loaded with live rounds, according to court documents made public Friday.

Souza was later released from the hospital.

The tragedy came after some workers had walked off the job to protest safety conditions and other production issues on the film, of which Baldwin is the star and a producer.

In an interview, British cinematographer Steven Hall noted that he worked on a production this year in Madrid that involved "lots of firearms."

"We were encouraged not to use blanks, but to rely on visual effects in post (production) to create whatever effect we wanted from a particular firearm, with the actor miming the recoil from the gun, and it works very well," he said.

He noted, though, that special effects add costs to a production's budget. "So it's easier and perhaps more economic to actually discharge your weapon on set using a blank," said Hall, a veteran cinematographer who has worked on films like "Fury" and "Thor: The Dark World." But, he said, "the problem with blanks is, of course … something is emitted from the gun."

Besides financial concerns, why else would real guns be seen as preferable? "There are advantages to using blanks on set that some people want to get," said Sam Dormer, a British "armorer," or firearms specialist. "For instance, you get a (better) reaction from the actor."

Still, Dormer said, the movie industry is likely moving away from real guns, albeit slowly. 

The term "prop gun" can apply to anything from a rubber toy to a real firearm that can fire a projectile. If it's used for firing, even blanks, it's considered a real gun. A blank is a cartridge that contains gunpowder but no bullet. Still, it can hurt or even kill someone who is close by, according to the Actors' Equity Association. 

That's why many are calling to ban blanks as well, and use disabled or replica guns.

"Really there is no good reason in this day to have blanks on set," director Liz Garbus wrote on Twitter. "CGI can make the gun seem 'real,' and if you don't have the budget for the CGI, then don't shoot the scene."

Broadway actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote that the tragedy certainly made him wonder why Hollywood wasn't leaning more on special effects. 

"Why, with all of the Hollywood magic available, are they still firing off gun powder? They know that they are going to goose-up the gunshots in post production," he wrote on Facebook. "Why chance an accident in the first place?"

But he also said the death raised even broader questions.

"With all of that Hollywood talent and imagination are we still writing stories about shooting one another?" he asked. "Do we really have nothing better to spend millions of dollars on than the glamorization of gun battles?"

10-digit phone dialing to be required in New Mexico - Associated Press

Starting Sunday, phone users across New Mexico must include area codes when dialing to make all calls, including local calls that previously only required seven digits.

The requirement for 10-digit dialing is taking hold in numerous states, affecting 82 area codes across the nation, and including both area codes in New Mexico, according to the Northern American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA).

The 505 area code covers the Albuquerque area, Santa Fe and much of northern New Mexico, including Gallup, Farmington and Las Vegas. The 575 area code covers southern and eastern New Mexico, including Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Roswell, Clovis, Hobbs, Silver City and Artesia.

The change is being made in those area codes where some phone numbers have 988 prefixes. The Federal Communications Commission last year chose 988 for use as the three-digit abbreviated dialing code to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline starting next July.

Beginning Sunday, "calls dialed with only seven digits may not be completed, and a recording may inform you that your call cannot be completed as dialed," New Mexico state officials said Friday in a statement. Those callers have to hang up and dial again using the area code and seven-digit telephone number.

"It's a minor inconvenience to reprogram the area code 505 or 575 in our phones but it will make a huge difference if it will save a life and someone can call 988 when they're having a mental health crisis," said Dr. David Scrase, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Human Services Department and acting secretary for the New Mexico Department of Health.

Things that won't change include customers' telephone numbers or area codes, the prices or rates of phone calls and the need for some long-distances callers to dial "1" before the area code and the phone number, the NANPA said Tuesday.

New Mexico governor confirms plans for UN climate conference - Associated Press

New Mexico's Democratic governor will soon be headed to Scotland for the United Nations' upcoming climate conference, where world leaders will talk about accelerating action toward the goals of the Paris Agreement to slow global warming. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office announced her travel plans Friday. She will be accompanied by several members of her cabinet during the first week of the conference. 

The governor said in a statement that it will be an honor to talk about New Mexico's mandate for zero-emissions electricity by 2045 and pollution-reduction rules for the oil and gas industry. 

"But I know that we — as a state, as a nation, as a planet — must go further by pursuing bold, equitable and just climate solutions. I am looking forward to this significant opportunity for collaboration and action at the global level," she said.

The trip's expenses are being paid by the nonprofit organizations the Energy Foundation and the Climate Registry, said Lujan Grisham's press aide, Nora Meyers Sackett. The cost was not disclosed.

Lujan Grisham is facing competing pressures from environmental activists and the fossil fuel industry as she seeks reelection in 2022 in a state that is now the second leading oil producer in the United States.

New Mexico state and local governments — and public schools, in particular — rely heavily on income from oil and gas production. That dependence has grown since Lujan Grisham won election in 2018, according to the Legislature's budget and accountability office.

As economic activity has rebounded from early pandemic restrictions, New Mexico oil production has reached record levels, recently exceeding 1.2 million barrels a day.

Lujan Grisham has cautioned President Joe Biden against efforts to curb oil production on public lands, saying doing so would affect her ability to achieve goals like universal access to early childhood education.

Albuquerque police recover high school's stolen band gear - Associated Press

A high school's stolen truck that was filled with about $200,000 worth of band equipment has been recovered, according to Albuquerque police.

On the day of a major competition just a few hours before they were supposed to perform, the Las Cruces High School marching band discovered that all their equipment and instruments were gone.

School officials said some of the stolen equipment was new and some of it wasn't insured.

Other schools reached out to help by lending the band some band equipment so Las Cruces High Bulldogs could compete in the Zia Marching Band Fiesta, a major competition at the University of New Mexico. 

Police said the van was later found Saturday in Albuquerque.

Las Cruces educator honored as Teacher of the Year - By Miranda Cyr Las Cruces Sun-News

Lorynn Guerrero was raised within the halls of Mayfield High School.

Before she even began kindergarten, Guerrero could be found playing in the old courtyard at Mayfield where her father taught for 36 years.

"(My dad) found some old chalkboards, and he brought them home and put them in our closet," Guerrero said. "I would write on the chalkboard, and I would put the numbers and the ABCs, and I would teach my sister."

On Friday, Guerrero was named the New Mexico Teacher of the Year 2022.

Guerrero, 40, said she was shocked even finding out she was nominated by her principal at the New America School charter high school, Margarita Leza Porter — much less when she was named as a finalist and then notified that she was the Teacher of the Year. Leza Porter recognized Guerrero's efforts in her classroom.

"We do a lot of writing, but I like to incorporate reading and writing activities. We do crafts that go with the art project, a lot of research," Guerrero said. "The different things that I can do with them, I want to do. Because that's kind of how I learn. I don't want to just lecture the students, I want them to retain the information.

"I want to make it fun and educational for the students," she told the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Although Guerrero has been teaching English Language Arts at the New America School full-time for five years, she has a long history of teaching in Doña Ana County.


The rise of an educator

Guerrero was born and raised in Las Cruces. During her junior year at Las Cruces High School, she found out she was pregnant, which led to her transferring to San Andres High — now Rio Grande Preparatory Institute — to finish her studies while balancing her son on the way.

Guerrero said she was able to graduate earlier than expected, earning her degree in November 1998. She then had her son in December 1998.

Guerrero went on to graduate from New Mexico State University in 2005 but struggled to find a permanent position after college.

She substituted in Las Cruces Public Schools for a few months before being offered a permanent substitute position in Hatch Valley Public Schools, where she taught and coached soccer at Hatch Valley middle and high school until 2011.

Guerrero returned to Las Cruces, after six years of commuting daily to Hatch, landing a job teaching English at Oñate High School — now Organ Mountain High.

Guerrero found out about New America School through a fellow teacher and decided to teach night classes part-time for two years before fully transitioning to the charter school in 2017. Although it was a hard decision to leave OMHS, she said the students and the school's mission spoke to her.

"We used to be able to service adults 18 and over, regardless of age, who wanted to get a high school diploma," Guerrero said. "I had a couple students in my classes that were older — like in their 60s. For them to come into my class and listen to my teaching techniques and follow along with me — I enjoyed working with the adults at night.

"The classroom dynamic was smaller … I really enjoyed working with the night students, so I wanted to work with the daytime students as well."

After a few years of successful teaching, Guerrero noticed a need for support of teen parents at the New America School.

When she was a student at San Andres, she was aided by the GRADS Program, which stands for Graduation Reality and Dual-role Skills. GRADS is an in-school program for expectant and parenting teens in New Mexico Schools.

In 2020, Guerrero took the initiative to start a GRADS Program at the New America School.

The GRADS Program at the New America Schools offers special courses for students who are expecting or have children to prepare them for the real world. It also supports the parents of the teens, which is the "dual-role" inclusion.

The New America School also has a room dedicated to a daycare for children of students. Guerrero said the school is a network of support for the students and their children.

"When the parents come back to school, their children are with them at the school," Guerrero said. "The mothers have the ability to nurse their children, and then go right back to class. That way, everybody's all in one area, you're not having to drive back and forth to a childcare center.

"Regardless of their age, we just want to support them, and educate."


Teacher of the Year: What it means

Guerrero said that her family, her two parents and her two sons, now 22 and 17, are so proud of her for being selected Teacher of the Year.

Her fellow teachers also have been supportive and her students.

"This whole week, I've been getting congratulations for being a finalist," Guerrero said before the announcement was made Friday. "I've been getting fist bumps. The students, I don't have them in my classes anymore, but they still stand up to me and tell me congratulations and how proud they are. That makes me feel good."

Guerrero is excited to be able to represent New Mexico and Las Cruces as Teacher of the Year.

"I want to represent the teachers and the students and be a positive voice for them," Guerrero said. "This is my hometown and I'm so happy because I have so many ties to the community."

Owners of New Mexico radio stations are ready to sign off - By Gwen Albers Las Vegas Optic

Joseph Baca repeatedly told his wife, Loretta, two things — one day he would own a radio station and win $1 million.

He did both.

After 42 years of first working and then owning KFUN-AM and KLVF-FM radio stations, the Bacas are ready to sign off. Loretta Baca will turn 75 this Saturday and her husband of 53 years will celebrate his 75th birthday on Oct. 29, the Las Vegas Optic reported.

"The station has been good to us," Joseph Baca said. "It was a big risk and a big commitment, but owning the station was my dream."

"I guess I forced Loretta into it," he joked.

"We have always worked together and we live together (so we are with each other) 24/7," Loretta Baca added.

The Bacas had planned for their sons Mike, 51, and J.R., 46, to take over the business. Mike Baca, however, has suffered with brain tumors resulting in five brain surgeries. J.R. Baca didn't want to go into the business alone. The couple's daughter Annette, 50, also wasn't interested.

Katharine Duke, owner of Duke Realty Group in Las Vegas, listed the broadcasting building and the surrounding four acres.

KFUN went on the air 80 years ago — on Christmas Day 1941.

As for Loretta and Joseph Baca, they knew each other from West Las Vegas High School, graduating in 1965 and 1966, respectively. The couple began dating after meeting up at the Blue Light City teen dance club.

They married on Feb. 25, 1968 and lived in Tucson, Albuquerque and Seattle before returning to Las Vegas in the mid-1970s with their three children.

She got a job at First National Bank and he was hired at KNMX-AM in Las Vegas. About 18 months later, Joseph Baca began working at KFUN as a disc jockey, program director and in sales. Loretta Baca joined her husband as the office manager.

"I love radio, but I never liked working for someone else," said Joseph Baca, a former Las Vegas City Councilor. "For 20 years, I would come in to open and say 'good morning KFUN, I love you and want to own you one of these days.'"

After the former owner sold the station, Joseph thought he'd lost his dream.

"Loretta said 'don't give up on your dream,'" he said.

The new owner named Joseph Baca the manager, which turned into 15-hour days. To ease the workload, Loretta Baca joined the station. The couple eventually had the opportunity to buy KFUN.

When given the chance to buy KLVF, the couple was in the midst of arranging the $1.2 million financing when Joseph Baca remembered to buy a lottery ticket.

"It was a Friday night. I had gone home and was watching the news and looked at the clock," he said. "I'd forgotten to buy a Powerball ticket. I grabbed a Hawaiian shirt, drove to the station and went home forgetting about the ticket."

Three days later, he returned to the store and asked the clerk to check his ticket.

"I found out I had the winning ticket," he said about the $1 million prize. "I think the girls were more shaken up than me. That was in 2008, on my mother's birthday, Aug. 8."

They hope to find a buyer who will continue caring about the community because turning off the lights isn't an option.

"There is no way we will shut it down," Loretta Baca said. "The history behind the station and the people still alive are a part of KFUN. I think more than anything it would be like closing a part of history."