FRI: Report details wreckage of fatal New Mexico helicopter crash, + More
Report details wreckage of fatal New Mexico helicopter crash - Associated Press
Federal transportation authorities said Friday that a helicopter returning home from a firefighting mission made a rapid descent without making any turns before plowing into the ground last month, killing the four first responders onboard.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board released their preliminary report, noting that two witnesses on a ridge about half a mile away were observing the sunset when they saw the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office helicopter go down in the hills near the northern New Mexico community of Las Vegas.
It could take a year or more to make a final determination on the cause of the July 16 crash. It marked the single deadliest incident for law enforcement in state history and one of the deadliest for first responders.
The preliminary report detailed the crash scene, noting that the main wreckage was found upside down about 160 feet (48 meters) beyond the area where the helicopter first crashed. One main rotor blade had minimal damage and the other blade was fractured, with the broken part found nearby.
One of the four people onboard managed to call 911 before succumbing to his injuries, according to emergency dispatch recordings. That call to San Miguel County dispatchers sparked a frantic search.
A rancher who also called 911 said she saw dust when the helicopter hit the ground but no smoke or flames.
In emergency dispatch recordings, it was reported that gas was leaking from the aircraft, which the crew fully refueled for the trip home to Albuquerque.
They had spent a few hours that afternoon dropping buckets of water on a wildfire burning on private land near Las Vegas.
The crew included Bernalillo County Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison and Bernalillo County Fire Rescue Specialist Matthew King. During memorial services over the last two weeks, the men were remembered as heroes for always being ready to serve beyond their jurisdiction.
Koren, 55, was a veteran pilot who had been with the the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. He was part of a New Year's Day mission to rescue employees and a tram operator who got stuck while descending in the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway.
Beers, 51, also helped with that winter rescue and had been with the sheriff's office for 13 years. Levison, 30, had been with the sheriff's office since 2017 and had served in the New Mexico Air National Guard.
The recordings show King, 44, a husband and father of two children, was the one who dialed 911. Mortally wounded, he stayed on the line for more than a half hour trying to direct first responders to the crash site. Efforts by the state police officers who were first on the scene to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
SUV barrels through Native American parade; 15 injured - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press
A New Mexico man who was driving drunk without a valid license barreled through a parade that celebrates Native American culture in the western part of the state, injuring at least 15 people, officials said Friday.
Jeff Irving, 33, was arrested late Thursday and faces charges that include aggravated driving while intoxicated, fleeing from officers and injuring parade-goers and two Gallup police officers who tried to stop the vehicle, court documents said.
In a statement, New Mexico State Police said that investigators have no reason to suspect the crime was motivated by hate. No one was killed. The people who were hurt, including the police officers, suffered mostly minor injuries, said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and his family were among those almost hit as the Chevrolet Tahoe drove through the parade route. The vehicle sped through downtown Gallup about 15 minutes after the nighttime parade started that served as the kick-off event for the 10-day Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial Centennial Celebration.
Irving's blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit for driving, according to court records. His license had been revoked or suspended for another drunken driving charge and the SUV had no registration or insurance, police said.
Court records didn't list an attorney for Irving who could speak on his behalf. His two passengers were detained and taken to a detox center in Gallup, state police said in the statement.
Many among the crowd of thousands lining the parade route in front of businesses that sell Native American jewelry, arts and crafts captured the chaotic scene on video.
As the SUV sped near the parade, videos on social media showed people yelling for others to get out of the way and some pushing parade-goers to safety. One video showed parade-goers yelling obscenities at the SUV's driver and passengers while they were handcuffed on the ground.
Children performing traditional dances appear to have been among the first to have seen the SUV heading toward them, the videos showed. They ran to the side amid screams and others scrambling to get out of the way.
The images also showed blankets, shoes, banners and umbrellas left strewn along the street and on the sidewalks as people fled.
Lujan Grisham said Friday that the state will send additional police officers and a behavioral heath crisis team to Gallup for the rest of the ceremonial event.
Nez said the vehicle was coming at him and a group of tribal officials marching in the parade. He thanked people for taking quick action to get spectators and participants out of harm's way.
"We just ask for your prayers for all of the participants," Nez said in a video posted on social media. "We're all shook up. You would see this on television, you would think it would never happen here. I'm sorry to say it happened here in Gallup, New Mexico."
Tonya Jim said she went to the parade with her parents, grandchildren and children. Her 5-year-old granddaughter, KaRiah, was picked from the crowd to join a group of dancers. Shortly after, the vehicle barreled down the parade route, turned and hit a man across from them who was sitting on a folding chair, she said. KaRiah was helped off the road by someone and was not hurt.
"I'm glad whoever was holding her hand just kept holding her hand and ran with her to get her off the road," Jim said. "I'm not sure who she was, but I'm thankful for her."
Jim said the family burned cedar and prayed when they got home and did a tobacco smoke prayer Friday morning to calm down.
"I blessed my kids and thanked the creator they are still with me and (to) pray for the families who are hurt," said Jim, who is Navajo and lives in Fort Defiance.
During the mayhem, the SUV swerved onto a side street and pulled into a parking spot before trying to pull out again. It hit a parked car and backed into a police car, state police said. Officers converged on the vehicle and detained the driver and two passengers who Irving identified as his brothers, according to court documents.
Irving initially told police he was not drinking before admitting to having at least a couple of beers, according to court documents. He is from the small community of Pinedale and faces 21 charges, the documents and police said.
The nighttime parade is a highlight of the ceremonial celebration, which was founded in 1922 as a way for traders to showcase the culture and art of Native American tribes in the region, said Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial Association board President Kyle Tom.
A daytime parade will go on as planned on Aug. 13, the day before closing events, Tom said. Other events include dances, rodeos and a juried art show.
People travel to Gallup from the vast Navajo Nation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and from other tribal reservations to attend the parades and events. Nez, tribal lawmakers and others expressed anger and disbelief over what happened.
"It's supposed to be a celebration, but today it was a difficult time for us," Nez said.
2 New Mexico counties added to wildfire disaster declaration — Associated Press
Two more New Mexico counties have been added to a federal disaster declaration issued in response to the state's historic wildfire season.
State officials said Thursday that Los Alamos and Sandoval counties will now be eligible for grant funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The counties were affected by a wildfire that charred over 70 square miles (181 square kilometers) in the mountains near Los Alamos. Crews are now working on repairs to limit post-fire flooding.
New Mexico's governor also recently secured an extension of the disaster declaration as well as the addition of flooding impacts in the wake of the fires, which included a massive blaze that was sparked by operations planned by the federal government to clear out overgrown and dead vegetation in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
That blaze became the largest in New Mexico's recorded history. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, thousands of people were forced to evacuate and crews are now scrambling to address post-fire flooding that has sent tons of ash, mud and other debris flowing from the burn scar.
Experts have said the environmental consequences of the blaze will be felt for decades.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also has requested that FEMA commit to continuing to cover 100% of the total eligible costs under the extended duration of the disaster declaration. Her office said that request is outstanding.
Navajo Nation declares state of emergency due to flooding — Associated Press
Navajo Nation officials declared a state of emergency Thursday due to increased flooding from recent monsoon rains.
The declaration by the tribe's Commission on Emergency Management will allow local chapters to access additional resources to help mitigate the impacts of heavy rainfall.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the tribe's emergency response personnel have been out in the communities every day helping people recover from recent flooding.
"Yes there are many challenges and not enough personnel to get to every site immediately, but they are making progress," Nez said. "The Navajo Division of Transportation also continues to work on repairs to roads that were damaged.
"We recommend all Navajo households, communities and organizations be prepared as we continue to see scattered thunderstorms throughout the Navajo Nation this week," Nez added. "As we move forward into the fall and winter seasons, we need everyone to be proactive and plan ahead for more severe weather."
Nez said tribal health workers have been going to various communities providing support and assistance for elderly residents and those with health conditions.
A flood watch remains in effect throughout this week on the tribe's vast reservation that covers parts of northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah.
New Mexico officials: More monkeypox vaccinations on order — Susan Montoya Brown, Associated Press
Only 10 monkeypox cases have been confirmed in New Mexico so far, and top health officials said Thursday there were no immediately concerns that the state will see a vaccine shortage any time soon.
Officials with the state Department of Health reported during a briefing that all of the confirmed cases involve people who contracted the virus outside of New Mexico, indicating there has not yet been community spread. The update came as the U.S. government was poised to declare a public health emergency to bolster the federal response to the rising number of cases elsewhere around the country.
New Mexico Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase called monkeypox "the new infectious disease on the block," saying the state is taking it seriously despite the low number of cases.
New Mexico has nearly 1,000 vaccinations on hand and another 2,600 will be delivered over the coming months. Vaccinations are available by appointment only after health officials confirm that a person is at high risk by coming in contact with someone who was infected.
Each case is investigated, with contract tracing and risk exposure assessments part of the process.
Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Laura Parajón said about 250 vaccines have been administered in New Mexico as of this week.
"We are a little bit ahead of the game because New Mexico is a smaller state," she said, noting the sparse population. "And we've got the advantage of seeing that other states already started getting cases and we then were able to prepare for this eventuality."
The monkeypox virus spreads through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact, including hugging, cuddling and kissing, as well as sharing bedding, towels and clothing. Symptoms can include fever, body aches, chills, fatigue and pimple-like bumps on many parts of the body.
Meanwhile, New Mexico health officials said COVID-19 cases in the state have plateaued, with the latest variant resulting in less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations. For example, less than 4% of those currently hospitalized require a ventilator — down significantly from the more than 20% early in the pandemic.
Acknowledging that New Mexico has a large percentage of people 65 and older and ranks high for other social vulnerabilities like poverty and lack of access to health care, Scrase said the state continues to closely monitor how the pandemic is affecting the health care delivery system. Right now, he said hospitals are in a much better position when it comes to having beds available for patients.
Compressor explodes in New Mexico grocery store; 2 injured — Associated Press
Two employees of an Albuquerque grocery store have been injured after a compressor exploded, authorities said Thursday.
City fire officials said two heating, ventilation and air conditioning specialists were working on the store's HVAC system Thursday morning and it was unclear why the compressor exploded.
Officials said the two employees were taken to a hospital for treatment of burns and blast injuries.
Their names and medical conditions weren't immediately released.
Fire officials said no toxic gas was released into the air from the explosion.
US to issue ID to migrants awaiting deportation proceedings — Amy Taxin, Associated Press
U.S. immigration authorities are planning to issue photo ID cards to immigrants in deportation proceedings in a bid to slash paper use and help people stay up-to-date on required meetings and court hearings, officials said.
The proposal from Immigration and Customs Enforcement is still being developed as a pilot program, and it was not immediately clear how many the agency would issue. The cards would not be an official form of federal identification, and would state they are to be used by the Department of Homeland Security.
The idea is for immigrants to be able to access information about their cases online by using a card rather than paper documents that are cumbersome and can fade over time, officials said. They said ICE officers could also run checks on the cards in the field.
"Moving to a secure card will save the agency millions, free up resources, and ensure information is quickly accessible to DHS officials while reducing the agency's FOIA backlog," an ICE spokesperson said in a statement, referring to unfulfilled public requests for agency documents. Homeland Security gets more Freedom of Information Act requests than any other federal agency, according to government data, and many of those involve immigration records.
The proposal has sparked a flurry of questions about what the card might be used for and how secure it would be. Some fear the program could lead to tracking of immigrants awaiting their day in immigration court, while others suggest the cards could advertised by migrant smugglers to try to induce others to make the dangerous trip north.
The Biden administration is seeking $10 million for the so-called ICE Secure Docket Card in a budget proposal for the next fiscal year. It was not immediately clear if the money would cover the pilot or a broader program or when it would begin.
The administration has faced pressure as the number of migrants seeking to enter the country on the southwest border has increased. Border Patrol agents stopped migrants more than 1.1 million times from January to June, up nearly one-third from the same period of an already-high 2021.
Many migrants are turned away under COVID-19-related restrictions. But many are allowed in and either are detained while their cases churn through the immigration courts or are released and required to check in periodically with ICE officers until a judge rules on their cases.
Those most likely to be released in the United States are from countries where expulsion under the public health order is complicated due to costs, logistics or strained diplomatic relations, including Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
At shelters, bus stations and airports along the U.S.-Mexico border, migrants carefully guard their papers in plastic folders. These are often the only documents they have to get past airport checkpoints to their final destinations in the United States. The often dog-eared papers can be critical to getting around.
An immigration case can take years and the system can be confusing, especially for immigrants who know little English and may need to work with an array of government agencies, including ICE and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which issues work permits and green cards. U.S. immigration courts are overseen by the Justice Department.
Gregory Z. Chen, senior director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said migrants have mistakenly gone to ICE offices instead of court for scheduled hearings that they then missed as a result. He said so long as immigrants' privacy is protected, the card could be helpful.
"If ICE is going to be using this new technology to enable non citizens to check in with ICE, or to report information about their location and address, and then to receive information about their case — where their court hearings might be, what the requirements might be for them to comply with the law — that would be a welcome approach," Chen said.
It was not clear whether Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration would accept the cards for airport travel or whether private businesses would consider it valid.
The United States doesn't have a national photo identification card. Residents instead use a range of cards to prove identification, including driver's licenses, state ID cards and consular ID cards. What constitutes a valid ID is often determined by the entity seeking to verify a person's identity.
Talia Inlender, deputy director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at University of California, Los Angeles' law school, said she was skeptical that using a card to access electronic documents would simplify the process for immigrants, especially those navigating the system without a lawyer, and questioned whether the card has technology that could be used to increase government surveillance of migrants.
But having an ID could be useful, especially for migrants who need to travel within the U.S., Inlender said.
"Many people are fleeing persecution and torture in their countries. They're not showing up with government paperwork," Inlender said. "Having a form of identification to be able to move throughout daily life has the potential to be a helpful thing."
That has some Republican lawmakers concerned that the cards could induce more migrants to come to the U.S. or seek to access benefits they're not eligible for. A group of 16 lawmakers sent a letter last week to ICE raising questions about the plan.
"The Administration is now reportedly planning yet another reckless policy that will further exacerbate this ongoing crisis," the letter said.
Prosecutors await forensic analysis in Alec Baldwin shooting — Associated Press
The investigation into the fatal film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin is ongoing, and the New Mexico prosecutor overseeing the case says authorities are awaiting the analysis of key forensic evidence before a decision can be made about whether criminal charges will be filed.
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies provided the update in a social media post Wednesday, saying her office has received only portions of the investigation from the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office.
Still outstanding is forensic analysis of the weapon, a review of data from Baldwin's cell phone and more from the FBI and state medical examiners.
The screening process by prosecutors will begin once sheriff's investigators receive the information and complete their supplemental reports. To expedite the process, Carmack-Altwies has retained a special prosecutor — retired Ninth Judicial District Attorney Andrea Reeb from eastern New Mexico, who has more than two decades of experience.
"To remain transparent to the local and national community, the (district attorney's office) will proactively disseminate information as it becomes available," Carmack-Altwies said.
A live round of ammunition killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza during rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021. Filming for the Western "Rust" took place at a ranch on the outskirts of the city of Santa Fe.
In records released so far, investigators described complacency, disorganization and neglected safety measures in the making of the low-budget movie.
The videos released by investigators show a debriefing with Baldwin hours after the fatal shooting and rehearsal clips that show Baldwin in costume as he practiced a quick-draw maneuver with a gun.
Baldwin had told investigators that as the gun went off, he was unaware initially that Hutchins would die and was shocked to learn that he had been holding a gun loaded with live ammunition. Baldwin, who also was a producer on the film, had said the gun should have been empty for a rehearsal with no filming.
In April, New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau delivered a scathing narrative of safety failures in violation of standard industry protocols. It included testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two previous misfires on the set, complaints from crew members that went unheeded, and reports that weapons specialists were not allowed to make decisions about additional safety training.
Rust Movie Productions is disputing the findings and the sanction.