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TUES: List of the missing in fires shrinks as area looks to recovery, Baldwin's attorneys seek dismissal, + More

The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured among the effects of flash floods in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Andres Leighton/AP
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FR171260 AP
The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire are pictured among the effects of flash floods in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

List of missing residents shrinks as New Mexico village seeks recovery from wildfires - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The number of residents still unaccounted for has been shrinking significantly after thousands of people fled their homes as two fast-moving wildfires approached their village in southern New Mexico, Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford said Tuesday.

Search and rescue crews have cleared more properties in the areas of Ruidoso, the mountain community hardest hit by the flames, and village officials and volunteers from the American Red Cross have been working through social media to list all those found to be "safe."

Just a few people remained on the list Tuesday as unaccounted for. They include those authorities have yet to make contact with and who have not been heard from by family and friends.

Crawford said during his regular radio address that he hoped to get the list down to zero.

"We feel good that we're getting that number down ... but we have to be sure," he said.

About 1,000 firefighters were assigned to the fires in Ruidoso, as other crews were busy responding to reports of new fires around the region. In all, more than 100 new fires — most of them small — were reported in New Mexico and Arizona over the last seven days, according to the multiagency Southwest Coordination Center based in Albuquerque.

Federal officials have been working to streamline their response to major wildfires, starting with the deployment of complex incident management teams when there are significant threats to homes and infrastructure. That was the case with the fires in Ruidoso, which has a permanent population of about 8,000 and can triple during the summer months when tourists flood in.

Nationwide, more than a dozen large uncontained fires are currently burning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Aside from the South Fork and Salt fires in Ruidoso, complex incident management teams are assigned to blazes in Washington and Colorado.

With more streets in Ruidoso being cleared by the special teams and their search dogs, village officials were able to open up more areas of the village on Tuesday. Some areas that have yet to be searched and spots where post-fire flooding remain a concern remained off limits.

Firefighters were helped over recent days by rainfall, cooler temperatures and high humidity levels. They have been focused on pockets of unburned fuel to ensure no flare-ups with drier weather expected over the next two days.

The fires were first reported June 17. Within hours, flames moved through tinder-dry parts of the Sacramento Mountains from Mescalero Apache tribal land toward Ruidoso. Evacuation orders included thousands of homes, businesses and the Ruidoso Downs horse track, prompting traffic jams as people dropped everything and fled.

About 40 square miles were charred before crews were able to corral the flames. At least two deaths have been confirmed, and an estimated 1,500 structures have been destroyed or damaged.

The FBI is investigating, offering up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrests and convictions of those responsible for the human-caused fires.

NM joins three states to begin voluntary testing for bird flu in dairy farm milk tanks - by Jennifer Shutt, Source New Mexico

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that four states will launch voluntary pilot programs in the days ahead to test bulk milk tanks on dairy farms for bird flu — a move that’s aimed at making it easier for farmers to ship herds across state lines and for public health officials to track spread of the virus.

Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas will be in the first round of voluntary participation, with other states likely to follow, officials said on a call with reporters.

“This list of participating states is just the beginning,” said Eric Deeble, the acting senior advisor for H5N1 response at USDA.

“We are in close conversation with about a dozen other states who are very interested in participating as well,” Deeble said. “But it was important for us to get these four states going so that other states could watch how the program works and gain additional confidence.”

The launch of the pilot program, he said, is “an important step forward” for efforts to reduce the spread of bird flu, also known as H5N1, as well as for expanding understanding of the virus.

Farmers who voluntarily enter the program will be able to move their herds across state lines without additional testing after bulk milk tanks or similar representative samples test negative for H5N1 for three consecutive weeks.

“Producers must also comply with continued regular weekly monitoring and testing of their herd for H5N1, but that process can happen with very little effort on the part of the producer, using routine bulk milk samples,” Deeble said.

126 cases of bird flu confirmedThe announcement is part of the federal government’songoing response to the months-long outbreak within dairy cattle and years-long challenges faced by the country’s poultry industry.

The USDA has confirmed 126 cases of bird flu in dairy cattle herds in a dozen states as of June 21, including Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Idaho has the most dairy herds affected, with a total of 27. That’s followed by Michigan with 25 herds and Texas with 21 herds. Colorado has reported 18 affected herds, while each of the other states has fewer than 10 herds testing positive for bird flu, according to the USDA data.

Three dairy farmworkers have contracted avian flu this year, though all cases were mild.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reinforced during the call Tuesday that the risk to the general public remains low, though there is an increased risk of contracting the virus for workers, both on dairy farms and poultry farms.

FDA to do more testingThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration also announced Tuesday it’s broadening its testing for H5N1 to include about 155 additional samples of dairy products, including aged raw milk cheese, cream cheese, butter and ice cream.

The FDA has repeatedly tested pasteurized milk from store shelves in the months since the first dairy cattle herd tested positive for H5N1 and has continuously emphasized the nation’s milk supply remains safe.

“This retail sampling effort is intended to address remaining geographic and product gaps from the initial sampling of the commercial milk supply that FDA conducted between April and May of this year,” said Don Prater, acting director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA.

It will likely take several weeks before those results are completed and made public, he said.

That second round of expanded food safety testing will not include raw milk, since it is not approved for interstate commerce, he said.

But the FDA has sent a letter to its local, state and tribal partners, cautioning those that do allow the sale of raw milk to talk with consumers about the additional risks, given that H5N1 is spreading through dairy herds in several parts of the country.

Prater, speaking on the call Tuesday, noted the FDA continues to strongly advise against drinking raw milk.

“We also recommend that the industry does not manufacture or sell raw milk or raw milk products, including raw milk cheese made with milk from cows showing symptoms of illness, including those infected with the avian influenza viruses or exposed to those infected with avian influenza viruses.”

Alec Baldwin’s attorneys ask New Mexico judge to dismiss the case against him over firearm evidence Associated Press

 

Alec Baldwin's defense attorneys argued Monday that damage done during FBI testing to a revolver that killed a cinematographer on the set of the Western “Rust” has stripped them of the ability to put on a proper defense at the actor's forthcoming trial, and asked a New Mexico judge to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charge against him.

"They understood that this was potentially exculpatory evidence and they destroyed it anyway," Baldwin lawyer John Bash said during a virtual court hearing. “It’s outrageous and it requires dismissal.”

Prosecutors argued that the gun breaking into pieces during testing was “unfortunate” but that Baldwin's team still has plenty of evidence for a defense and did not meet their burden for having the case thrown out.

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said she expects to issue a ruling on the motion to dismiss on Friday.

During the fatal rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin was pointing the gun at Halyna Hutchins on a movie-set ranch when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza, who survived.

Sheriff's investigators initially sent the revolver to the FBI only for DNA testing, but when an FBI analyst heard Baldwin say in an ABC TV interview in December that he never pulled the trigger, the agency told the local authorities they could conduct an accidental discharge test.

The FBI was told to go ahead, and tested the revolver by striking it from several angles with a rawhide mallet. One of those strikes caused the gun to break into three pieces.

The FBI had made police and prosecutors aware that the test could do major damage to the gun, which hadn't been tested by the defense, but the authorities went ahead with the test without bothering to disassemble it and photograph its parts first, thus eliminating their most critical evidence in the case, Baldwin's lawyers argued.

“We can never use our own expert to examine that firearm,” Bash said.

The prosecution argued that the gun was not destroyed as the defense said.

“The parts are still available,” special prosecutor Erlinda Johnson said. "The fact that this gun was unfortunately damaged does not deprive the defendant of ability to question the evidence."

But Baldwin's lawyers said the damage done to the top notch on the revolver's hammer rendered the most important testing impossible.

They argued that if Marlowe Sommer declined to throw out the case, she should at least not allow any of the technical gun analysis to be presented at trial.

Baldwin's attorneys gave long and probing cross-examinations to the lead detective, an FBI forensic firearm investigator and the prosecution's independent gun expert in testimony that was likely a dress rehearsal for the high profile trial, where Baldwin, who was not on the online hearing, will be appearing in person.

The special prosecutors running the case argued that those cross-examinations proved that the defense has plenty of gun evidence to work with at the trial.

“They have other reasonable available means to making their point,” Johnson said.

She added that all available evidence, from witness testimony to video of Baldwin firing the gun in movie footage, showed that the gun was in good working order on the day of the shooting, and that police had no reason to believe its internal workings could provide exonerating evidence.

Prosecutors plan to present evidence at trial that they say shows the firearm “could not have fired absent a pull of the trigger” and was working properly before the shooting.

Defense attorneys are highlighting a previously undisclosed expert analysis that outlines uncertainty about the origin of toolmarks on the gun’s firing mechanism.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted in March of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the shooting and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

On Friday, the judge denied prosecutors’ request to use immunity to compel testimony from Gutierrez-Reed at Baldwin’s trial. Her statements to investigators and workplace safety regulators will likely feature prominently in Baldwin’s trial.

Last year, special prosecutors dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin, saying they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. But they pivoted after receiving a new analysis of the gun and successfully pursued a grand jury indictment.

 Hearing focuses on anti-homeless attitudes and discrimination Damon Scott, City Desk ABQ

Anami Dass, the chair of Albuquerque’s Human Rights Board, read a statement on behalf of her friend Levy, who couldn’t attend a June 22 public hearing on anti-homeless sentiment and discrimination. Dass said Levy tried to explain months ago what it was like to be discriminated against for being homeless to a case manager.

“His description was the best I’ve ever heard,” Dass said. “He said: ‘They look at the way I look, the way I behave, the words I’m speaking, my mannerisms, my attitude and how I smell — and assume, based on all of that — that I’m homeless, that I’m dangerous, that I’m a criminal, that I can’t be trusted. What they should assume is that I’m poor.’”

Such emotional testimony came at a steady clip before the Human Rights Board at the International District Library, located in an area of the city where many people are living on the street. About two dozen people provided testimony about their experiences being homeless, or as advocates and community members increasingly distraught at the state of affairs for the population.

The board decided to focus its efforts this year on homelessness — specifically the hostilities and discrimination levied toward the population. It is expected to issue a report filled with months’ worth of research and recommendations to city leaders July 22. The board is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council as a recommending body. Including Dass, members are Kimberly Andujo, Samia Assed, Kathryn Boulton, Jack Champagne, Leticia Galvez-Trujillo and Larry Hinojos Jr.

“It is a much more emergent problem than I think anyone really realizes,” Champagne, the board’s vice chair, said. “There are a good 100,000 people statewide that are one bad day away from being homeless.”

Adam Lister, a physician assistant at First Nations Community HealthSource, agreed.

“My biggest worry is that middle class folks don’t know that homelessness is coming for them,” Lister said. “We usually think of homelessness as, ‘Oh, they’ve had very traumatic experiences which have probably led them to drugs or mental illness.’ But more and more it’s, ‘I can’t pay rent; I got evicted; I don’t know what to do.’”

Lister works in the First Nations homeless outreach program, which includes visiting the city’s Westside Emergency Housing Center on Wednesday mornings.

Removal, disposal of belongings

A main topic of concern among those who testified is city removal and disposal of personal belongings of those living on the streets. The city’s current policy is to provide a 72-hour notice and offer a storage option. However, many testified that the policy is often not followed.

“I have personally worked with and witnessed people having their things thrown out and being incarcerated for being homeless,” Emily Warzeniak, a case manager in Albuquerque, said.

Warzeniak said she spends much of her time helping homeless people replace vital documents — like Social Security cards and driver’s licenses — that were with belongings that were removed by the city or stolen.

“It can take upwards of several weeks or a month to replace documents with the help of a case manager like me, only to look out the window of my agency and see the city throwing those things away,” she said.

Warzeniak said the lack of identification documents also creates barriers when applying for city housing vouchers and other services.

Rowan Rosen, who works at the library, said she was testifying on her own behalf. She said the library’s bathrooms are the only ones she knows of in the International District that are free and accessible to those living on the street and it’s not enough.

“It is a constant issue,” she said. There can be 20 to 30 minute waits quite often.”

Rosen said she’s also concerned with “extreme discrimination” by the city’s Metro Security Division that “[try] to intimidate the unhoused people in the area and the people who are supporting them.”

“We’ve had issues with them harassing [Albuquerque] Health Care for the Homeless,” she said. “We had a group come and give out free haircuts, Narcan training, free clothes — everything someone might need — and Metro Security gathered outside in a way that was quite clearly intimidating for them.”

Rosen said she’s also concerned about a lack of sun shades at the city’s bus stops and of the violence she sees.

“We’ve had to call [emergency medical services] multiple times for heatstroke and the violence that I’ve seen every day is extreme,” she said. “I’ve had a 70-year-old come in with broken orbital sockets because they were sleeping on the streets and were attacked. I’ve had people sitting on the side of the building who have maggots in their legs because they’ve been unable to access medical care. I’ve had someone come in with his hand skinned to the bone who just wanted a Band-Aid because there was no way he could access medical care.”

Others had more general concerns, such as Rosemary Blanchard, a retired former attorney. She said a lack of focus on human dignity is affecting the city and has led to a “deterioration of the culture.”

“I think we need to look at what we’re becoming,” Blanchard said.

Courtney Angermeier, a teacher at New Futures High School, said half of her student population is living on the street with babies and toddlers. She said her concerns have largely fallen on deaf ears at the city.

“I’ve been trying to do the things you’re supposed to do — talk to my city councilors, write letters to [Parks and Recreation], the chief of police, the Mayor’s Office,” she said. “So far, the only written response I’ve gotten is from [City] Councilor [Tammy] Fiebelkorn. I just want to make it part of the public record that sitting officials are not responding to these issues.”

Unhoused voices

Several who identified themselves as experiencing homelessness provided testimony to the board.

“It’s chaos. I’m just going to keep on trying,” Arron Esquibel said. “I get showered and clean myself up and got into medical programs. I’m still looking for jobs and stuff like that. I’m doing it for my kids. I want a lot of things, but it’s hard, it’s really hard.”

“It’s very heavy outside,” Henry William Draper Jr. said. “You don’t have daily necessities like to take a shower or food. You have to stay up to be able to watch your own stuff. Money is a necessity as well.”

Mahad “Mo” Ahmed said after he was fired from his job he became homeless. He’s been living on the streets for about six months and thought he’d be able to turn his situation around sooner. Ahmed said he often stays at Jerry Cline Park because he has access to a restroom and to water from a nearby dog park. He said it’s also safer than other locations in the city.

“That’s as good as it gets when you’re outside and trying to survive,” Ahmed said. “I never saw myself here. I am disregarded everywhere I go and labeled a threat.”

“Right now we’re in a crisis. It’s completely horrible,” Army National Guard veteran Andrew Romero said. “I used to not feel sorry for people who used drugs, and looked at them and said, ‘Oh, that’s gross.’”

Romero said he’s had several jobs, including as a truck driver. He has a degree in personal training.

“Now I’m experiencing how tough this is. It’s horrible,” he said.

Public health issue

Janus Herrera, a longtime homelessness advocate, said she first started handing out food to those living on the streets in 2015 at Coronado Park in the Wells Park neighborhood where she lives near Downtown. She said there’s an urgent need for public restrooms, water stations and temperature-controlled gathering spaces.

“These are not amenities as the city likes to call them, but social determinants of health. The lack of these basic human rights is causing preventable disease, death and despair,” Herrera said. “Living outside means eating shelf-stable lukewarm food, being thirsty and dehydrated, having doors closed in your face or being chased away with threats of legal action, incarceration, violence and degradation.”

Enrique Cardiel, the executive director of Bernalillo County’s Health Equity Council, said the situation should be treated as a “severe public health issue.” He said his group has tried to hand out Narcan and water on empty lots in the International District, only to be removed by the city’s Code Enforcement Department.

Cardiel said there’s a good likelihood that an emergency epidemic will emerge due to the volume of people using the bathroom outside.

“The response has been to give our neighbors without addressing hepatitis A vaccines, instead of providing restrooms and homes,” he said. “We have an opportunity to build the healthiest city in this state and the healthiest city in this country, and we’re choosing to throw that out the window by not taking care of the folks who need the most support.”

Those wishing to provide emailed statements on anti-homeless sentiment and discrimination can do so via email through June 28 at civilrights@cabq.gov. More information is here.