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A 39-year-old Los Alamos man died in a single-car crash Monday night off of N.M. 4 near mile marker 49.
At 10:46 p.m., Los Alamos Police Department officers were dispatched to the scene. Also dispatched were the Los Alamos Fire Department and the Bandelier National Monument park rangers.
Upon arrival, officers located a newer model sedan at the bottom of the mountain. The driver and only occupant, Trent Johnson, 39, of Los Alamos, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“This is a very tragic event and investigators along with the Office of the Medical Investigator are working together to determine the cause of this crash. We want to urge drivers to use caution when traveling to and from the Jemez Mountains due to heavy damage to a portion of the guardrail. The New Mexico State Highway Department is on scene evaluating the situation but it may take some time before the guardrail is repaired,” Commander Preston Ballew said.
Johnson was an employee at Los Alamos National Bank.
According to bank president Steve Wells, “he worked here for 14 years in our account services, then IT support, and most recently as a systems administrator. He had a great smile and casual way about him that made him a very popular co-worker and friend to those that worked with him. He will be missed. We have set up a fund for his wife and two kids to help them with this tragedy.”
The fund is called the Trent Johnson Memorial Fund and those interested in contributed can go to the bank.
Wells said the bank is providing grief counseling through its employee assistance program.
A co-worker of Johnson, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “He brought joy to the workplace. He was dedicated to LANB and his family.”
Deputy fire chief Justin Grider says his crews were dispatched around midnight.
Typically, LAFD is called on for patient assessment, extraction, rescue and Hazmat.
“We know these roads, we respect these roads and we know how dangerous they can be,” Grider said. “LAPD and Bandelier put in a long night and did a great job of evidence preservation.”
The car apparently was heading eastbound on N.M. 4 and crashed through the guard rail. The vehicle went over the cliff and landed in the Ponderosa Campground, 100 meters or so below. The vehicle could be seen up against a tree and workers were preparing to tow the vehicle away.
Meanwhile, police yellow crime scene tape circled the broken guardrail up at mile marker 49. And there was more yellow crime scene tape by Ponderosa Campground.
Betts said the vehicle was wedged between four ponderosas.
Eventually, the car was towed away about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Betts said.
“We found out about it around 6 a.m. Tuesday and we helped LAPD with their investigation,” Betts said. “We have a good relationship with LAPD. It was a cross jurisdictional situation. The vehicle was on N.M. 4 which is LAPD’s jurisdiction but the vehicle landed on park property, which is our jurisdiction.
“They have the expertise in accident reconstruction and we helped with the removal and protection of the vehicle. The vehicle landed near some archaeological sites so we had to make sure we protected those resources. We also helped LAPD gather evidence.”
Park superintendent Jason Lott said the vehicle landed about 500 yards from where people were camping for the night.
“They heard something but they just thought it was some bears looking for food,” Lott said. “It was extremely muffled.”
As of press time, the police have not released any more details about the crash and an accident report is still not completed and approved for release, Ballew said.