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The Los Alamos Monitor looks at the top public safety stories of 2013 in no particular order.
Thompson Ridge Fire
For residents living in the bucolic Jemez Mountains, June turned out to be a pretty exciting month as a small wildfire quickly got out of hand. The fire, which officials dubbed the “Thompson Ridge Fire,” started when a downed power line ignited some brush on Elk Trail. The fire spread to 25,000 acres, coming within yards of the Forest Service’s headquarters in the Valles Caldera before it was stopped. No deaths, property damage or injuries were reported, but some neighborhoods were temporarily evacuated as firefighters struggled to get the fire under control.
Wayne Torpy, Los Alamos’ police chief for the past eight years, announced his impending retirement in June. Torpy who suffered a stroke several months ago and then later underwent open-heart surgery, cited the after effects of his medical ordeal as the motivation behind his decision to retire.
“My health is not what it was a year ago, and for the good of the county, for the good of the department and for my personal well-being I had to take a hard look at everything,” Torpy said. “After 36 years in law enforcement, the signals are telling me it’s time to move along.”
Torpy was replaced by new chief Dino Sgambellone, who came to Los Alamos from Mansfield, Ohio.
Vandals apparently sunk to new lows in 2013 when they decided to target the White Rock Methodist Church. The graffiti included upside down crosses, the number “666,” and various obscenities.
“It was very disconcerting. I had children crying, and parents were very upset,” said one woman at the center, who did not want to give her name. “Unfortunately, some of our preschoolers know how to read.”
The crime happened in August, and officials are still looking for suspects. If you have any information that may lead to an arrest, call the police department at 662-8222.
Meth investigations keep police busy
Though Los Alamos is a fairly isolated town with a low crime rate, the trafficking of methamphetamine, or “meth,” has recently begun to make an appearance in 2013. Rowena MacDonald, 46, a woman wanted on numerous charges for methamphetamine dealing and manufacturing in St. Louis County, Mo., was picked up by law enforcement in March of this year, and in White Rock, police put a huge dent in a ring that stretched all the way to Albuquerque with the arrest of several suspects.
Los Alamos doctor
During an animal cruelty investigation the wife of a Los Alamos physician implicated her husband in not just that crime but spousal abuse as well. Pavel Mourachov, a urologist, was then promptly arrested shortly after leaving the Los Alamos Medical Center May 23.
During the interview, the wife revealed an incident that occurred in Sept. 2012 where Mourachov chased after her with an ax.
Under a plea agreement, Mourachov was later sentenced to one and a half years of probation, and monitoring by GPS He can also never set foot in Los Alamos during his probation period.
“The spirit of this agreement is, he wants to leave, everyone else wants him to leave, they are all on board with this,” Wahlquist said.
Plane crashes in canyon
In December a small passenger plane flown by a Minnesota resident crashed into DP canyon killing all those that were aboard. The Los Alamos Monitor identified the victims as Mike Fjetland, 51, and his business partner and friend, Kevin Burrs, also 51. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the crash.
According to sources at the Federal Aviation Administration, Fjetland was flying a Husky A-1C-200, manufactured by Aviat Aircraft. It was built in 2012, and was powered by a Lycoming 10-360-A1D6 engine.
Judge gives ‘LANL 6’ a light sentence
Demonstrators arrested outside the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2012 learned their fate early this year, as all six were found guilty of failure to obey an officer and obstructing traffic.
On Aug. 6 2012, the protesters were part of a Monday morning demonstration at the corner of Diamond Drive and West Jemez Road, the main entranceway to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
After much legal wrangling, the protesters were eventually given 20 hours of community service instead of fines.
Nguyen takes plea deal
Aaron Nguyen, the former high school student and convicted burglar made two major headlines this year, One for getting caught robbing a string of houses in his own neighborhood, and second for violating the probation that stemmed from those crimes. The most recent arrest was when he was caught trespassing on high school property––with a camera that he stole during his burglary spree. On his second sentencing hearing, this time before Judge Sheri Raphaelson Nguyen was to sign up for treatment at Mesilla Valley Hospital. His lawyer, Santa Fe Attorney Steve Aarons, said his client was grateful for the second chance.
“As the judge observed, when he’s away from here and he’s in Las Cruces, he’s doing fine,” Aarons said. “But when he comes back here he pulls his stupid act that none of us can explain.”
Abuse of power alleged in LAPD suit
Earlier this year, a countersuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico against Los Alamos County by two employees of the Los Alamos Police Department revealed possible abuses of power by two high ranking police officers within the LAPD.
The suit, filed Tuesday by Brian and Zina Schamber, contends that Lt. Scott Mills and Commander Randy Foster allegedly harassed Brian Schamber and tried to sabotage his law enforcement career in an attempt to eliminate him as a posible candidate to replace Police Chief Wayne Torpy, who was in poor health at the time.
For his alleged role in the attempt to get rid of Schamber, Foster was terminated from his job. Mills, meanwhile, took early retirement.
The Schambers’ suit alleged a laundry list of violations of civil and constitutional rights as well as state tort law. The various counts include unreasonable seizure, search of person, deprivation of liberty without due process, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, false imprisonment, assault and battery, defamation, and negligent training and supervision.
Also in December, Schamber settled his lawsuit with the county for $600,000 and resigned his post with the Los Alamos Police Department.
Hiker-turned treasure hunter Channon Thompson spent a cold March night in Bandelier National Monument after losing her bearings in the vast desert wilderness She was allegedly looking for treasure, inspired by a segment on a morning tv show about buried treasure in the mountains of Northern New Mexico.
She survived her ordeal by rationing a bag of grapes until she was found, apparently in good condition.
“They then gave her water and electrolytes when she returned to her car,” said Claudia Brookshire, public information officer for Bandelier National Monument.
Officials also said she was apparently unsuccessful in locating any treasure.
Search for missing firefighter ends in tragedy
Crushing disappointment replaced a mountain community’s high hopes in September when it learned the rugged Jemez wilderness had claimed one of it’s own.
The victim, Token Adams, an accomplished and experienced firefighter who worked for the Jemez Ranger District, was on an all-terrain vehicle observing and assessing a 25-acre wildfire on Schoolhouse Mesa when he went out of radio contact with the other firefighters. His body was found on the top of Stable Mesa. He apparently crashed his ATV.
Gov. Susana Martinez also sent her condolences to the firefighter’s family.
“Token is an American hero, and he died in the way he lived: serving and protecting us,” she said, adding that she also wanted to thank “every single man and woman who refused to quit looking until they found Token.”
Bear enters home on Barranca Mesa
El Nido Street resident Elly Edelmann thought the noises of someone walking around her kitchen was her elderly father-in-law coming for a lunchtime visit.
But when she opened her kitchen door, a black bear that had been making regular visits to her backyard lately stood up on its hind legs from behind her kitchen island, placing its front paws on her stove.
She turned around, left the kitchen and locked the door behind her. Apparently, the bear was just as surprised to see her as well.
“She then went out the same way she came in,” Edelmann said, pointing to the dining room window. “Usually I close every window, but for some reason I left it open.”
Eventually the bear along with her cub was captured and relocated.
Bank robbery suspect remains on the loose
A woman, described by police as a Hispanic or Native American female in her late 20s or early 30s, approximately 5-feet-4 and weighing about 150 pounds calmly walked into the White Rock branch of the Los Alamos National Bank in February and robbed it.
She still remains at large.
Anyone with information about the bank robbery is asked to call the Albuquerque FBI Office at 505-889-1300.