2003 top ten news stories

QCS Staff

A handful of stories each year get much of the community stirring. The Quay County Sun staff believes these are 10 such stories.

No. 1

WIND FARM OPENS, ANOTHER ON THE WAY

Quay County became a national leader in the race for alternative energy in 2003. The world’s third-largest wind farm opened at the Tiban Mesa near House on Oct. 1, giving Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) the ability to power 94,000 average homes, the company said.

“Wind can provide a major economic boost to the state and we need to ensure there will be more wind energy,” said New Mexico Speaker of the House Ben Lujan at the opening ceremony.

In all, 136 turbines were built with the capability to produce a combined 204 megawatts of power. PNM officials said that constitutes 8 percent of the company’s total generating power. Suedeen Kelly, law professor at the University of New Mexico law school, signed an agreement to be the state’s first resident to receive the wind power.

In August, Caprock Wind, LP announced plans to install a wind farm at Caprock, 20 miles southeast of Tucumcari. About 100 workers are expected to be hired for the construction scheduled to begin this spring.

No. 2

JAILER ARRESTED

A Quay County Juvenile Detention Center officer was arrested Nov. 24 and charged with sex-related crimes against detainees, police said.

Robert Gonzales, 27, of Tucumcari was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor and two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor, court documents show. Gonzales has been an officer with the juvenile detention center for more than a year.

The arrest followed a four-month investigation that began when New Mexico State Police received a complaint from the stepfather of an alleged female victim who said she had been sexually assaulted at the detention center. Two other girls came forward with similar complaints during the investigation. The girls’ ages were not disclosed.

Gonzales has a preliminary hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Quay County Magistrate Court.

No. 3

VANDALISM

Under the guise of night, Tucumcari businesses fell victim to a sting of widow vandalism that frustrated police and tortured local business owners.

In early October, several police reports indicated ball bearings were being used to shoot out windows on businesses throughout Tucumcari with an emphasis on Main Street. TPD Police Chief Dennis Townsend said he was presuming that juveniles were shooting out windows from cars.

The damage hurt businesses and one local owner said the vandalism combined with slow business could cause him to close.

Tucumcari police called on the help of residents to identify any vandals. Crime Stoppers is also offering a reward. As it stands, Tucumcari police officers have worked overtime to catch those responsible, but Townsend said they have no suspects.

No. 4

TRUCKER SPA TARGETED IN PROSTITUTION STING

Open only about a year, the “Trucker Spa” was at the center of a police prostitution sting in mid-September.

Four women, including spa owner Young K. Carpinello, 44, of Tucumcari, were arrested and charged with promoting prostitution, accepting the earnings of a prostitute and conspiracy. The charges followed a three-month investigation by state police and other law enforcement officials.

The spa is located about 10 miles east of Tucumcari across the bridge from Stuckey’s in Palomas along Interstate 40.
“You hear rumors all the time,” Stuckey’s manager Carolyn Birch said in September.

Police said they seized several thousand dollars, video tapes and other evidence.

The case has been delayed several times due to the amount of evidence gathered and because three of the women charged have requested translators.

A hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 11 at the Quay County Magistrate Court.

No. 5

STATE CLOSES ROUTE 66 BRIDGE

Route 66 is undeniably one of the area’s main attractions. When the state told travelers to stay off a local access bridge, local leaders took notice.

In mid-July, the state Department of Transportation closed one of the Route 66 bridges over the Revuelto Creek between Tucumcari and San Jon, saying it was unsafe to travel. The bridge was constructed in 1950 and officials said it reached the end of its life span.

Prior to the closing, the district lowered the speed limit and load limit to prolong its life. Local leaders agreed the bridge was a priority to correct.

“It’s very, very important to get that bridge open,” said Tucumcari/Quay County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Virginia Wright.

No. 6

OFFICER PLEADS GUILTY TO DWI

In April, Sgt. Jeff Gonzales of the Tucumcari Police Department pleaded guilty to a first offense of driving while intoxicated in connection with an incident in which he ran a stop sign with his motorcycle.

Court records show Gonzales paid $199 in court costs and was deferred a 90-day sentencing.

In June, Gonzales said he would retain his police certification and hopefully rejoin the force. According to TPD Police Chief Dennis Townsend, Gonzales did return to work for a short time but is no longer with the police force.

No. 7

THUNDERBIRDS AND THE AIR SHOW

In each year of its 11-year history, the mid-week Tucumcari Air Show has made a name for itself.

In 2003, organizers topped perhaps even what they thought was possible when the show was set to feature the elite U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. But a Sept. 14 Thunderbird crash near Boise, Idaho, compromised the team’s schedule. Just 10 days prior to the event, the Thunderbirds announced they would not fly over Tucumcari.

“For them to even consider us is an honor,” said show organizer Bob McClelland Jr.

The air show went on as planned, complete with a first night show the evening before the main event. McClelland called the air show an overwhelming success and said the crowd was “good as ever.”

Recently, McClelland attended a convention to plan acts for the 2004 show. He said next year’s show plans to feature the Snowbirds, Canada’s famous aerobatics team.

No. 8

RATTLERS FALL SHORT OF REPEAT

The 2002 state champion Tucumcari Rattlers were the No. 1 story last year.

The Rattlers entered the new season with a target on their backs and a new quarterback. The team got off to a hot start by blowing out its first four opponents. Tucumcari then lost two straight before rebounding for district play.

The Rattlers scored 28 unanswered points on the road to beat Clayton and defeated rival Santa Rosa to win the district title the following week.

With home-field advantage, the Rattlers beat Tularosa in the first round of the state playoffs. But the team was beaten by eventual state champion Hatch Valley.

The Rattlers finished the season 8-3, district champions and state semifinalists.

No. 9

TWO DROWN IN UTE LAKE

On a tragic night in August, three men were boating in Ute Lake when their boat ran aground on a sandbar. The three men attempted to swim an estimated 150 yards to shore. Only one man survived.

Two men from Portales drowned. One victim, Frank Davis, had gained national attention when he paid comedian Jay Leno more than $320,000 for a celebrity-autographed motorcycle. The money benefited victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In December, toxicology reports were released showing small amounts of alcohol were present in the bodies of both victims. State Police Patrolman Paul Bell said the amount of alcohol in their system was, “a very small amount,” and not a factor in the deaths.

Jimmy Park, who survived in incident, said the other men were swimming right behind him until he reached the first buoy and he no longer saw them.

No. 10

OKLAHOMA SUSPECTED KILLER VISITS QUAY COUNTY

When San Jon Police Chief Ben Gates arrested a 42-year-old man from Oklahoma in late August, he didn’t know that less than two months later the man would be one of America’s most wanted.

Scott James Eizember was arrested in San Jon in connection with driving a vehicle police thought was stolen. He spent time in the Quay County Detention Center for about two weeks before being released for lack of evidence, court records show. A little more than one month after the release, Eizember was on the run, suspected of shooting and killing two Oklahoma residents.

Eizember appeared on the television program “America’s Most Wanted,” while eluding police for more than five weeks. During those weeks local law enforcement officials said they were taking measures to capture Eizember if he revisited the area.

The suspected killer was arrested Nov. 23 in Lufkin, Texas, after officials said he hijacked an Arkansas couple and transported them to Texas.

Eizember recently pleaded not guilty to murder charges in an Oklahoma court.

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