Year in review: Shooting, racino license refusal dominate second half of 2019


January 8, 2020

Ron Warnick

State police investigators process the scene of a shooting that included two fatalities at the Pizza Hut in Tucumcari.

Editor's note: The following is a review of the last six months of 2019 for Quay County. A report from January through June was published in the Jan. 1 Quay County Sun.

A refusal by state commissioners to issue a horse-racing license and an apparent murder-suicide at a restaurant dominated the news in Tucumcari and Quay County in the second half of 2019.

A lengthy effort by Tucumcari, plus other bidders in Clovis and Lordsburg, to land a coveted sixth license to build a horse-racing facility and casino came to a sudden and quiet end in July when the New Mexico Racing Commission announced it would award no license at all, citing the "best interest" of the state. Other casinos or horse-racing operations had opposed the sixth license.

The commission had endured months of upheaval, including a lawsuit, the firing of the old commission and more than two months of canceled meetings.

In early December, an argument between a Pizza Hut manager and a Tucumcari resident led to the manager being fatally shot before the gunman turned the gun on himself. No other people were hurt in the shooting, though a nearby hospital and Elks Lodge briefly were placed on lockdown.

The news locally wasn't all bad. Tucumcari and Quay County received millions of dollars from the state for various projects. The city also received a clean bill of fiscal health from a state auditor, and it green-lighted a multimillion-dollar wastewater plan to irrigate local fields and comply with federal rules.

Logan won its third straight volleyball state championship, and Tucumcari qualified for the state volleyball tournament for the first time in 30 years.

July 3 - Festival's resumption fills air with old-time music

Rockin' Route 66, which replaced Rockabilly on the Route after a one-year hiatus, brought in more than 15 musical acts to Tucumcari venues, mostly at the convention center. Promoter Brian Whitcomb said the festival had sold out at least six Tucumcari motels and estimated nearly 4,000 people attended.

July 17 - City code of conduct gets nod

A proposed code of conduct for Tucumcari city government elected officials and employees received a nod from the city commission to be published, but with some enforcement provisions removed. The commission gave the amended code of conduct ordinance "first reading" approval, which means it would be published and a public hearing held before it received final action. The included requirements that employees and public officials treat their positions as public trust and to do their jobs to benefit the city, not themselves.

July 24 - Closed ALCO building may see new life

The closed ALCO building on Tucumcari's west side now will be called the Tucumcari Business Hub. College President John Groesbeck said two Albuquerque companies looked at possibly renting the 40,000-square-foot former retail building.

July 24 - Tucumcari school board approves policy on medical marijuana

Among the items the Tucumcari school board approved in its consent agenda during its meeting was a first reading of policy advisory on administering medicine to students, including medical marijuana. One of the changes requires not a physician to give medication and medical marijuana, but an "authorized health care professional."

July 24 - Texas bank to acquire FNB New Mexico

Texas-based AimBank acquired FNB New Mexico, including its banks in Tucumcari and Logan. AimBank announced in a news release it had "entered into a definite agreement" to acquire FNB New Mexico, which also has banks in Santa Rosa, Clayton and Dalhart, Texas. AimBank owns 18 banks primarily in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle.

July 31 - Presbyterian Healthcare reports data breach

About 183,000 patients and health-plan members for Albuquerque-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services may have been affected by database breach in early May. Presbyterian Healthcare operates nine hospitals, including Trigg Memorial Hospital in Tucumcari and Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis, plus a statewide health plan and a medical group.

July 31 - RaciNO: Racing commission won't award new license

The New Mexico Racing Commission issued a big "no" on awarding a sixth racing license - not just to Tucumcari, but to everyone else who'd applied for it. The commission announced during its first regular meeting in more than two months it would not approve a sixth license. Applicants from Tucumcari, Clovis and Lordsburg had been jockeying for one for more than a year. For Tucumcari, Coronado Partners had proposed an $80 million racetrack and casino on the city's east side that would have employed up to 400. Commission chairwoman Beverly Bourguet said the decision was in "the best interest" of the state. Bourguet said the commission doesn't plan to reopen the license process "in the near future." A principal member of the Tucumcari group said he'd appeal to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to have the commission reconsider.

July 31 - Logan mayor pleads guilty, is fined

The mayor of Logan was fined $800, given a suspended 90-day jail sentence and put on unsupervised probation for illegally working and bidding as an electrical contractor without a license during a plea deal in Tucumcari magistrate court. David Babb, 63, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor violations of the Construction Industries Licensing Act.

July 31 - City of Tucumcari gets high rating from state auditor

The state's official review of the city of Tucumcari's fiscal year 2018 financial records resulted in a rating of "unmodified," the best rating the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor can give. City manager Britt Lusk said the city could breathe "a sigh of relief" after the auditor gave the city a very low rating of "disclaimer" for its 2017 records. Lusk said the improvement would result in the city receiving better interest rates on loans and more favorable consideration on grants.

Aug. 7 - Second man sentenced for violent home invasion

A second man implicated in a home invasion in October 2018 in rural Tucumcari where an elderly man was beaten was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison in Tucumcari district court. Setheria Kolyer, 19, of Tucumcari pleaded no contest to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, felony larceny, tampering with evidence and distribution of marijuana.

Aug. 7 - Rattler Reunion attendance rises

The annual Rattler Reunion saw a healthy increase in attendance over the previous year. Kathy Segura, a member of the Tucumcari Alumni Association's board of directors, said a total of 310 had registered for the event - an increase of 75 over the previous year.

Aug. 14 - Sheriff, district attorney clash on social media

Quay County Sheriff Russell Shafer on a Facebook post levied pointed criticism against 10th Judicial District Attorney Timothy Rose for his office's handling of a Tucumcari sex offender who was given furlough and fled more than 1,200 miles away before being apprehended. Rose, while acknowledging a mistake by an aide in the case, responded by criticizing the sheriff's "sudden and erratic decision to vent on social media," and the post was "not completely accurate and very misleading." By mutual agreement, Shafer deleted the Facebook post about 12 hours later. Both pledged to patch up their differences.

Aug. 21 - State awards $3.67M for projects in county

Quay County entities were awarded a total of $3.67 million in state grants for three projects, including a new bridge on Old Route 66 between San Jon and Endee. Tucumcari received $475,000 for its Second Street rebuilding project downtown. San Jon received $118,750 for new streetlights on Interstate 40.

Aug. 21 - Donated lamb steals show at Junior Livestock Sale

The animal that brought the highest bid during the Quay County Fair's Junior Livestock Sale wasn't even listed on the bill. Auctioneer Tony Johnson announced a lamb donated by Dowell Show Lambs of Tucumcari would be sold and proceeds given to Norton teen Gracie Whitson, who was seriously injured the previous month in a horse-riding accident. Citizens Bank submitted the high bid of $8,500 - more than $3,000 higher than the previous high bid that night. Minutes after the auction, the total had reached $15,570.

Aug. 28 - Tucumcari school board extends superintendent's contract

The Tucumcari school board gave its superintendent a one-year contract extension with a 6% raise after delaying its decision during its May meeting. His contract now will expire July 1, 2022. He will be paid $120,428 a year. McKinney has been the district's superintendent for 13 years.

Aug. 28 - Tucumcari approves code of conduct

After a brief but intense debate, the Tucumcari City Commission gave final approval to a code of conduct for city elected officials and employees. The debate centered on District 5 Commissioner Todd Duplantis' proposal to add a clause under the code's enforcement division that would provide a public hearing if a commissioner is accused of misconduct under the code. The code passed with Duplantis' clause, but not after District 1 Commissioner Ralph Moya challenged any new enforcement measures in it.

Sept. 11 - Respondents support preservation of Conchas Lodge

Respondents overwhelmingly supported proposals to fully or partially preserve the long-closed Conchas Lodge on the south side of Conchas Lake, according to findings from an open-records request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that manages the property. The corps in July invited participation in submitting feedback on the possible future of Conchas Lodge. It was built in 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and has been managed by the corps and New Mexico State Parks. Conchas Lodge closed in 2005.

Sept. 18 - Roping benefit draws a huge crowd

The Gracie Whitson Roping Event to benefit a Quay County teen seriously injured during a horse-riding accident drew 256 teams and generated nearly $40,000 to help cover ongoing medical expenses. Whitson, a recent graduate of San Jon High School, in July was thrown off her horse and was in a coma for about a week because of a traumatic brain injury.

Sept. 25 - School board approves proceeding on land deal for ballparks

The Tucumcari school board unanimously approved a motion to let superintendent Aaron McKinney "move forward with the necessary steps" to acquire city land for a proposed redevelopment of existing baseball and softball fields. McKinney also said the district would hold a special mail-in election in February on a $3 million bond issue for the project instead of the Nov. 5 election.

Oct. 2 - Woman files complaint against magistrate judge

Alleging an act "contrary to law," a Quay County woman filed a complaint against a magistrate judge after she said she was denied access to a courtroom to attend a criminal case that involved a family member. A Tucumcari district judge issued an interim order days later to address the case. Sue Moore filed the complaint against Quay County Magistrate Judge Timothy J. O'Quinn after she and a relative, an alleged victim in a criminal case, "were not allowed back into the court room where the hearing was to occur until permission was granted by someone in the back" during a hearing.

Oct. 2 - Course record broken at Wheels on Fire 100

Jon Kulas of Santa Rosa broke the course record by nearly 25 minutes during the fourth annual Wheels on Fire 100 bicycle race, averaging nearly 25 mph over the 100-mile road loop in southern Quay County and a part of Curry County. Kulas, 49, finished at the Tucumcari Convention Center in 4 hours, 2 minutes and 49 seconds. The old record was 4:27.

Oct. 2 - Logan named a Blue Ribbon school

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos named Logan Elementary School a recipient of the National Blue Ribbon Award, one of only three schools in New Mexico to receive it. The recognition is based on a school's overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

Oct. 2 - Record crowds at Fired Up festival

The ninth annual Fired Up festival in downtown Tucumcari drew a record crowd of 4,271, according to an official count kept by the organizer, Tucumcari MainStreet. That number was 6% higher than the previous year's record of 4,024.

Oct. 9 - San Jon receives fire station grant

The village of San Jon learned it will receive a $750,000 federal grant to build a second fire station north of Interstate 40. Village Treasurer Toni Stoner said the station had been a high-priority item for years. "If the overpass is shut down, it's hard for our firetrucks to get anywhere north of town," she said.

Oct. 9 - Suspect in chase accepts plea deal

One of the suspects accused of a high-speed police chase through Tucumcari and an attempted shooting of officers in May accepted a plea deal that will put him behind bars in New Mexico for more than five years. Scott Sherbondy, 37, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, agreed in district court to plead guilty to multiple felony counts. Sherbondy also faces life behind bars in Colorado once he's released by New Mexico authorities.

Oct. 16 - Yesway to acquire Allsup's stores

Allsup's Convenience Stores Inc. told its employees an equity firm that operates Iowa-based convenience store chain Yesway is acquiring it. Allsup's has stores in Tucumcari and Logan in Quay County, while Yesway operates a store in San Jon it acquired in September 2018.

Oct. 16 - Senior Center improvements on the way

The way was paved for the Tucumcari Senior Citizens Center to receive long-awaited improvements to its kitchen, electrical system, service entrance and driveway. The Tucumcari City Commission officially accepted a $207,800 grant from the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department for the work.

Oct. 23 - Second car-chase suspect gets 18-month sentence

A Colorado woman received an 18-month sentence for her role in a high-speed car chase through Tucumcari in May where police officers were shot at after the vehicle she was driving crashed. District Judge Albert Mitchell Jr. sentenced Brandy Campbell, 37, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, after she accepted a deal to plead guilty to aggravated fleeing of a law officer, a fourth-degree felony. Her accomplice, Scott Sherbondy, also was sentenced to prison weeks earlier.

Oct. 23 - Teen gets 16 years for role in violent home invasion

Rejecting a defense attorney's pleas for a conditional discharge so his client could join the military, a Tucumcari district court judge sentenced an Albuquerque teen to 16 years behind bars for his role in a home invasion last year where an elderly Tucumcari man was beaten and his residence ransacked. District Judge Albert Mitchell Jr. sentenced Jamal Jones, 19, to 21 years to prison, with five years suspended.

Oct. 23 - More than 180 attend fundraiser screening

More than 180 people attended a Route 66 documentary screening at Tucumcari's Odeon Theatre that served as a fundraiser to help restore the theater's façade and neon lighting. The screening was one of several events scheduled around the fall quarterly meeting of New Mexico MainStreet.

Oct. 30 - City approves Second Street measures

The Tucumcari city commission unanimously approved four resolutions, applications or agreements to address repairs and reconstruction of two blocks of Second Street downtown.

Oct. 30 - Fire damages planned marijuana dispensary

A fire early severely damaged what would have become Tucumcari's first medical-marijuana dispensary. Fire departments from all over Quay County responded to the blaze at 713 E. Route 66 Blvd. Tucumcari Fire Chief Doug Hogan stated the fire "is considered suspicious in nature." Spartan Ventures of Albuquerque, which owns the building, leased it to Albuquerque-based PurLife that has opened medical-marijuana dispensaries in several New Mexico cities. A lessee said they had planned to open the dispensary by February or March.

Oct. 30 - Encinias inducted to Wrestling Hall of Fame

Longtime Tucumcari High School coach Eddie Encinias was inducted into the New Mexico Wrestling Hall of Fame. Encinias, entering his 19th season of guiding the Rattlers wrestling team, had been named NMAA's Coach of the Year in 2004, won two district titles and guided 18 individuals to state championships, including Kaleb Hayes the previous season.

Nov. 6 - Complaint against magistrate judge dismissed

A legal complaint against a Quay County magistrate judge over an alleged lack of courtroom access was dismissed by the plaintiff's attorney, citing a resolution of the case. A notice of dismissal was in 10th Judicial District Court because the "the matters raised in the petition ... have been resolved."

Nov. 6 - One incumbent defeated in city, school elections

One incumbent each in the Tucumcari City Commission and Tucumcari school board went down in defeat during nonpartisan elections in Quay County. Voters also easily approved school-bond issues in San Jon and House. In District 2 for the city, challenger Paul Villaneuva downed incumbent Amy Gutierrez by more than a 2-to-1 margin. In District 2 for Tucumcari Municipal Schools, Jerry Joe Lopez downed incumbent Fernando Ureste 128-70.

Nov. 13 - Wastewater project gets final approval

The Tucumcari City Commission gave final approval to fund a $5.5 million project that will divert treated water from the city's wastewater treatment facility to a nearby field to irrigate crops. The city will pump the treated water to irrigate 318 acres of cropland next to the plant the city has arranged to buy from local farmer Jack Smith. The city devised the plan to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements to keep treated wastewater out of streams leading to waterways.

Nov. 13 - Tucumcari volleyball ends state-tourney drought

Tucumcari's volleyball team learned it had qualified for the state tournament, something the Lady Rattlers hadn't done in 30 years. When Tucumcari showed up in the Class 3A bracket during a live tournament selection show, it prompted cheers, hugs and raised fists from those at a watch party. "It's been a long time," coach Dana Benavidez said. "There were tears of joy."

Nov. 20 - Logan stuns Melrose, three-peats as 1A champion

Logan stunned top-seeded and unbeaten Melrose 25-16, 25-20, 25-20 in the Class 1A volleyball championship after the Lady Buffaloes previously dominated the Lady Longhorns this season. A jubilant Logan squad delivered a three-peat in state championships to its coach, Robert Young. "That's a big accomplishment, three in a row," Young said. "I never dreamed I'd even win one in my career. This is amazing. It's a blessing."

Nov. 27 - Tucumcari officer receives Wreath of Valor

Tucumcari police officer Daniel Lopez received a Wreath of Valor, the "highest award the department can give" for his actions in preventing a suicide Nov. 6 that involved a risk to the officer's safety. Lopez received the award during a regular meeting of the Tucumcari City Commission.

Nov. 27 - Tucumcari MainStreet awarded $600,000

Tucumcari MainStreet and the city learned it had been awarded a $600,000 capital outlay grant from New Mexico MainStreet and the New Mexico Economic Development Department. Tucumcari will use the money for Great Blocks on MainStreet, a beautification and infrastructure improvement initiative, for Second Street Phase 1 construction in downtown.

Nov. 27 - Ron Wilmot dies at age 68

Ron Wilmot, a former publisher of the Quay County Sun, a former manager of the Tucumcari Convention Center and a longtime staffer in the Tucumcari office for U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, died of a heart attack at Trigg Memorial Hospital in Tucumcari. He was 68.

Dec. 4 - Very Merry Tucumcari was busy and chilly

The inaugural edition of a Very Merry Tucumcari also could be described as a Very Busy, Very Blustery Tucumcari. Official helped count down and throw the switch to a lighting display at the windswept and chilly Historic Railroad Depot Plaza. Earlier, more than 160 children sat on Santa's lap in the depot. "For a first-time event, it's gone exceptionally well," Tucumcari MainStreet director Connie Loveland said. "It's my hope it continues to grow, and we can add decorations each year."

Dec. 4 - San Jon rejects sports tri-op with Grady

The San Jon Municipal Schools board of trustees unanimously voted to reject a sports cooperative agreement with Grady and House during a special meeting. "We're on our own, guys," board president Frank Gibson said moments after the vote. The proposed two-year agreement would have covered high-school volleyball and basketball starting with the 2020-2021 school year.

Dec. 11 - Shooting at restaurant leaves two dead

Police cars and ambulances swarmed to the Pizza Hut in Tucumcari after a shooting that left two Tucumcari men dead in an apparent murder-suicide. New Mexico State Police identified the dead as Jimmy Chavez, 37, a manager of the restaurant at 2402 S. First St., and assailant Flip Anaya, 23. A state police spokesman stated Anaya confronted Chavez inside the restaurant, and an argument ensued. Anaya brandished a firearm and fired it towards Chavez, striking him. Chavez was pronounced dead at the scene. Anaya shot himself in the head and died at an Amarillo hospital the next day.

Dec. 11 - Neon sign ordinance rejected

An ordinance designed to encourage preservation of Tucumcari's Route 66 neon-sign history was rejected before it could receive further consideration. Tucumcari City Commissioners voted 3-2 to scrap it without first publishing it and holding a public hearing. The ordinance would have imposed a 160-day delay on sales of historic signs to allow the city an opportunity to match the sales price and keep pieces of Tucumcari's history in Tucumcari.


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