Home News Local News As 2020 begins, a look back at 2019

As 2020 begins, a look back at 2019

The jacket and fire equipment of Jeff Stroble was displayed during his burial ceremony at South Park Cemetery. (Daily Record File Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Editor’s note: The following list recaps a number of memorable local events that occurred throughout 2019.

The list, compiled from the archives of the Roswell Daily Record, is not meant to be comprehensive. It could easily be many times as long, given the number of important events that unfold in our community over the span of a year.

Rather, as we now begin a new year, it’s intended as an overview of the things people discussed, debated and took note of during the year that was.

The list focuses on news — the RDR sports department has already published its countdown of the top sports stories of 2019, complete with the Coyotes’ second straight state football championship.

Local firefighter dies after being injured in line of duty

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Roswell and Chaves County, along with people and organizations around New Mexico, remembered and honored the life of Jeff Stroble, a Roswell Fire Department firefighter who died last year from injuries sustained in the line of duty.

Stroble, 46, of Roswell — a fire apparatus operator with the Roswell Fire Department for 17 years — died Sunday, July 21 at United Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas. He had been hospitalized after a June 5 explosion that occurred in a building south of Roswell while fire department personnel were preparing fireworks for the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration.

A State Fire Marshal’s Office report, dated Aug. 14, stated, “Upon conclusion of the investigation, the cause of the explosion/fire is accidental.”

Stroble and Robert “Hoby” Bonham, 36, of Roswell, an 18-year veteran firefighter, were critically injured in the blast. Both men were immediately airlifted to United Medical Center for treatment. Bonham returned to Roswell June 30 after being released from the hospital.

Ten other firefighters in the building when it exploded received minor injuries.

Stroble’s family and the Roswell Fire Department were recognized in November during the 2019 Heroes Banquet in Albuquerque, sponsored by the New Mexico Business Coalition.

Among many local honors and remembrances, Stroble’s name will be added to the Chaves County Fallen Heroes Memorial.

Roswell Escrow Services operations suspended

Roswell Escrow Services suspended operations Nov. 14 after the Financial Services Division of the New Mexico Department of Regulation and Licensing launched an investigation of the local business.

An examination by the Financial Institutions Division of Roswell Escrow’s records and accounts allegedly found more than $1.5 million missing from the company’s client trust account.

Bernice Geiger, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Regulation and Licensing, said Roswell Escrow Services, with offices at 204 W. Second St., would remain closed until the Financial Institutions Division finished an examination of the business.

A warrant for the home of Christopher Adam Jensen-Tanner, owner of Roswell Escrow Services, was issued Nov. 14 as part of the investigation of the company by the Financial Institutions Division. According to information included in the search warrant, money from the trust accounts of Roswell Escrow Services, Inc. was allegedly used for personal spending.

Richard Olson, attorney for Jensen-Tanner, did not respond to several calls for comment in December.

Legislation signed into law allows independent air authority

Legislation that would allow creation of an independent air authority to oversee governance of the Roswell Air Center and other nearby properties was signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in February. House Bill 229, the Regional Air Center Special Economic District, could have a major impact on the Roswell area.

The legislation, introduced by State Reps. Candy Spence Ezzell, Greg Nibert and Phelps Anderson, would allow a city or county in which a former military airfield is located to form a district and appoint five to nine non-elected members to an authority to develop, manage and market a base and other properties it owns. The authority would have the power to issue revenue bonds, impose liens, hire employees and exercise eminent domain.

Ezzell said that the bill could apply to the Roswell Air Center and the more than 500,000 acres that make up the former Walker Air Force Base that was decommissioned in 1967.

A number of other positive steps related to the Air Center took place in 2019 — among them: In September the Air Center was notified of its acceptance into the Military Airport Program, a grant funding program of the Federal Aviation Administration, and was awarded $2 million to be used to improve airport parking as part of future terminal upgrades.

Tornado strikes Dexter, damaging homes and businesses

A collapsed trailer lies on top of a car in the backyard of a home in the 400 block of First Street in Dexter. The destruction was the result of a tornado that struck downtown Dexter. (Daily Record File Photo)

Dexter residents found themselves accessing damage and cleaning up debris after a tornado struck the town in March.

Property owners were barred briefly from returning to their homes due to dangers posed by downed electrical wires and blunt objects tossed about by winds of up to 75 miles per hour.

Some roads were blocked off by police units as construction equipment scooped up fallen tree limbs, shattered roof panels and fence planks.

Several organizations, including cadets from New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe, inmates from the Roswell Correctional Center, various church groups and the New Mexico Chapter of the American Red Cross were in Dexter to help with the recovery.

Besides homes, there were businesses, barns and other structures impacted by the tornado.

The EF 2 tornado was on the ground for less than 20 minutes before it dissipated, according to the National Weather Service.

The tornado impacted an area 200 to 300 yards wide and had a path-length of 15 miles.

There were no deaths attributed to the tornado.

Commissioners vote to close Juvenile Detention Center

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in November to close the Chaves County Juvenile Detention Center. Juveniles held at the center were set to be transferred to other centers, such as the one in Curry County, but also possibly the one in Lea County, said Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs.

According to commissioners and Riggs, the closure was meant to save the county the $1.08 million a year in expenditures for a facility that served only three county youth a day on average, along with an equal number of detainees, approximately, from other counties.

At a Nov. 12 workshop to consider the facility’s future some people had urged commissioners to keep the center open. Those included Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith, 5th Judicial District Chief Deputy District Attorney Matthew Stone, and Chaves County Public Defender Joanne Angel.

“I am asking you — as strongly as I possibly can — not to close this facility, not to turn your back on this community,” Kintigh said. “All of us have to provide basic services. All the services cost money. That’s why we collect taxes. …”

Commissioners said, when making their decision, that they thought the same services provided here could be provided elsewhere, at less cost to county taxpayers.

Voters will decide on $35 million public safety complex

The Roswell City Council voted unanimously in October to allow voters to decide on a general obligation bond issue that if passed will raise property taxes to cover the cost of a proposed public safety complex. The $35 million complex would house the Roswell Police Department, Roswell Fire Station 2, Roswell Fire Department Administration, Roswell Municipal Court and Roswell Emergency operations under one roof.

The price tag is based on what the city of Artesia paid to construct a similar public safety complex, Mayor Dennis Kintigh said. The money would be used for property purchase, architecture, engineering, equipment and construction.

If approved by voters in the March 3 municipal elections, the bond issue would mean a 3.53 mill levy increase over the city’s current debt services tax rate of .55.

Property owners of a home with a full value of $100,000 would pay an additional $118 per year in taxes, according to information presented by Kintigh last month during a meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women.

Albuquerque prosecutor named Roswell’s first assistant U.S. attorney

In November, Jacob Wishard, who has been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Mexico for about six years and has 15 years of experience as a prosecutor, was named the first assistant U.S. attorney stationed in the Roswell area.

The announcement also meant that the Department of Homeland Security will open an investigations unit in Roswell and station some agents here.

Homeland Security special agent-in-charge Jack Staton said having a federal prosecutor will make it easier for agents to attend court, work cases and meet with judges than if they are required to travel to Las Cruces.

Warner named new Roswell High School principal

The Roswell Independent School District last summer hired Manuel Wallace Warner, a Roswell High School graduate, as principal at RHS.

“The ability to give back to the community is something that us teachers work and strive for every day,” Warner said at the time. “Starting off as a teacher in Grand Blanc, Michigan, I was able to really provide a lot of impact to those students. I never thought that I would ever return back home to where I grew up, where I graduated and have the opportunity to impact kids here. It never crossed my mind. The opportunity came up and I jumped at it …”

Warner, 42, graduated from RHS in 1995 and lived in Roswell for about 16 years. He said he was returning to Roswell and his alma mater to provide support, leadership and “fresh ideas.”

“I believe with my experience, my vision that I am the best person for the job,” Warner said.

City, county become Second Amendment sanctuaries

In March the Roswell City Council passed a resolution declaring Roswell a Second Amendment sanctuary city.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington spoke in favor of the Second Amendment sanctuary measure.

The move followed a similar measure adopted by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners in February, making this a Second Amendment sanctuary county. That resolution allows the sheriff to not enforce state gun laws he believes conflict with the Constitutional right of the people to keep and bear arms.

The resolutions were in response to a law passed by the New Mexico Legislature mandating background checks for nearly all gun purchases in the state.

The city and county joined local governments around New Mexico and elsewhere in the nation in taking similar steps in response to gun control laws.

Notable deaths

A number of people with deep ties or longtime connections to Roswell passed away in 2019. To name a few:

• Morgan Nelson, former state legislator and noted historian, passed away March 1 at the age of 99.

Nelson was active in the revival of the Historical Society of Southeastern New Mexico and served as its first museum chairman. His interest in local history and specific interest in water history led him to conduct extensive research and write often on both subjects.

• Elvis Eugene Fleming, who also contributed much to chronicling the area’s history, died Feb. 12 at 82. After Fleming’s retirement from teaching at ENMU-Roswell, he devoted his time to historical activities and cowboy music.

He served on the board of directors of the Historical Society of New Mexico from 1988 to 2002 and on the New Mexico Historical Records Advisory Board from 1997 to 2002. He wrote books and articles about the history of Southeast New Mexico.

• Well-known community member David González — sometimes called the “voice of Roswell” after decades in broadcast news and many years as an announcer — passed away on May 6 at 63. González was known by many people as the announcer for local high school and New Mexico Military Institute football games as well as commencement ceremonies.

• Judge Alvin Jones died on May 28 at 74, killed in an accident while riding his bicycle — preparing “for yet another Milk Man triathlon,” according to his obituary.

In addition to a career on the bench, he was well known for founding the local chapters of Chaves County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and Character Counts.

• On May 13, nuclear physicist and famed UFO researcher Stanton Friedman, whose persistence drew international attention to the alleged 1947 UFO crash near Roswell, passed away. He was 84.

Pence visits Artesia, touts benefits of USMCA

Vice President Mike Pence visited Artesia in August to implore New Mexicans to press Congress to pass a new trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada. Pence said the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, would benefit the U.S. economy and help further energy development.

“So the USMCA is not just a win for America, it is a big win for New Mexico and we’ve got to get Congress to pass it into law,” Pence told the crowd in a parking lot at Elite Well Services in Artesia.

The event also included speeches from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, as well as a roundtable discussion by local business leaders on potential benefits of the USMCA.

Editor’s note: The U.S. House has approved a bill that puts in place terms of the USMCA. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation after the holidays.

RISD controversies

Controversy over a restructuring of Roswell Independent School District administrative positions, undertaken just before school let out for the summer, was a hot topic of discussion for months.

Former Roswell High School Principal Ruben Bolaños’ reassignment to another position was the most high profile of the moves, but in total 25 employees — mostly principals and assistant principals — were reshuffled between jobs and campuses.

In the aftermath of the moves, a group of local residents formed the Coalition for Equity and Fiscal Responsibility, which they said offers support for RISD employees and students while calling for accountability from the administration and school board.

Another controversy erupted over the handling of the old turf from the Wool Bowl — replaced with new turf as part of a renovation — when it was alleged during a school board meeting that the old turf was distributed to locations around the city, including the superintendent’s house.

Alleged ‘stash house’ discovered in Chaves County

An alleged human trafficking “stash house” came to the attention of law enforcement June 14, based on a tip Sheriff Mike Herrington received from a man who claimed people from South America were being held at the property and were set to be moved.

Herrington, along with deputies and federal agents, went to the Concord Road property where they discovered seven males from Guatemala — including two teenagers — who were unable to speak English but were being kept at the residence along with some people believed to be housing them.

One migrant being kept at the residence said he and others had paid between $8,000 and $12,000 to be transported illegally from Guatemala to cities across the United States, according to court documents.

The federal case against a woman arrested for allegedly operating the “stash house” was eventually dismissed.

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