Looking back

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer

EDITOR’S NOTE — The following is the first in a three-part series taking a look at major stories that shaped news in Roosevelt County in 2006. This first installment looks at January, February, March and April.

In 2006, news in Roosevelt County was shaped by a bursting dairy industry, as well as water and agricultural concerns. The county also kept its eye on the future, and technology emerged as a major theme.

During the first quarter of 2006, the county had its share of negative news, from slaying trials to high-profile embezzlement cases.

The months of January, February, March and April also renewed local pride as hometown boys won national rodeo honors; 11 local men from the 126th Military Police were welcomed home from Iraq with a parade; and the big screen flick filmed in Clovis and Portales, “Believe in Me,” hit theaters nationwide.

The following is a closer look at the top stories of early 2006:

The new year was ushered in with a high-tech kind of way.

Determined to make high-speed Internet available at everyone’s fingertips, Yucca Telecom broke ground on an $11.3 million fiber optic project. The project installed a fiber optic network throughout the city.

During the groundbreaking on Jan. 10, Yucca Telecom General Manager Scott Arnold said, “We’re going to be able to provide the fastest Internet. We’re positioning ourselves for the future, for high definition television, Internet service and video on demand.”

Later that month on Jan. 18, Eastern New Mexico University officially opened a 34,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Communication Building that cost more than $7 million to construct.

Once the building is complete and all technology is in place by 2007, it will house instructional and functional TV studios for KENW-TV and be equipped with the latest in digital technology. Classrooms in the building are already in use.

During January, Portales also welcomed a new fire chief: Raul Muniz, who came by way of Raton.

In addition, a local boy, Jake Bonner, was highlighted by the National High School Rodeo Association as one of the top rookies for his region. He was selected to be a member of the Wrangler High School All-Star Rodeo Team.

The Roosevelt General Hospital Board of Trustees gave approval for administrator James D’Agostino to seek $1.1 million from the state legislature for an intensive care unit.

The Ellen W. Jones Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy celebrated its 100th anniversary on Jan. 6. Founded in 1906, the local United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter was named after its founder, Ellen W. Jones, in 1920.

February brought agricultural, water and detention center worries.
Along with that came 15 minutes of fame as the Clovis/Portales microplex was placed under the Hollywood spotlight.

In early February, Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, regional mayors, state legislators and tribal representatives visited the state capitol and lobbied for a permanent water trust fund. Ortega said that Clovis and Portales pump water from the Ogallala aquifer, which hydrologists say is rapidly depleting. He added that in the last three years, more wells have been created, however, fewer gallons of water are being pumped. Hydrologists estimate the aquifer will be dry in the next 12 to 20 years.

Another water woe came on Feb. 21 when Portales City Councilors talked about concerns that arose from a 17-foot crack on a 24-inch water pipe. The crack caused the city of Portales to go without water for nearly 24 hours that previous weekend. City officials said a major distribution line broke on the west side and discussed concern over a lack of water valves.

Drought conditions in February also brought anxiety to dry land wheat farmers. They faced the possibility of a failed crop as a result of lack of rain. The dry spell, which began in mid-October 2005, was being blamed for severely damaging dry land wheat in the area.

Early in February, Roosevelt County Commissioners awarded a multimillion-dollar contract for an addition to the Roosevelt County Detention Center. The project would nearly double the center in size.
This proved to be a much-needed move. On Feb. 21, it was reported that the Roosevelt County Detention Center was near its capacity level with adult inmates. Construction is expected to be completed in spring 2007.

Before the month was over, the city saw the return of an ENMU alumnus, James “Jim” McGowan, who was named pastor of St. Helen Catholic Church.

Also, local residents flocked to movie theaters to get a glimpse of their hometown and hometown folks turned temporary stars during the box office opening of “Believe in Me.” The movie — based on a small-town western Oklahoma girls’ basketball team — was partially filmed in Clovis and Portales and a cast of locals peppered some of its scenes.

The blustery days of March sent a 2,000-acre grass fire roaring across grasslands near Causey on March 13, destroying a Portales home and damaging another in the process. Local firefighters also helped fight a 100,000-acre grass fire between Tatum and Lovington. The grass fires were blamed on drought conditions.

Area dairies became a topic of discussion in March as experts disagreed on whether there was room for more dairies in eastern New Mexico. The region is home to roughly one-third of New Mexico dairies, with more than 120,000 dairy cows and 64 dairies.

Walter Bradley, government and industry relations director for the Southwest Area of Dairy Farmers of America, said there was no more room for dairies in Roosevelt and Curry counties. He also added there was no adequate water or land. However, Clovis Realtor Lonnie Mitchell contended there was ample room for dairies.

Patriotism spread across Portales with a strong showing of support for troops. The town welcomed home 11 members of the 126th Military Police who served in Iraq. A parade for the troops was held. Those honored included 1st Lt. Darren Hooker, Pfc. Roy Burton, Spc. James Montgomery, Sgt. Brett Bedinger, Sgt. Paul Kekuewa, Sgt. Gilbert Ornelas, Spc. Jarod Bryan, Spc. Eric Wilmeth, Spc. Kevin Wilkinson, Spc. Jeremy Shelley and Spc. Jesse Graham.

In March, the Roosevelt General Hospital Board of Trustees set aside $1.1 million in grant and loan money to purchase a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine and a computerized Tomography (CT) machine. The new machines will give doctors the ability to more accurately diagnose internal conditions of a patient.

March also proved to be a busy month for police.

Portales man Scott Kirby, 22, was indicted on charges of embezzling more than $600,000. The money was believed to have been stolen from an armored car. A second arrest was made in the armored car heist. Chris Adcox, 21, of Clovis, was arrested for his alleged role in the heist.

Also, earlier in the month, on March 6, Clifford “Bubba” Baca pleaded guilty in the 2004 slaying of Amber Robinson and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The national immigration debate became a local story in 2006 when more than 250 people staged a peaceful march through the streets of Portales. They waved Mexican and United States flags in support of rights for illegal immigrants. Marchers walked in a procession along the highway, from downtown Portales to ENMU and back.

Dominique Tixier, an ENMU senior, reportedly said the march was not just in support of Mexican immigrants, but for immigrants from every country.

On the ENMU campus, April was a month for good news as the university announced plans for an $11.9 million dorm project. The project is slated for completion in fall 2007.

On April 4, the Portales City Council approved plans for the new dormitory. The dorms are to be built in apartment style complexes with a volleyball court and swimming pool in the center.Construction is under way and expected to be completed by fall 2007.

More construction news came in the form of an announced subdivision of townhouses. Combs Properties received approval from city officials in late April for a 56-unit townhouse development. The development, called Foxtrail Estates, will be located in the south part of Portales near Golden Acres Retirement Apartments and the Yucca Subdivision.

Also in late April, Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega and Clovis Mayor David Lansford shook hands and signed an agreement that formally defined the two cities as a microplex for the next four years. The combined population of the cities creates a microplex that enables it to reach a 50,000-population plateau and makes the area more marketable to incoming industries and businesses.

The area had several major crime stories in the local news.

On April 12, a plea agreement was set for a Portales woman accused of embezzling more than $138,000 from the New Mexico Higher Education Department. However, the two sides could not come to an agreement and the case went to trial. Tammie Jo Garcia, 33, was charged with forging her supervisor’s signature to embezzle more than $138,000 from the NMHE account.

In other crime news, Ninth Judicial District Judge Stephen Quinn granted a defense motion to change the venue of the trial of a Portales man accused of killing his uncle and aunt in March 2004. Jerry Fuller, 33, was charged with the killing of Odis and Doris Newman of Portales. Prosecutors agreed with defense attorneys not to have the trial in Roosevelt County, but felt they could get an impartial jury in Curry County.

Quinn also granted a defense motion for a continuance. The trial was scheduled to take place in mid-June. Attorneys also discussed whether to have the trial late this year or in the beginning of 2007.

On the following day, April 27, it was decided that the Fuller trial would be held in Roswell in early January. Judge Stephen Quinn also denied defense motions to dismiss the death penalty as a possible sentence and to separate the charges of a Portales man accused of killing the elderly couple.