Families deserve a fair and impartial investigation
I was appalled upon reading your article from September 26 titled, “Bicyclist dies after being hit by district judge.” Sheriff Martin Rivera of the Torrance County Sheriff Department, who is in charge of the investigation of this case, is noted as saying there were no witnesses. However, I am aware that there were numerous witnesses at the scene, including Karl Baumgartner, who luckily survived being hit by Judge Shannon Murdock, and who has yet to be interviewed by the sheriff’s department.
Given the Torrance County Sheriff Department’s close association with Judge Murdock it seems only fitting that they turn over the investigation to another entity who will potentially be less biased or perhaps more eager to question the witnesses that were there at the scene. Any potential conflict of interest concerns could be addressed in that manner. I encourage anyone who would like to see justice served in this matter to file a complaint with the NM Attorney General Hector Balderas at nmag.gov.
Friends and family of Billy and Karl are heartbroken at losing Billy and seeing Karl suffer from his injuries. The mounting medical bills for Karl and his family while he is in the hospital and rehabilitation for over a month is also a significant consequence of this tragic accident.
Billy and Karl and their families deserve a fair and impartial investigation and I hope that this newspaper and the citizens of this community will continue to bring forth the information necessary to make that happen so that justice is served.
Ann Adams, Tajique
State Police should investigate fatality, not county sheriff
I am writing to you and your readers to provide more information about the death of Billy Weinman and the severe injury of Karl Baumgartner after being hit by Judge Shannon Murdock’s SUV while they were bicycling. The article you ran on September 26, 2019 about this tragic accident has many local residents in the town of Mountainair and surrounding areas quite riled up for so many reasons. Here are the reasons we are so upset: 1) After reading the interview in your paper and the tenor of Sheriff Martín Rivera’s comments, I feel that it will be impossible to conduct a fair investigation in Torrance County. In your article, Sheriff Rivera indicates this crime was an unfortunate accident and then quickly moves into victim blaming, “It seems like the bicycle was in the lane of traffic…”. Such a statement appears to throw fault on Billy and Karl despite the fact they were riding their bikes lawfully. According to the New Mexico department of transportation, state law reads: “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle…” and, “Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care…” 2) Why was Judge Shannon Murdock not given a breathalyzer test at the scene? The sheriff told me in a phone call that his officers are well trained in recognizing the signs of impairment; that the judge did not have red cheeks; the judge did not have red eyes; the responding officers couldn’t smell alcohol on the judge’s breath. Also, the sheriff said that officers at the Torrance County Sheriff’s department can detect drugs by observation and without a blood test. Sheriff Rivera said that they could tell at the scene that the judge didn’t have drugs in her body. Because of the officers’ visual assessment, after a roadside sobriety test and no breathalyzer, officers decided that Judge Shannon Murdock did not require a breathalyzer nor a blood test, despite the fatality that had occurred. Is such a serious consequence not enough of a problem to warrant a breathalyzer test? 3) Sheriff Rivera said to me in our phone call that the judge was following two other cars that might have blocked the judge’s view as she approached the cyclists. Given that this stretch of road offers a clear view for a mile, a driver would have to be too close to the vehicles in front of them to not be able to have a clear view of all traffic on the road. Such a statement by Sheriff Rivera begs the question of how close was she following those two cars for an entire mile? It also begs the question of whether the judge was distracted in some manner to be riding so closely to these vehicles. In addition, Billy and Karl were wearing, as usual, very brightly colored clothing because they were seasoned bicyclists who knew how to ride on highways. 4) In your article Sheriff Martin Rivera said, “there were no witnesses.” However, there are numerous witnesses to this tragic accident. When I told the sheriff that I had been approached by and been given phone numbers of witnesses, he said that the witness who had been interviewed at the scene saw the accident in the rear view mirror. But who made the 911 phone call? According to the person who contacted me, a witness claims to have given testimony at the scene of the crime twice.
There was also at least one witness to the cyclists’ behavior prior to and after the accident (which would help determine where Murdock drove her vehicle into the two men) but the Sheriff says he can’t determine where the crash occurred. The following has been confirmed by the sheriff and by one man who came to me with the contact information of a key witness: There were two cars in front of Judge Murdock and one driver behind her when she hit and killed Billy and hit and severely injured Karl. The two cars in front of the judge safely passed Billy and Karl as they are legally bound to do. Then the judge, (perhaps following the previous cars too closely—according to the sheriff—and having her eyes off the road for over a mile) struck and killed Billy and struck Karl, severely injuring him. According to the person who contacted me, a witness claims to have given testimony at the scene of the crime twice. Because of these reasons Mountainair is in an uproar. Several of us have sent in complaints to Attorney General Hector Balderas asking for a change of venue for the investigation. I have called the State Police, the AG’s office, the sheriff’s office, KRQE, KXNM, our local law enforcement, The Independent—anyone I could think of to get traction on a change of venue. Billy and Karl and their families deserve a clean, unbiased investigation which they do not seem to be getting. Right now it looks like Torrance County is protecting one of their own. We need justice in a case where one man is dead, and his family is reeling over their loss and a second man is suffering from severe injuries while his wife is worried about him and their mounting medical bills. Finally, Hector Balderas, and all other people in law enforcement, New Mexico needs to start enforcing its own laws. Charge motorists with the crimes they’ve committed. Don’t give our cyclists the false sense of security that they have the right to be on the road because they are protected by the law while the reality is that the State of New Mexico is the second deadliest state in the country for bicyclists (according to a 2015 Albuquerque Journal article). We need to enforce our laws and no one should be above those laws.
Rebecca Anthony, Mountainair
Torrance County investigation is ‘conflict of interest’
Conflicts of interest. They cause favor to one party while causing harm to the other. Some may have seen The Independent’s front page article last week (“Bicyclist dies after being hit by district judge”) where a friend was killed and the other friend is recovering in ICU. If you carefully read that article, you see multiple egregious conflicts of interest which cause harm to one group (my friends) yet favor the other (judge driving vehicle).
I will name just a couple: 1) The chief investigator is the county sheriff. He makes a point to say, and then repeat, at least one of the bicycles “was in the lane of traffic,” and later when asked if he had idea as to what might have caused the accident, he repeats, “The bicycle was in the lane of traffic, between the white line and the yellow line.” That statement is conflicting because actual gouges in the highway left by the bicycles when the judge’s truck hit them, are in fact, to the right side of the white line. 2) And, no less important, the sheriff states that the judge (who ran over both bicyclists, “… didn’t have any recollection of how this happened …. She knew she hit something, she just didn’t know what it was.” The sheriff then goes on to say, “With traumatic experiences, you tend to block that out.” Re-read that if you need to.
When you are driving along an open highway where the weather is clear and the roadway is clear, until you “hit something,” you are not experiencing trauma. You just ran over something that caused you no trauma. No TBI. No amnesia. You are, in fact, just driving along not paying attention to the roadway. To her credit, she did stop, applying her brakes normally enough not to leave any tire marks. She discovered, after the fact, she’d run over two bicyclists. What and where is her trauma? What we do know is this makes no logical sense.
I believe public opinion could and should remove this sheriff from being in charge of this investigation. The investigation needs to be continued and completed by New Mexico State Police officers with a lot of accident investigation experience, who are non biased, and are not going to have any preference or prejudice for Torrance County Sheriff’s Office or this judge. Our friends, one of whom was killed, one who now has lifelong trauma, require justice. The man who died cannot speak for himself, but his friends are speaking up. There is a conflict of interest. We need remedy.
Joan Leslie Woodruff, Mountainair