Friday News Roundup: Los Alamos Container Linked To Nuke Dump Leak

May 16, 2014

Los Alamos Container Linked To Nuke Dump Leak The Associated Press

Federal officials say a radiation leak at the government's troubled nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico has been linked to waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Officials Friday said pictures from the latest entry into the half-mile deep Waste Isolation Pilot Project confirm that a container from Los Alamos has a cracked lid and evidence of heat damage.

Officials last week said the leak was likely caused by a chemical reaction in nuclear waste that was mixed with nitrate salt. Among the possibilities that officials have since confirmed are being studied: a switch in the type of kitty litter used to absorb moisture before the containers are sealed and shipped to WIPP.

The repository has been shuttered since the mysterious release on Feb. 14 contaminated 22 workers with low levels or radiation.

Autopsy: Woman Shot By Albuquerque Police On MethThe Associated Press

An autopsy report says a 19-year-old woman suspected of stealing a truck and who was shot and killed by Albuquerque police had a high concentration of methamphetamine in her system.

The Office of the Medical Investigator released the report Friday and ruled that Mary Hawkes died from three gunshot wounds to the head, neck and chest. The report says all three bullets were fired left to right and downward during the April 21 shooting.

A toxicology report showed that Hawkes also had meth in her body when she died.

Police have been unable to recover video footage from an officer's body camera of the shooting.

Critics say the lack of information is causing more distrust of Albuquerque police amid 39 police shootings since 2010 and pending U.S. Justice Department reforms.

Judge Orders New Mexico To Speed Up Aid To Poor The Associated Press

A federal judge in Albuquerque is ordering New Mexico state officials to immediately process a backlog of thousands of applications by poor people seeking benefits such as food aid.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales issued the order Thursday as he scolded the Human Services Department as failing for meet its obligations to provide services in a timely manner.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty had accused the department of delaying applications and incorrectly denying or ending families' benefits in violation of a 1998 consent decree between the state and federal governments.

Human Services attorneys had asked Gonzales to wait three months before ruling on the issue.

However, the judge said the poor can't wait and he ordered the department to immediately make sweeping changes in its processes.


Albuquerque VA Facility Probe Reportedly Underway - The Albuquerque Journal and The Associated Press

A newspaper reports that an investigation at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Albuquerque began months ago into whether schedulers were ordered to falsify patient appointment records.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the VA Office of Inspector General's investigation began before similar allegations related to appointment records and treatment delays surfaced in connection with VA facilities in other places such as Phoenix.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico says he has called for a thorough investigation of the allegations involving the New Mexico facility.

Udall say he's outraged that there may have been attempts to manipulate the scheduling system to cover up the extent of delays for appointments.

Udall has set up a special link on his office website to take information about the Albuquerque VA.

Boy Pleads No Contest To Roswell School ShootingThe Associated Press

A 12-year-old boy accused of opening fire in a Roswell middle school gym has pleaded no contest to charges stemming from the shooting that injured two students.

Attorneys for the boy read a statement in court Friday saying he takes full responsibility for the shooting and apologizing to the victims' families.

Roswell police said the boy took a modified shotgun to Berrendo Middle School on Jan. 14 and opened fire on students as they waited for classes to begin. A 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl were injured.

The boy was charged with three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and one count of carrying a firearm on school premises.

Sentencing is set for July 2. As a juvenile, he faces possible detention until he's 21 years old.

New Mexico Wildfire Containment Reaches 35 Percent - The Associated Press

Crews now have containment lines around 35 percent of a southwestern New Mexico wildfire as fire managers continue to expect possible trouble from the weather over the weekend.

Firefighting team mangers say crews are building and improving lines to keep the Signal fire from spreading beyond its current size of roughly nine square miles in the Gila National Forest.

Firefighters are doing mopup work in some areas, but managers say weather conditions are expected to start becoming critical late Friday and continue into the weekend as temperatures rise. Winds are expected to pick up early next week.

Nearly 700 firefighters and other personnel are assigned to the fire.

The human-caused fire started burning in timber and grass in rugged terrain about 10 miles north of Silver City on Sunday.

Christie To Campaign In NM For Gov. Martinez The Associated Press

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be in New Mexico later this month to campaign for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez as she runs for re-election.

Martinez campaign officials announced that Christie would be visiting Carlsbad and Artesia on May 29. He also campaigned for the governor in eastern New Mexico in 2010.

Martinez has already raised more than twice as much money as the five Democrats seeking to challenger her in the general election. The most recent financial reports show Martinez has raised more than $561,000 in the past month.

Martinez campaigned for Christie in his home state last fall.

Los Lunas Police Get HD Lapel Cameras KOB-TV, The Associated Press

The Los Lunas Police Department has moved to new high definition lapel cameras for officers.

KOB-TV reports the department recently spent an extra $3,500 for new cameras and has become the latest law enforcement agency to use the devices.

The recent HD lapel recording caught a New Mexico State Police officer putting a repo man in a choke hold. The officer resigned this week over the confrontation.

The Albuquerque Police Department now requires all officers to record their interactions with the public.

New Mexico State Police are also moving to requiring officers to wear lapel cameras.

Most New Mexico Teachers Rated Effective Or Better The Associated Press

The state Public Education Department says three-fourths of New Mexico's teachers were rated as effective or higher under a new evaluation system that factors in student achievement.

The department sent schools the evaluation results for teachers on Thursday and the agency plans to post statewide information online Friday.

About 16,000 teachers were evaluated under the new system implemented this year by Gov. Susana Martinez's administration.

About 54 percent were rated effective, 20 percent were highly effective and 1.5 percent received the highest rating, "exemplary."

Almost 21 percent were rated "minimally effective" and 3.4 percent were ineffective, which is the lowest ranking.

Many educators have criticized the evaluation system, saying it places too much emphasis on student performance on standardized tests. Other factors in evaluations include classroom observations of teachers.

Permian Basin Leads Country In Horizontal Drilling The Associated Press

New numbers show the Permian Basin continues to lead the country's boom in horizontal drilling.

Citing data by Baker-Hughes, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Thursday the number of horizontal oil rigs in the Permian Basin's West Texas and southeastern New Mexico fields rose by 63 rigs in the first five months of the year, representing 50 percent of the total increase in the United States.

Of those rigs, 80 percent were in the West Texas counties of Reeves, Ward, Martin and Midland as well as New Mexico's Eddy County.

During the first quarter of 2014, the increase in horizontal rigs in the Permian Basin was more than four times the combined increase in South Texas's Eagle Ford Shale and the Williston Basin in North Dakota and Montana.

Police Promote Commander In 'Excessive Force' Case The Associated Press

Albuquerque police have promoted a commander who was accused in a lawsuit of burning off part a homeless man's ear with a stun gun.

Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden announced Thursday he was promoting two Albuquerque commanders to the newly created rank of major in response to a harsh U.S. Justice Department report critical of Albuquerque police's use of force.

Eden says Foothills Area Commander Timothy Gonterman and Criminal Investigations Commander Anthony Montano will now oversee the East and West Side Field Services Divisions respectively.

In 2006, a federal jury awarded a former homeless man $300,000 and found that Gonterman and two other officers used "excessive force" in the man's 2002 arrest.

The lawsuit said Gonterman gave the man second and third-degree burns with his stun gun.

The man's lawyer says he lost part of his ear from burns.

Officials Upset By Transfer Of Nuke Dump Contract The Carlsbad Current-Argus, The Associated Press

Carlsbad officials are crying foul over a decision to transfer record storage -- and jobs -- for the government's troubled underground nuclear waste dump out of state.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that in a letter Tuesday to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, city and county officials called the decision a "crime against taxpayers," and said the government contractor that runs the Waste Isolation Pilot Project is abandoning southeastern New Mexico during the "most significant setback of the project's 15-year history."

The change comes as the dump is indefinitely shuttered by a mysterious radiation leak that contaminated 21 workers.

Nuclear Waste Partnership on May 7 announced it had awarded the contract to handle all WIPP archives and documents to a Tennessee-based company, TFE.

TFE replaces S.M. Stoller Corp., which employs about 90 people in Carlsbad.