County sheriff’s officers believe someone caused several motor vehicle accidents this week by purposely placing railroad ties on the highway.
Charges are pending against three suspects who are described as in their early 20s and from the Belen area. Valencia County Sheriff’s Lt. Gary Hall said the district attorney’s office is currently studying the case and will soon decide if the three men will be charged.
“They could be charged with putting hazardous material on the roadway,” Hall said. “But we’re hoping that the district attorney will charge them with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.”
According to Hall, the first incident occurred on Monday when deputies were dispatched at 1 a.m. to Mile Marker 191 on Interstate 25 regarding debris on the roadway. When deputies arrived on the scene at the south Belen exit, they found a “bunch of splintered wood along the roadway,” Hall said.
“When they (deputies) got there, they checked the area and found that someone had already removed it from the road. We hadn’t received any reports of an accident, and we thought it had fallen from someone’s truck,” Hall said.
It wasn’t until the next night that deputies began to become suspicious when they were dispatched to the same location in regard to a three-vehicle accident. When they arrived once more at Mile Marker 191 at 12:20 a.m., they found three vehicles had been damaged after hitting a railroad tie left on the road.
“One of those vehicles was a semi truck,” Hall said. “All three vehicles had run into the debris, causing minor to moderate damage. The majority of the damage was to the semi truck, which sustained numerous flat tires. No one was injured in this accident, but if the truck driver wasn’t able to control the semi, it could have been a lot worse.”
Because the two incidents seemed too coincidental, officers from the Belen Police Department, the New Mexico State Police and the sheriff’s department patrolled the area on Wednesday night to try to determine what was really going on. Hall said he suspects that, because of the increased activity by officers on the interstate, the suspects decided to move to another location on New Mexico 116, south of Belen.
“It was about 1:30 a.m. when we received another call of an accident on Highway 116,” Hall said. “A gentleman who was driving home in his pickup truck after irrigating his fields was driving southbound when he saw the railroad tie in the road. He swerved to miss it, but clipped the edge and slid into the shoulder of the road, where he hit a PNM pole, which caused the truck to roll on its side.”
The driver of the pickup truck sustained only minor injuries and was released after rescue personnel checked him at the scene. Hall said that, when officers arrived on scene, three men were also there and said they were on their way home from Socorro and had stopped to help the victim.
“Belen Police Sgt. Danny Young was talking with the men, who said they were on their way home from Socorro. Sgt. Young said their story didn’t match up because he had seen them at the Belen B (on the mesa) at midnight,” Hall said.
Hall said officers interviewed the men separately — and their stories varied. One of the men was arrested on scene on an outstanding warrant.
“He gave us a three-page written statement explaining that all three men were involved,” Hall said. “In his statement, he said they were driving around and decided to put a railroad tie on the interstate because they were bored.
“They knew they were going to cause an accident, but they kept doing it to see what would happen. They just didn’t realize they could have taken someone’s life.”
Hall said he has received several calls from citizens who have reported they too have had to swerve to miss debris in the road.
The sheriff’s department is currently investigating these reports to determine if there is any connection.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.