Belen

Family, friends and the community are having to deal with the death of another Belen teenager.

Keith “Buster” Norwood Jr., 18, died in the early morning hours Saturday from what police are calling a DWI crash. Christopher Contreras, 18, of Belen, was reportedly behind the wheel when the accident occurred and has been charged with vehicular homicide, great bodily injury by vehicle, aggravated DWI and reckless driving.

Another teenager who was reportedly in the vehicle, Cody Manz, 16, of Hagerman, N.M., was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital. Manz has been upgraded from critical to serious condition, a hospital spokesperson said Tuesday morning.

Eric Gregor, 18, of Belen, was also in the vehicle and was reportedly uninjured in the crash.

Norwood, who grew up in Belen and was a student at the local high school until November, had just completed his senior year at Hagerman High School. He returned to Belen on Friday, anticipating his graduation party, which had been scheduled for Saturday.

Norwood’s mother, Darlene Gonzales, said he went out Friday night to visit with his friends and invite them to his party.

Contreras, who is a senior at Belen High School, spent the weekend in jail before being released to his parents Monday afternoon.

Magistrate Danny Hawkes entered a not guilty plea on Contreras’s behalf and placed him on strict house arrest. Hawkes told Contreras he could not leave his house without one of his parents, that he must have daily contact with his attorney and that he may not leave the city of Belen without contacting his attorney or the court.

The judge also told the 18-year-old that if he consumed any alcohol, broke any laws or had contact with the victims in the case, his house arrest status would be revoked and he would be put back in jail.

According to the criminal complaint, Contreras was driving a red and black 1986 Ford Mustang south on Gabaldon Road at a high rate of speed before he allegedly crashed into a fence.

The vehicle reportedly had gone off the roadway and collided with a chain link fence and continued to travel south. The car continued knocking down 170 feet of fence until it struck a telephone pole at the intersection of Gabaldon and Aragon Road, the criminal complaint said.

“Upon striking the telephone pole, the passenger side door sheared off,” the complaint said. “The vehicle frame was damaged and a lower support brace was torn off. The vehicle (continued) to travel about another 50 feet in a southeasterly direction, then came to a rest.”

When police and paramedics arrived on the scene, they found two males, Norwood and Manz, still inside the vehicle. Contreras and Gregor were found sitting alongside the roadway.

Belen Police Chief Paul Skotchdopole said Norwood was found in the front passenger seat and was pronounced dead on the scene. Manz was found trapped in the right rear passenger seat, and paramedics had to extract him from the vehicle.

Contreras was placed under arrest at the accident scene and was transported to University Hospital with injuries to his left arm. After being treated and released, Contreras was transported to the Cornell Detention Center in Los Lunas.

On Tuesday, Belen High School Assistant Principal Aubrey Tucker said that Contreras will be allowed “to continue his education, and he’ll receive his diploma. I have an instructor who has volunteered to become a liasion between the school and the student to help him continue his education.”

Meanwhile, Norwood’s family was mourning the loss of a son. Gonzales said her son had dreams of one day playing professional football. She said her son loved all kinds of sports, including football, baseball and basketball.

“He was loved by everybody,” Gonzales said. “He was warm, loving, caring and always had a smile on his face. He could light up a room when walked in. He was a great kid. He tried hard in everything he did.”

Gonzales said the family was presented Norwood’s high school diploma at a special ceremony over the weekend at Hagerman High School. Norwood was buried Tuesday in Veguita.

Norwood is the third teenager who has been killed in single-vehicle accidents in two months. Belen High School sophomore Frankie Gallegos, 16, of Jarales died on April 20 when he lost control of the truck he was driving on NM 304.

Jessica Mora, 17, of Adelino, died when she was on her way home from a school choir concert on May 2. Mora was ejected from a vehicle that rolled twice on NM 47 when its driver tried to miss a dog.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, as well as the executive editor of El Defensor Chieftain, the News-Bulletin's sister paper in Socorro.
Clara 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.