New Mexico Archives:

PHOENIX, ARIZONA (BNO NEWS) — Arizona’s wildfires continue to grow and are now spreading into the state of New Mexico, even though the U.S. Forest Service said on Monday that around 10 percent of the fires have now been contained.

The Wallow Fire, which broke out in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Greenlee county on May 29, has now spread to around 450,000 acres, destroying 29 houses and damaging another five. Some 2,700 residences remain threatened.

Full evacuation of the Arizona towns of Springerville and Eager, which have 2,000 and 4,000 residents respectively, has been lifted, although fire activity and health risks associated with air quality continue.

The Apache County Sheriff’s Office ordered the towns’ evacuation last week, while the State of Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said air quality in the towns’ areas remain a health concern, recommending residents with respiratory problems in the path of smoke to consider relocating temporarily until smoke dissipates. 

Evacuations remain effective in Sunrise, Greer, Blue River, Alpine, Nutrioso, as well as the Escudilla Mountain Estates, Bonita, White Mountain Acres, and the H-V Ranch. While firefighters have extended their burnout operations just northwest of Luna, New Mexico, no evacuations have been ordered in the state.

There are currently more than 4,000 firefighters working in the area with 15 helicopters and 5 air tankers available to fight the fires – which are expected to cost over $10 million in damages. In addition, 334 vehicles have also been deployed.

During the weekend, firefighters finished burnout operations between Forest Road (FR) 275 and FR 220 northeast of Alpine, while burnout was completed near South Fork, the U.S. Forest Service said.

In addition, a 3-mile burnout operation was completed in the Turkey Creek drainage along FR 281 toward Blue Creek, as good progress continued along the southwest and west flanks of the fire.

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ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO (BNO NEWS) — Four people were killed on Saturday morning when their business jet crashed during take-off from an airport in New Mexico, federal officials said. There were no survivors.

The accident happened at around 9.30 a.m. local time when a Gulfstream IV was taking off from Roswell International Air Center near the city of Roswell, which is infamous for the alleged recovery of a UFO in 1947. The crew was carrying out a test flight of the aircraft.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Lynn Lunsford, the aircraft was briefly airborne before it slammed into the ground, collapsing the plane’s landing gear and bursting into flames.

Lunsford said a total of four people were on board the aircraft, which can carry between 14 and 21 people depending on its configuration. “All four are confirmed fatalities,” he said. Their identities were not immediately known.

Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the cause of the accident.

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COLUMBUS, NEW MEXICO (BNO NEWS) — Columbus, New Mexico mayor, the police chief and 9 more on Thursday were indicted in a firearms trafficking case, prosecutors said on Friday.

The indictment charged eleven individuals who are suspected members of a firearms trafficking ring headquartered in Columbus, New Mexico, a small border village across from the Mexican city of Puerto Palomas, on firearms and smuggling charges.

The 11 people charged in the 84-count indictment include Angelo Vega, the Columbus chief of police; Eddie Espinoza, the mayor of Columbus; and Blas Gutierrez, a village trustee in Columbus.

“Gutierrez, Espinoza and Vega were duty sworn to protect and safeguard the people of Columbus, New Mexico,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales. “Instead, they increased the risk of harm that the people of Columbus face every day by allegedly using their official positions to facilitate and safeguard the operations of a smuggling ring that was exporting firearms to Mexico.”

Ten of them were arrested without incidents on Thursday morning. One defendant, Ignacio Villalobos, is at large. In addition, law enforcement agents executed ten search warrants at eight residences, including the office of the Columbus Police Department.

Between January 2010 and March 2011, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to purchase firearms for illegal export to Mexico. The trafficking ring allegedly purchased approximately 200 firearms from Chaparral Guns in Chaparral, New Mexico, which is owned and operated by defendant Ian Garland.

The weapons purchased were the ones known to be favored by Mexican drug cartels, such as AK-47-type pistols, weapons resembling AK-47 rifles but with shorter barrels and without rear stocks, and American Tactical 9 mm caliber pistols.

During the investigation, 40 AK-47 type pistols, 1,580 rounds of 7.62 ammunition, and 30 high-capacity magazines were seized from the defendants before they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

At least twelve weapons allegedly purchased by the defendants were later found in Mexico. The investigation was initiated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The year-long case was later expanded to include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) are trying to contain a possible measles outbreak after a woman who was diagnosed with the disease traveled to three different U.S. airports during the week.

A 27-year-old woman, reportedly from Santa Fe, New Mexico, traveled from a European airport to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, the Denver International Airport, and to New Mexico’s Albuquerque International Sunport. She was later diagnosed with the measles infection in New Mexico.

CDCP officials are trying to get in touch all the people who were possibly in contact with the woman, including airport personnel and airline crews.

Information regarding what airlines the woman boarded was not released.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system, and could be spread by simple coughing or sneezing. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, soar throat, with white spots possibly developing inside the mouth.

However, symptoms from the infection usually develop around 2 weeks after the individual is infected.

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EL PASO, TEXAS (BNO NEWS) – A shooting on a U.S. Army Base Fort Bliss convenience store left a man dead and two women wounded on Monday, CNN reported.

The man, who authorities say shot the females, was shot and killed by law enforcement officers on the base. It’s unclear what motive the man had for his shootings or even if the man or his victims were in the military, or if they were civilians.

The police officers who killed the gunman responded within three to four minutes as their offices are very close to the base’s shopping area. Fort Bliss is located close to the Mexican border near El Paso, Texas but straddles the Texas-New Mexico border. A majority of the base is located in New Mexico, but its main headquarters is in Texas.

The base is the main home to the First Armored Division. President Barack Obama visited the base last month to meet the troops and mark the end of the official combat mission in Iraq.

The investigation into the incident is being looked into by the FBI, who are on their way to El Paso. The circumstances surrounding the shooting still remain unclear.

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ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (BNO NEWS) – An Albuquerque, New Mexico couple on Friday were charged in a 22-count indictment regarding the development of a nuclear weapons program for Venezuela using U.S. classified nuclear data.

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 75, and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 67, were arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents on Friday morning. They were charged with communicating classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official and conspiring to participate in the development of an atomic weapon for Venezuela, among other violations.

Mascheroni, an Argentinian national and naturalized U.S. citizen, is also charged with concealing and retaining U.S. records with the intent to convert them to his own use and gain, as well as six counts of making false statements.

Roxby Mascheroni, an American citizen, was additionally charged with seven counts of making false statements. If convicted of all the charges in the indictment, the defendants face a potential sentence of life in prison.

Mascheroni, a Ph.D. physicist, worked as a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico from 1979 to 1988. During that period he held a security clearance that allowed him to access certain classified information including restricted data.

His wife, Roxby, also worked at LANL from 1981 to 2010. Her duties were technical writing and editing. She also had security clearance and access like her husband to the restricted data.

According to the Atomic Energy Act, restricted data is classified information concerning the design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons; the production of special nuclear material; or the use of special nuclear material in the production of energy.

Mascheroni had a series of conversations with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan government official in March 2008. In the talks, both men discussed the development of a nuclear weapons program for Venezuela. Mascheroni assured that he could help them to develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years.

The defendant also told the agent that under his program, Venezuela would use a secret, underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium, and an open, above-ground reactor to produce nuclear energy. Mascheroni also asked about obtaining Venezuelan citizenship.

In July 2008, the undercover agent provided Mascheroni with a list of 12 questions purportedly from Venezuelan military and scientific personnel. In response, the defendant delivered to a previously arranged dead drop location a disk with a coded 132-page document containing restricted data related to nuclear weapons.

The document was written by Mascheroni and edited by his wife. It was entitled “A Deterrence Program for Venezuela” and laid out his nuclear weapons development program for Venezuela. The defendant claimed that the information contained in his document was worth millions of dollars. He was paid $793,000 for creating the document.

In June 2009, the undercover agent contacted the defendant once more and he gave him another list of questions, purportedly from Venezuelan officials, and $20,000 in cash as a first payment. One month later, Mascheroni delivered to the dead drop location a disk containing a 39-page document.

The document consisted of restricted data related to nuclear weapons. Mascheroni allegedly reiterated that the information he had provided was classified and was based on his knowledge of U.S. nuclear tests that he had learned while working at LANL, but said that he would state that the document was based on internet information in case the alliance does not work.

In August 2009, the Mascheronis met with the undercover agent at a hotel to further discuss his nuclear weapons development program for Venezuela. Later, FBI agents questioned them about the classified information. Both of them made a series of false statements in report.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Albuquerque Division with assistance from the Department of Energy and LANL.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in the state of New Mexico, ordering Federal aid to supplement State and local recovery efforts, the White House said Tuesday.

Several areas in New Mexico was struck by by severe storms and flooding during the period of July 25 to August 9, and with Obama’s declaration, the state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations will be able to request federal funding.

The funds are available on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms and flooding in Cibola, McKinley, Mora, San Juan, and Socorro Counties; and for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the State and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

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ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (BNO NEWS) – Two fugitives of the Arizona prison and an accomplice were charged on Monday with relation to the carjacking and subsequent murder of a couple in New Mexico, prosecutors announced.

Tracy Allen Province, 42, John Charles McCluskey, 45, and his fiancé, accomplice and cousin Casslyn Mae Welch, 43, were charged with carjacking with force and violence a truck and trailer; discharging a firearm during a crime of violence; and causing the death of persons through the use of a firearm.

Province was captured alone about 60 miles from Yellowstone National Park. McCluskey and Welch were arrested on Thursday at a campground in Springerville, Arizona. McCluskey escaped from a prison in Arizona along fellow inmates Daniel Renwick, 35, and Province.

Welch provided cutting tools to the inmates by throwing them over the prison’s fence. Renwick decided to go separate ways and was captured shortly after in Colorado.

On August 2, Gary and Linda Haas, both 61, were traveling from their home in Tecumseh, Oklahoma to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where they have vacationed for the past 11 summers. They parked their truck and camping trailer at a rest area off Interstate 40 when the couple met McCluskey, Province, and Welch.

The trio carjacked at gunpoint the couple, the pickup truck and trailer with the intention to murder the elder couple. The fugitives drove to an undisclosed location near Santa Rosa, New Mexico, where they stopped. They led Gary and Linda Haas to their trailer where McCluskey shot and killed both. The trio proceeded to drive the trailer to a remote location in Guadalupe County. They burned the camping trailer with the remains of Gary and Linda still inside.

On August 4, the Guadalupe County Sheriff and the New Mexico State Police discovered the burned vehicle along the charred remains of the Oklahoma couple. After investigation, the evidence linked the murderers with the wanted fugitives who recently escaped an Arizona prison.

After collaborative efforts of the countless law enforcement officers from numerous federal, state, and local agencies across the country, McCluskey, Province and Welch are in custody in Arizona. If convicted of the carjacking offense and the death by firearm offense, the trio could receive a life sentence or the death penalty.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Wednesday that the New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces was selected to lead the new Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.

The new center is a partnership of academia, industry, and government. It was developed for the purpose of creating a world-class consortium that will address current and future challenges for commercial space transportation.

“The Obama Administration is committed to making sure the U.S. remains the world leader in space development and exploration. This new center will ensure that the commercial space community can meet our current and future space transportation needs,” U.S. Transport Secretary Ray LaHood said.

The United States government recently released its new National Space Policy which recognized opportunities and advancements in commercial space transportation and defines specific ways to take advantage of such capabilities.

“Commercial space flight is ready to play a greater role in the nation’s space program. Universities working with industry partners will fuel the research necessary to help keep us in the forefront of both technology and safety in space,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.

The new Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation is expected to begin operating this month. The center will include four research and development areas: space launch operations and traffic management; launch vehicle systems, payloads, technologies, and operations; commercial human space flight; and space commerce (including space law, space insurance, space policy and space regulation).

The FAA agreed to enter into a 50-50 cost-sharing cooperative to establish the partnerships. The federal agency plans to invest at least $1 million per year during the first five years of the center’s operations.

NMSU Las Cruces will lead a team of colleges throughout the U.S. NMSU’s center will be the ninth center of excellence established by the FAA. The other centers focus on air cabin environment, noise and emissions mitigation, airport pavement technology, operations research, advanced materials, aircraft structures, airworthiness assurance, and general aviation.

The FAA is allowed to work with universities and their industry partners to conduct research in environment and aviation safety thanks to the FAA Research, Engineering and Development Authorization Act of 1990.

The Congress authorized the legislation that included the establishment of the centers of excellence and other activities to assure a safe and efficient air transportation system. The NMSU center’s research will extend to cutting-edge technologies and infrastructure for private human spaceflight and orbital debris mitigation.

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SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (BNO NEWS) — Two men escaped without injuries after their single-engine plane crashed near an airport in northern New Mexico on Sunday, officials said.

The accident happened around 10 a.m. local time, about a mile south of Tetilla Park near Santa Fe Airport, according to Santa Fe Air Center Operations Manager Ken DeLapp.

DeLapp said two men aboard the Cessna 172 were able to safely escape the aircraft without injuries, before it caught fire. It reportedly crashed after the aircraft suffered a loss of power and was unable to return to the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will investigate the cause of the accident.

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