In the year 2023 Socorro County celebrated the joys of community with parades and festivals bringing small town life back to a new normal while also facing the hardships of the rise of fentanyl and crime. From jailbreaks and power outages to wildfires and alien murals, here is a look back on the top stories of 2023.

Bhasker voted into his fourth decade in city government

In November Socorroans once again elected the town’s doctor, Ravi Bhasker, making him the longest serving mayor in Socorro and, possibly, the state.
Bhasker told the newspaper he was grateful that he continues to be healthy and able to work. “I’ve gone to city hall every day for the past 33 years and I still have the fight in me to keep getting things done.”
Thirty-four percent of the county’s registered voters turned out for the municipal election. Bhasker garnered 748 votes to be declared the winner. Prior to Bhasker’s election as mayor in 1990, he served six years on the city council.
Bhasker tallied 208 votes more than second place finisher Juan J.C. Trujillo. Third-place finisher was James Burleson, with 422 votes; followed by Mary Ann Chavez-Lopez with 417 and Ignacio Chavez with 33.

Multiple fentanyl arrests

The arrest of two Socorro County men and the confiscation of over 7,700 fentanyl pills were made in August.
A search warrant conducted by Socorro County Sheriff’s detectives on Aug. 14 resulted in the arrest of Cody Fivecoat for trafficking narcotics, and the seizure of 4,800 fentanyl pills.
A criminal complaint filed in Seventh District Judicial Court states that Fivecoat, of Socorro, had been charged with four felonies, including two fourth-degree felonies for possession of controlled substances, 2nd degree felony of trafficking and 3rd degree felony for possession of a firearm by a felon.
The arrest concluded several months of controlled buys and surveillance of Fivecoat by Sheriff’s Detectives Tim Gutierrez and Gilbert Padilla. Gutierrez said they have been investigating Fivecoat since September of 2022.
On Aug. 27, Fermin Aguilera of Socorro County was taken into custody and charged with trafficking of a controlled substance, possession of a firearm by a felon, receiving stolen property, tampering with evidence and concealing identity. 2,917 fentanyl pills were recovered.

The arrest came after a criminal complaint that said that Aguilera tried to push his way into a residence in Alamo while displaying a pistol in his waistband. The Sheriff was called to take over the situation since the male suspect was a non-Native American, but it took the effort of the Navajo police and community members to apprehend Aguilera.
“We had a lot of help,” Deputy Weylin Meltin said in an interview. “The guys at Alamo really helped. They played a huge helping hand.”

No power, no water, no school

On August 10, residents of Magdalena, Alamo, and the surrounding area found themselves without power after lightning struck the transformer at Socorro Electric Cooperative’s substation, making it inoperable.
The electricity outage caused the water well pumps and lift stations to stop working and, among other things, shut down Magdalena Schools during their first week of school.
Socorro Electric Cooperative’s General Manager, Joseph Herrera, was onsite the next day and said he had been informed that a mobile transformer/substation would be delivered from a Nebraska cooperative, courtesy of Tri-State.
“They sent their substation specialist down right away on Monday night,” he said. “He did some testing to verify what exactly was wrong with that transformer. The tests verified that the damage from the lightning strike was internal.”
Other areas affected by the outage – Datil, Pie Town, Quemado – had their power restored early, thanks to a redirected circuit out of SEC’s secondary substation in Quemado.
The Alamo Navajo reservation had a crucial water well go down, leaving most of the Alamo community high and dry. The pump was reported to have been fixed, but Alamo’s storage tank had run dry.
“It’s fixed, but it will take time to replenish,” Alamo Navajo athletic director, Barbara Gordon, said.
The pump’s inability to provide water was due to its motor going out, and Lemitar’s Williams’ Windmills quickly stepped up to get a replacement set up and working.
Most of the Alamo community lost all their perishable food, including domestic and game meat stored in freezers. The Co-op members notified the office of these losses, and a call was made to Socorro’s Positive Outcomes and the Roadrunner Food Bank to ask for help.

Five wildfires in two weeks

Five wildfires started in Socorro County during the month of July.
The Water Canyon fire started on July 10 and burned 71 acres. Followed by the Whiskey Hill fire in the Magdalena Mountains. That fire started July 11 and burned 940 acres.
A lightning strike on July 14 was the cause of the Hardy Fire, which was located southwest of Italian Peak in the Magdalena Mountains. Five days later, the Rowden Tank Fire, located in remote mountainous terrain in the northwest Magdalena Mountains, started on July 19 and burned 7.5 acres.
The last fire in July was the Hutchinson Fire caused by lightning. It was located in remote mountainous terrain in central-west San Mateo Mountains, started on Sunday, July 23, and exhibited moderate fire behavior.
No structure damage or injuries were reported in any of the fires.

TDS connects first broadband customers

After weeks of laying fiber optic lines in the city, TDS Telecommunications reached a milestone in early July by connecting its first customers for high-speed internet services in Socorro.
According to their announcement, TDS said they would offer up to 8-Gig internet speeds along with a sophisticated digital TDS television product and a variety of phone options. The company will provide services to nearly 5,300 new residential and business addresses in Socorro, ultimately.
Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the work was critical for Socorro’s economic growth.
“Access to high-speed internet is a welcome addition to the residents and businesses here in Socorro,” Bhasker said. “Thank you, TDS, for investing in our community, modernizing our internet, and improving our infrastructure. High-speed internet is critical to Socorro’s economic growth and will help us build an even stronger economy.”
The upgraded network includes symmetrical speeds, matching download and upload speeds up to 8Gig. Fast downloads are ideal for streaming videos, music, video chat and gaming.
“We have heard from many residents how excited they are for our reliable TDS Fiber,” said Drew Petersen, senior vice president of corporate affairs for TDS. “We’re so pleased to be serving Socorro.”

Jail break

On Saturday, May 13, the detention center saw its first-ever jailbreak. Detention center officer, Esaul De La Rocha was recognized for his initiative in chasing the naked man, who was wearing only a trash bag to cover himself, which led to the inmate’s apprehension.
Eddie Garcia, county jail administrator, recounted the incident at the county commissioners meeting.
Garcia said that Grant Stewart was booked on May 11 on an outstanding fugitive warrant out of Pueblo, Colorado and following protocol he was placed in a dry cell. Stewart was able to escape through the ventilation shaft 14 feet above the floor and later said he worked on some security screws for six to seven hours. He crawled into the tight space by standing on the sink and climbing into the narrow shaft which took him to Garcia’s administration office where he fell through the ceiling.
When the door alarm went off, De La Rocha was notified and he noticed tracks on the sheetrock and took the initiative to chase Stewart, first in a vehicle and later, on foot. De La Rocha was able to spray the detainee with chemicals and when deputies arrived on the scene, they apprehended the individual. The chase ended when he started to run across the street to the rodeo complex.
Garcia commended De La Rocha for his dedication and perseverance. County Commissioners said he went “above and beyond”.

Arson destroys youth wrestling gym

In April it was confirmed that the cause of a fire on Fisher Ave. that devastated the Socorro High School wrestling teams’ room and the adjacent Rising Stars Dance Studio on Easter Sunday afternoon, was in fact, arson.
According to Socorro Fire Chief Lawrence Baca, the investigators from Albuquerque were able to quickly determine the arson based on the evidence that led to the call for further investigation. No suspects were identified.
While the blaze took only about an hour to bring under control, the damage was devastating, with an estimated $50,000 in wrestling mats and equipment lost.
Counting all levels from youth through high school, 157 wrestlers call the Socorro wrestling room their second home, and the program produced two state champions and multiple state qualifications this year. The Rising Star Dance studio serves 106 dancers who take part in their award-winning program.

New Mexico Tech president resigns

New Mexico Tech President Stephen Wells resigned from his position in May with former university President Daniel López stepping in to serve as interim president.
The resignation was attributed to health issues.
“The Regents, along with faculty, staff, and students, extend our sincere appreciation to Dr. Wells and his spouse, Beth, for their almost seven years of service to New Mexico Tech and wish them the best in their future endeavors,” said Board of Regents President, Jerry Armijo, in a statement.
Wells was the 17th university president, and his term began in 2016. His contract was extended in 2020 for a second five-year term beginning in 2021 and set to run through 2026.
López served as Tech President from 1993 through 2016 and was the university’s chief lobbyist in Santa Fe during his tenure. López has been appointed to serve as interim president through the end of 2023 or until a permanent replacement is appointed.

Senior Centers reopen after delays

Socorro and Magdalena senior centers opened their doors June 1 and July 17, respectively.
The Socorro senior center was expecting to serve 25 to 30 people lunch daily and planned on making 25 to 30 daily home deliveries in Veguita. The center committed to staying open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the weekday.
“We are trying to make it as nice as we can,” Linda Mares, Socorro Senior center manager, said.
The Magdalena senior center had recently renovated their building before their grand opening. The goal was to serve as a gathering place for socializing and exercising, while also serving hot meals. The main room can accommodate 42 people comfortably and has a pool table and television.

 

Jessica Carranza Pino, Editor