Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety

Paul Livingston
Photo credit: —Sara Livingston

Placitas crash victim dies; DA reopens case

~Bill Diven

When the Signpost interviewed Paul Livingston in September for a story on bad driving in Placitas, he described his head-on collision two months earlier with a driver later charged with drunken driving. “Not everyone survives these things,” he said. “I was very impressed by the fact I was almost killed.”

On November 3, Livingston, a Placitas resident and former lawyer, died at age 74 from complications related to injuries suffered in the crash, according to his published obituary.

At the time of the interview, Livingston had recently returned home after cranial surgery to relieve a blood clot between his skull and brain, a crash injury he said didn’t reveal itself until weeks later. He underwent a second surgery shortly before his death.

The other driver, Julie Groff, 53, also of Placitas, suffered lesser injuries and was charged with aggravated second-offense DWI, the charge escalated to aggravated for refusing a breath-alcohol test, according to court records and the crash incident report. Sheriff’s deputies investigating the June 27 crash on State Road 165 near Juniper Road also filed an open-container charge alleging they found an open half-gallon bottle of vodka in her borrowed car.

Groff pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges, and a pre-trial hearing, set for October 24, was canceled after Livingston returned to the hospital.

With Livingston’s death, the case takes on new complexity. On November 20, Deputy District Attorney Barbara Romo filed a notice dismissing the charges “pending further investigation.” The charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they can be filed again later.

“Once we get verification of his injuries, we have to explore the possibility they were random and unrelated to the accident,” Romo told the Signpost. If the crash and Livingston’s death are alleged to be connected, a felony charge could be filed, she added.

That would likely fall under the state law on homicide or great bodily harm while driving under the influence. Such a charge would be a third-degree felony, carrying a prison sentence of up to six years if convicted.

By Signpost deadline Groff’s attorney, Dan Baca, had not responded to request for comment. In commenting for the story on bad driving, he reminded Signpost readers that Groff is considered innocent until proven otherwise, but declined to discuss details of the case.

What is not clear is why Groff was charged with second-offense DWI when her previous case was dismissed. Court records show she was charged with first-offense DWI and leaving the scene of an accident in May 2016.

At that time, a Santa Ana Pueblo police officer alleged Groff driving a Dodge truck struck a car parked in the Santa Ana Star Casino parking lot, walked away from the scene, and refused to take a breath-alcohol test. The officer’s report and court documents quote her as saying she was a former police officer and that the case would go nowhere.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges—both misdemeanors. Six months later, a Sandoval County magistrate judge dismissed the charges for failure to prosecute, apparently meaning the arresting officer, who acts as prosecutor in Magistrate Court, failed to show up for the trial.

Livingston, with a background in social work, special education, jewelry making, and civil-rights activism, didn’t earn his law degree from the University of New Mexico until he was nearly forty. He then became known in particular for his work representing city of Albuquerque employees in disciplinary procedures.

In 2004 he represented Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap when she began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couple after deciding state law did not specifically prohibit that. The state Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, but in 2013 Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins led a similar attack to a Supreme Court decision favoring same-sex marriages.

In 2014, however, the Supreme Court disbarred Livingston over a complaint that he was abusive toward a city of Albuquerque hearing officer and was not providing effective counsel for his clients. In the September interview, Livingston told the Signpost the complaint was filed because he was aggressively defending members of the city bus drivers’ union.

He said he was continuing his work as an individual and for free and was on his way to Albuquerque to file a public-records request at the city clerk’s office when the crash happened. His full obituary can be found on page 25 in this month’s Signpost.

Bernalillo Fire Department Chief Michael Carroll joins (from his left) Lts. Lawrence Gutierrez, Matthew Miller, and Bryan Picchione. The newly promoted lieutenants will supervise the three duty shifts as the department adds personnel to staff its east and west stations around the clock.

Expansion of Bernalillo Fire Department prompts promotions

~Signpost Staff

As the Bernalillo Fire Department (BFD) prepares to grow, three firefighter-EMTs have been promoted to lieutenant and assigned as shift supervisors.

In a ceremony during the November 13 Town Council meeting, family members pinned new badges on Lieutenants: Lawrence Gutierrez, Matthew Miller, and Bryan Picchione. Respectively they have ten, nine, and four years of service with the department.

“We’re lucky they stayed with us,” Councilor Dale Prairie said.

BFD Fire Chief Tom Carroll said the three were chosen after tests, a panel interview, and administration-level interview. Town councilors authorized the positions earlier this year.

In September, the Town won a competitive federal grant of $563,000 under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program. That will allow the town to hire four more firefighter-EMTS and staff stations on both sides of the Rio Grande for three shifts a day.

In other action in recent council meetings:

The town accepted a $1,000 donation for the Children’s Toy Fund collect by members of the United Methodist Church. “Thank you on behalf of the kids,” Mayor Jack Torres said. “It’s wonderful you give, year after year.”

Dan Barela of Rescue Tactics and Training said his business is growing after moving into the Roosevelt Complex in space leased from the town. Barela said he’s added instructors to help train rescuers to new levels of proficiency, partnered with Bernalillo hotels and restaurants to house, and feed, what is turning into an international clientele, and offered free monthly classes in first aid and other topics.

Town Treasurer Lupita De Herrera reported she and town staff have finished the inventory of capital assets and depreciation. That cleans up issues dating back years and will remove a lingering finding in the annual town audit, she said.

Councilors approved the recommendation of the town Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone eight acres in the La Bona Tierra subdivision from rural residential to retail commercial. The land fronts on State Road 528 and is listed in the subdivision covenants as a future commercial site, Planning and Zoning Director said.

Property owner Julian Garza said some preliminary dirt work is planned on the property, although he has not lined up any businesses yet to use it. Some nearby residents raised concerns about the effect on the arroyo running through the parcel and increases in crime, traffic noise, and light pollution.

Councilors also held a public hearing before approving a brewers’ license for Bosque Brewing. The established Albuquerque company is currently turning the former Jackalope property on U.S. Highway 550, immediately west of the Rio Grande, into a brewery with on-site service and package sales.
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