Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety
 

Lt. Keith Elder of the Sandoval County Sheriff's Office checks the speed of a driver on Camino de las Huertas near the Placitas Community and Senior Center. Few of the drivers monitored that afternoon were at or close to the 30 mph posted speed limit while several reached 40-45 mph.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Bad drivers anger residents, draw county's attention

~Bill Diven

This is a tale of two major traffic routes—State Road 165 and Camino de las Huertas—that intersect on the ground in Placitas and of residents' increasing fear of speeding and aggressive drivers.

NM 165, with posted speed limits up to fifty mph, connects Placitas with the outside world, while handling local and school traffic and frequent groups of bicyclists pumping along its narrow shoulders. Some see it as an extension of U.S. Highway 550, which ends at Interstate 25, and in fact, for many years, they were the same highway—two-lane State Road 44 known for its deadly collisions in rural Sandoval County

Camino de las Huertas is a residential street marked by blind curves, a sudden switchback, pedestrians, plunges into two arroyos, and few warning signs. It twists and turns northerly four miles past the Placitas Community and Senior Center and dozens of homes and side streets, ending in new residential developments on the mesa known as Indian Flats.

Residents' complaints about close calls on both roads have grown louder, gone online, and reached both the Sandoval County Sheriff's Office and the county Road Department.

"Every time I leave my house, I hope I make it to 165," said Bebe Marks, who moved onto Indian Flats 25 years ago when only a short distance of Camino de las Huertas was paved. "My concern is for the safety of the community and my personal safety since I continue to almost get hit… I appreciated the dirt road where you couldn't speed because there was no choice."

She attributes many of her close calls to contractors and their subcontractors in a hurry to get to construction sites. Deep tire tracks embedded in her yard suggest a large truck missed the turn in front of her house.

"It's extremely dangerous," Marks continued. "We've all had near misses."

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, SCSO Lt. Keith Elder joined the Signpost on Camino de las Huertas for an informal speed survey. The location near the community center was in the only stretch of the road with posted speed limit signs—30 mph for about 0.75 miles starting at NM 165.

Using a handheld laser speed monitor, Elder tracked about three dozen vehicles, including a few obviously involved in construction. Of those, ten, including a construction truck, were at 31 mph or lower, including a bicyclist pedaling uphill toward NM 165 at five mph.

Another 25 cars and trucks were 8-15 mph over the limit with one person, who turned into a nearby driveway, zipping by at 45.

Elder said sheriff's deputies are patrolling the back roads of Placitas more, which might increase the citations issued through the radar system in the patrol vehicles. For effective speed enforcement, deputies prefer to find a parking spot on the side of the road and use the target-specific laser unit.

But with its nonexistent shoulders, Camino de las Huertas suffers from a lack of places for a deputy to park safely. A property owner eliminated a favored spot within the 30 mph zone some years ago by fencing the property line.

The county Public Works Department is acknowledging citizen concerns about Camino de las Huertas, county spokesman Sidney Hill told the Signpost.

"They're going to go out and look at it and see if there is a need for more signage," Hill said. "If there is a need for more signs, they will put them up."

One place to look might be the switchback where the road drops down to Cedar Creek Road and Las Huertas Creek. In the last year or so, that tight reverse curve surprised two teens headed downhill who rolled daddy's car and snagged a truck driver who wedged his flatbed tractor-trailer between the embankments blocking the road until a tow arrived.

The Public Works Department has records showing the speed limit on Camino de las Huertas varies from 30-35 mph. "They are going to conduct a speed survey to see if there's a need not just to add signs but change the speed limit," Hill said.

That requires hiring an outside contractor, and as yet, there is no timeline for when that might happen, he added.

Deputies have made a recent enforcement appearance on NM 165 writing multiple citations in the straightaway near the Homestead Village Shopping Plaza.

"That was probably a direct result of requests from people; we do respond to requests from the public," Elder said. "It slows things down for a while… Believe it or not, we get complaints about the enforcement."

Residents who regularly drive NM 165 and Camino de las Huertas have taken some matters into their own hands with what has become known as online shaming. They've been posting accounts of close calls, tailgating, drunken or distracted driving, and descriptions of miscreant vehicles, occasionally with license numbers, and even an possibly speeding school bus on the neighborhood-oriented website NextDoor.com.

Video from a dash camera showing an impaired or distracted driver was turned over to the sheriff's office. A deputy would need to witness the offense, however, to write a citation or make an arrest.

"Unfortunately, reckless and inconsiderate driving has become the norm around Placitas, whether its on 165, the side roads, or even the access road!" one person posted.

According to another contributor's account, a pickup truck reported passing three vehicles in a no-passing zone in late August and nearly causing a crash near the Placitas Community Library remained parked on its owner's property in the weeks after its license number was published.

Paul Livingston also shared an account of being hit head-on in the middle of the afternoon by a driver later charged with misdemeanor counts of DWI and having an open container of vodka in the car. The driver, Julie Groff of Placitas, was driving a car owned by someone else when she crossed the center line in the NM 165 S-curve west of Juniper Road, according to the SCSO investigative report.

Both drivers suffered injuries in the crash.

"I was very impressed by the fact I was almost killed," Livingston, who later underwent major surgery, told the Signpost. "I gave some thought to keeping my car and putting it by the side of the road… I thought if we had a wrecked car every mile or so it might slow people down."

Groff pleaded not guilty to the two charges and is scheduled for a pretrial hearing in Magistrate Court late this month. Her attorney, Dan R. Baca, declined to discuss the case other than to remind Signpost readers, "As we speak, she's presumed to be innocent."


Haven House Domestic Violence Campaign begins

Haven House, Inc., Sandoval County's only domestic violence shelter, will be "Purple-ing the Poles" in Rio Rancho on September 30, beginning at 8:00 a.m.

Following a long tradition of public awareness outreach, Haven House, Inc. will be tying purple ribbons to light poles along NM 528 (Pat D'Arco Highway) from Westside Blvd, north to NM 550, in Rio Rancho. The purpose of this event is to raise public awareness to the major issue of domestic violence in the community. Nationally, October is Domestic Violence Awareness.

On October 14, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull will be hosting a family-style public barbecue in Haynes Park to help raise additional awareness about domestic violence in Sandoval County. At that event, there will be live music, barbeque, a silent auction, and the chance to meet the staff of Haven House.

Haven House, Inc. is a 32-bed domestic violence shelter in Sandoval County, serving victims of domestic violence with 24-hour emergency shelter, counseling services, life skills, transportation, and more. For further information about Haven House, Inc. and the services they offer, contact Roberta Radosevich at 896-4869, or go to www.havenhouseinc.org.
 
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