Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety
 

The rescue of four men trapped by sliding sand and gravel at a Placitas quarry took six hours with the last man freed at 11:00 p.m. Rescuers worked in small groups using hand tools.
Photo credit:—Sandoval County Fire Department

Quarry cited for safety lapses day before slide traps four miners

~Signpost Staff

Emergency personnel, by the dozens, converged on a Placitas quarry in late June to save four men from a collapsing mountain of sand and gravel that threatened to bury both the victims and their rescuers.

It took six hours of digging, bracing, and digging some more to free the men in what Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon called a "once-in-a-career-type rescue." Teams of six rescuers, working twenty-minute shifts, used hand tools fearing that vibrations from heavy equipment would unleash an avalanche.

Two men were buried up to their necks, another to his chest, and the fourth to his waist. One suffered a broken leg, another dehydration, and the other two lesser injuries, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which is investigating the incident.

"It was very labor-intensive work," Maxon told the Signpost. "Every time we would dig, it would fill back in… This was probably one of the most dangerous rescues we've ever seen in our careers."

The four were treated at area hospitals with all eventually being released.

The drama unfolded on June 29 in a gravel-processing area of the Vulcan Materials quarry operated by subsidiary CalMat Co. off the Interstate 25 frontage road, near Camino Manzano. At about 5:00 p.m. two of the men were standing on a ground-level grate that feeds a conveyor tunnel when material piled high by a separate conveyor collapsed on them, Maxon said.

The MSHA reported the men were trying to unplug the feed into the conveyor tunnel. Two other employees rushing to the aid of their coworkers then became trapped as more material sloughed off the mound.

When Maxon arrived on the scene, he activated the Rio Grande Basin Technical Rescue Team, mobilizing resources from the Sandoval County, Rio Rancho, and Corrales fire departments. Bernalillo and Albuquerque firefighters also responded, as did SCFD Medical Director Dr. Jenna White and another physician.

Ultimately 87 responders contributed to the rescue, Maxon said.

As of late July, the MSHA had yet to conclude its investigation or issue any citations, Assistant Director William O'Dell of the MSHA South Central District told the Signpost. Meanwhile, Vulcan was reevaluating its processes and removing the material pile, he added.

For its part, the company said it is engaged in the investigation.

"Vulcan Materials Company continues to work cooperatively with regulatory officials, in concert with our safety and health team, to determine the cause of the June 29 accident and to enact any preventive measures that may be required," a statement released to the Signpost read.

On the day before the near-tragedy, an MSHA inspector on a twice-yearly check of the quarry issued three citations alleging safety violations capable of causing serious injury. The citations list two electrical hazards and a conveyor at the portable processing plant that lacked handrails or other safeguards to prevent a worker from falling onto the conveyor or becoming entangled in it.

All the hazards attributed to varying degrees of negligence were corrected that day or the next morning, the inspector reported.


Storm winds fan forest flames in Jemez Mountains

~Signpost Staff

A lightning-caused fire continues to burn in the southern Jemez Mountains growing in size and intensity as winds from a monsoon storm blew across it.

The Peggy Fire is named for its start on Peggy Mesa in the Santa Fe National Forest Jemez Ranger District about two miles northwest of the Gilman Tunnels on Forest Road 376. Lightning striking a single dead tree on July 18 started the blaze.

At Signpost deadline, the fire had burned across 256 acres of pine, juniper, and scrub brush. A small smoke plume could be seen until late on July 22 when the fire blew up, driven south by wind from the storm cell, according to a Santa Fe National Forest spokesperson.

That made the smoke easily visible from Placitas and in parts of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. Smoke also has settled in the Jemez River valley creating potential health effects particularly for people with underlying heart and respiratory conditions.

As the weather calmed, wildland firefighters continued to strengthen the fire perimeter, burning out materials between the fire line and the fire itself.

As an otherwise low-intensity fire that occurs periodically, the Peggy Fire is reducing future fire threats while improving forest health and habitat diversity, according to the Forest Service.


Sandoval County Detention Center employees face discipline after inmate’s mistaken release

~Sandoval County

Sandoval County Public Information Officer Sidney Hill reported that that Ryan Griffin, 39, was mistakenly released from the Sandoval County Detention Center (SCDC) on July 26, 2017. He was captured in Albuquerque by New Mexico State Police on the following day and returned to the SCDC.

Griffin was initially booked into SCDC on July 18. He was ordered to be held without bond on charges of credit card theft and contempt of court. Griffin orchestrated his release by stealing a detention center ID of his cellmate—an inmate who was scheduled to be released on July 26. SCDC officials believe Griffin stole the ID while his cellmate was sleeping.

In addition to stealing the ID, Griffin shaved his head and groomed his facial hair on that day so he would look more like his cellmate.

Procedures to verify paperwork and identity were not carried out properly. The mistake was discovered roughly an hour later, when the inmate who was scheduled for release woke up and began asking when he would be released.

Warden Matthew Elwell said three employees, including two supervisors who signed off on the paperwork authorizing Griffin’s release, will face discipline for this incident. An employee who failed to ask Griffin a series of personal questions designed to confirm identity has resigned.

The warden also noted that all booking officers were given a refresher course in booking procedures after two inmates escaped from the detention center in May.

 
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