Tornado blasts area in 2007

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Editor’s note: The following is the first of four stories reviewing the top news of 2007. This installment deals with January, February and March.

The first three months of 2007 were dominated by newsmaking weather and homicide headlines that gripped Roosevelt County.

Perhaps the story of the year for eastern New Mexico was the March 23 tornado that bounced across Roosevelt County, destroying the newly completed Grande Vida dairy before barreling into Clovis, where it did millions of dollars in damage.

The twister killed two and injured several other people as it followed Prince Street into the city before veering slightly to the right.

Officials estimated that more than 500 homes and businesses were impacted by the storm, 100 of them sustained serious damage and at least 50 were destroyed.

The Grande Vida dairy operators lost approximately 175 head of cattle and were forced to rebuild almost completely.

Earlier in the year, severe weather of the icy kind kept a grip on Roosevelt County. The area ushered in the new year with a series of snowstorms and cold weather and the trend continued into March.

The average daily temperatures in January were 6 to 8 degrees below the historical average, according to AccuWeather.com.

One storm in January dumped close to a foot of snow on Portales and had sledders of all ages sliding on the slopes of Greyhound Arena.

On Jan. 5, a Portales mother was charged with killing her 6-year-old son. In a police affidavit, Teresa Gilman, 24, told police she believed her son was possessed by the devil.

The boy likely died of head trauma according to police. Forensic reports said because of water in the child’s lungs, drowning could not be ruled out as a possible cause.

Affidavits stated the mother allegedly forced water into the boy’s mouth while he was in a comatose state.

Gilman was later sent to the state mental hospital in Las Vegas until she is competent for trial on first degree murder charges.

Jerry Fuller, 35, of Portales was sentenced to 127 years in prison in January for his part in the deaths of Otis and Doris Newman in 2005. The longtime Portales couple were Fuller’s aunt and uncle. Police said that the couple was burned while still alive in the trunk of their car. Fuller pleaded guilty in late 2006, avoiding death penalty prosecution.

Another man charged in the deaths, Stanley Bedford was convicted by an Albuquerque jury in June. He avoided the death penalty but received a 120-year sentence.

A Roosevelt County jury in March convicted 20-year-old Richard Baca of second-degree murder in the death of Amber Robinson of Portales in 2004.

Baca was accused of beating Robinson until she was unconscious and burying her alive in his back yard. He later received 21 years in prison for the murder charge and charges connected with the death.

Baca’s older brother, Clifford “Bubba” Baca, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2006 in the case and received an 18-year sentence.

Other notable stories:
January
• Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr. told Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority officials that he wouldn’t vote for any further study of the Ute Water Project without consulting his council. He said that previous studies had clearly determined the project was the most efficient way to bring water to thirsty eastern New Mexico communities. He said he didn’t want to give the appearance of a lack of unity on the board but he also didn’t want to waste public money.
• A boil order was issued by the New Mexico Environment Department after unacceptable levels of E-coli bacteria was detected in routine testing of the town’s water system. The order was issued Jan. 6 and rescinded Jan. 10 after treatment brought the levels under control.
• Brown Early Childhood opened a new wing of the school in early January.
• Darren Hooker was sworn in as Roosevelt County Sheriff and Tex Belcher took the oath as Roosevelt County Tax Assessor.
February
• Phone service to hundreds of Portales residents was cut when a contractor digging in downtown Portales severed a cable bundle. The outage briefly affected Portales’ emergency 911 calls. Customers were without service for about a day.
• After a car chase and a brief foot chase, law enforcement officers arrested a Portales man who was later charged with kidnapping and raping a woman. Authorities arrested George Vela just outside the Roosevelt General Hospital emergency room.
• Roosevelt County Commissioners drew a packed house in the district courtroom when they discussed the topic of a fire ban. The ban was eventually adopted after an overhaul of the ordinance’s wording.
• It was learned that Roosevelt County taxpayers had been overcharged on their 2006 tax bills resulting in over $250,000 in tax relief to property owners on their 2007 bills. Roosevelt County Treasurer Nancy Belcher said the cause of the overcharge was human error in computing the tax rate made at state offices.
• Local aficionados of the sport of cockfighting discussed their sport with the PNT and lamented a bill in the state legislature that would ban it.
March
• La Tienda grocery store closed its doors in early March. Owners said the pressure of having two Affiliated Foods stores in a town the size of Portales wasn’t working out. The other store, Russell’s Super Value, bought part of the fixtures but the building remained vacant at years-end.
• The movie “Believe in Me” held a gala premiere in Portales at the Tower Twin theater. The movie, about a girls basketball team’s quest for a championship, had numerous scenes shot in Roosevelt County and featured several locals in the cast.
• Dave Nash, longtime promoter of the Floyd Lions Club Jamboree, was named as Floyd’s Citizen of the Year.
• Roosevelt County Extension agent Floyd McAlister retired after more than 22 years in the position.
• The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office launched a senior home safety program called the Newman Project in honor of Otis and Doris Newman who were murdered in 2005.

— Compiled by Karl Terry