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Top 10 local stories in 2022

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The following are the Top Ten local news stories for 2022 selected by the News-Sun staff:

1) Baby  in dumpster

Around 2 p.m. on Jan. 7 a woman pulled up to a dumpster behind a Hobbs retail store and threw her unwanted newborn in a dumpster.

According to Hobbs Police Chief August Fons, the newborn was found by three “dumpster divers” around 7:44 p.m. as they were looking for valuables and heard crying. Upon further search of the dumpsters, the trio found a newborn boy who was covered in blood, wrapped in a towel, and still had the umbilical cord attached.

The infant was transported to and treated at Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital and later airlifted to a hospital in Lubbock.

Alexis Avila, 18, of Hobbs, was arrested on Jan. 8 and charged with attempted first-degree murder, a first-degree felony; or alternatively abuse of a child, a second-degree felony.

Avila, at a preliminary trial in January, was placed on house arrest by District Judge William Shoobridge.

The baby was named “Baby Sal,” and was released to the teenager assumed to be the father.

In July, Hobbs city commissioners voted to install a “Baby Box” at Hobbs Fire Station #1 to give new mothers a place to take an infant if it is unwanted.

State Senator David Gallegos has been an advocate of the baby box since “Baby Sal” was found in the dumpster, and has championed having a baby box in each of New Mexico’s 33 counties. While it has been a slow, uphill climb, he said, cities across New Mexico are taking steps in the right direction to continue to offer more options to these mothers who may feel they have no other choice than to give up their child.

“The money (for the boxes) has already been set aside for us through her capital outlay. During the session, the governor negotiated with a representative out of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and negotiated to pay the amount so the bill would be tabled,” Gallegos said. “We had $330,000 and when I came up with that number, we had in Espanola the bid come up between $8,000 and $12,000 for install. I used $10,000 as an average.”

Avila’s trial was set to begin in December, but was postponed until early 2023.

2) USW golf team killed 

On March 15, a horrific crash occurred on Texas Farm to Market Road 1788, also known as Telephone Pole Road near Andrews, Texas, claiming the lives of six University of the Southwest students and their golf coach.

USW golf coach Tyler James was driving North bound on FM 1788 in a 17 passenger Ford Transit Van with eight students onboard, when a Dodge 2500 traveling South bound veered into the Northbound lane for unknown reasons, striking the Ford Van head-on. Both vehicles caught fire and burned.

Coach Tyler James, along with students Jackson Zinn, 22, of Westminster Colo., Tiago Sous, 18, of Portugal, Mauricio Sanchez, 19, of Mexico, Travis Garcia, 19, of Pleasanton Texas, Karisa Raines, 21, of Fort Stockton and Laci Stone, 18, Nocona Texas were all killed in the crash.

Students Dayton Price and Hayden Underhill, both of Ontario Canada were airlifted to Lubbock, Texas Hospitals in critical condition. Both sustained bad burns but recovered and are with their families.

The driver of a Dodge 2500, Henrich Siemens, of Seminole and his 13 year-old son were both killed. 

A total of 10 players from USW played in the tournament in Midland, Texas that day. Two of those players, Halie Cruz of Andrews and Taylor Phillips of San Antonio, chose to ride home from the tournament with parents — a choice that may very well have saved their lives.

Even though it was spring break, the USW chapel was opened for the students who had remained on campus. 

Counselors were brought in for those in need, and residents of Lea County showed up in support and to grieve with the friends and family members of the deceased and injured.

3) Bishop Henderson trial 

In 2019, Bishop Henderson III was arrested and charged in the shooting death of three, and injuring of four others at a house party, where he was a DJ, on Bond Street in Hobbs. Henderson was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, all first-degree felonies; and four counts of aggravated battery, all third-degree felonies.

HPD officers responded at about 12:38 a.m. on Aug. 25 and found three people — Khalil Carter, 18, of Hobbs, Kristal Avena, 24, of Hobbs and Lamar Lee-Kane Jr., 22, of Washington, D.C. — dead in the backyard and three others with gunshot wounds. Michael Major, 21, of Florida, Rontrell Hills, 23, of Houma, La., and Jasmine Stansell, 20, of Amarillo — were found in a truck about one mile from the home.

HPD officers later learned a fourth person, Turon Windham, 20, of Chicago, had been taken to Lea Regional Medical Center, now known as Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital, with a gunshot wound to the face, and who was subsequently transferred to a hospital in Lubbock.

For three years Henderson remained in jail, held on a no bond order. He was acquitted after a jury deliberated for two hours on Aug. 23. 

Following Henderson’s trial, he filed a lawsuit on Nov. 23 for false arrest claims and deprivation of state constitutional rights in violation of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act. 

Henderson’s attorney, Shannon Kennedey, of Albuquerque said civil rights law suits in New Mexico are capped by state law at $2 million and tort claims law suits are capped at $750,000. Kennedy said she plans to ask for the maximum — $2.75 million — on Henderson’s behalf.

But, if the case is moved to federal court — which is at the discretion of the presiding judge — there isn’t a limit on the amount of money Henderson and his attorneys can ask for, Kennedy said. 

“The City of Hobbs has to pay for the violation of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act and also for the violations of the officers of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. The maximum recovery, with (Henderson) now going through therapy from the trauma he received from being imprisoned falsely, there’s going to be medical bills and compensation to make him whole,” Kennedy said. “I believe a jury would award more than the maximum.”

4) Covenant Health Hobbs opens, immediately hit with problems

The $65 million Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital was christened Sept. 9 on 27 acres near the intersection of Millen Drive and Lovington Highway in Hobbs.

Plans for the hospital came from a Lea County Health Needs Assessment, completed in 2013. The study looked at projected health care needs for the county.

“The study painted a picture of opportunity for Lea County when it comes to health care,” Lea County Manager Mike Gallagher said during the ribbon cutting. “It said we’re short several primary care practitioners with more than $140 million per year in hospitalization happening outside our community.”

At 110,000 square feet, the hospital features emergency room, in house laboratory and imaging systems and a five-room surgical area, along with a stand-alone Women’s Care Center bringing both new concepts and tried-and-true approaches to women’s healthcare to southeast New Mexico and the region.

The dedicated Women’s Center features eight labor, deliver, recovery and postpartum suites. Overall, Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital has 60 beds total, with 44 for medical and surgery patients, eight intensive care beds and the eight women’s services beds. It also houses the new Maddox Community Center, a 2,000 square foot facility that can house career training and community meetings.

The new Hobbs Hospital began receiving its first patients on Sept. 28, transferring both current patients and services from the old facility, the former Lea Regional Medical Center across the road. Within days, Covenant Health administrators ordered limited patient services due to what was described as “environmental issues” in an Oct. 7 press release.

Ainsley Nelson, spokesperson for Covenant Health and parent entity Providence Health, wrote officials had “received reports of rodents in and around the facility.” She further wrote the decision was made to “reduce services beginning immediately, until we can provide a health and safe environment for our patients, visitors and caregivers.”

Additionally, an inspection disclosed low levels of chlorine, used to remove bacteria and other contaminants, in the Hobbs Hospital water system. Low chlorine levels can make the water unsuitable for consumption or use in cleaning. The hospital has reportedly contracted with “outside experts” to address both situations.

In a followup email, Covenant spokesperson Meredith Avery Cunningham told the News-Sun staff have reported “visual sightings … of mice on the property.” She also said initial investigation points to the hospital’s water softening system as a possible culprit in stripping chlorine from already-treated water supplied by the city. 

The hospital remained under limitations for about a week, resuming full services Oct. 13. In the interim, the emergency room would accept patients for evaluation on, transferring those who required additional care to hospitals in Lovington, Seminole or Denver City.

5) Abortion Clinic looking to open in Hobbs 

In June, Roe v Wade , the law making abortion procedures part of a guarantee at a federal level, was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Since it was overturned at the federal level, the power reverted back to the states.

The state of Texas passed what is known as the heartbeat law, which makes abortions after about six weeks illegal in the state. This caused several abortion clinics to announce closures, and announce they were consolidating operations to New Mexico — just across the state line.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vowed to make New Mexico and abortion destination — including abortion up to birth — and pledged $10,000,000 to open a privately-owned abortion clinic in Las Cruces.

Whole Women’s Health owned and operated four abortion clinics in Texas, but set their sights on reopening clinics in southeastern New Mexico emboldened by Lujan Grisham’s welcoming of clinics specializing in the termination of the unborn.

Word spread around Lea County of Whole Women’s Health plan, and possibly being under contract to buy an old dentist office in Hobbs. Residents scrambled to find a way to keep the abortion clinic from locating in a largely pro-life area, and flocked to the city and county commission meetings with requests to become a Sanctuary City for the Unborn.

Hobbs, Eunice and Lea County have all adopted resolutions that limit an abortion clinic’s ability to practice within their jurisdictions, by forcing them to comply with existing federal laws.

The City of Lovington plans to vote on a similar ordinance early in 2023.

6) Cannabis legalization/sales

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made legalizing recreational marijuana a cornerstone of her time in office, and on April 1 sales across the state began.

Recreational marijuana sales remained high for Hobbs throughout the remaining eight months of the year with Hobbs solidly in the top five in cannabis sales across the state.

Dispensaries immediately popped up throughout the city and by the end of 2022, Hobbs had nine dispensaries. The neighboring municipalities of Jal, Lovington and Tatum also saw a handful of dispensaries pop up, but in far fewer numbers.

Five dispensaries opened on April 1 and together they raked in approximately $198,224 in recreational cannabis sales, and another $45,380 on the medical side — making Hobbs the fourth highest municipality in New Mexico for total cannabis sales in the first month.

Cannabis sales across New Mexico were smoking hot with recreational pot topping the $3 million mark on the opening day of April 1. By noon on April 3, more than $5.2 million in total sales were recorded statewide.

Hobbs’ dispensaries were busy, with lines wrapped around buildings and most stores saw brisk sales. Many dispensaries had prior medical marijuana sales numbers to compare to.

“We saw about a 3,000 percent increase in our sales Friday,” Sales Director at Bryan’s Green Care Jordan McIlroy said.

A few blocks away, Pecos Valley also reported sales increases.

“We made about $40,000 our first day, and that’s not even what we made over the weekend,” Pecos Valley Manager Crystal Landers said. “Over the weekend, we made about $80,000.”

And much of the revenue for Hobbs’ recreational cannabis shops continue to come from Texas residents, shop owners said.

Across the state, sales totals since legalization (April – Nov.) have amounted to about $129,019,198.61. 

In Hobbs, recreational sales of cannabis have brought in approximately $10,688,016.04 in revenue, $132,981.14 in Jal, $90,412.03 in Lovington, and $319,499.19 in Tatum.

7)  CTECH opens in August for 2022-23 school year

More than four years in the making at a cost of $46.5 million, the Career Technical Education Center Hobbs (CTECH) launched officially on May 5.

CTECH is built around six pillars, representing the different programs being taught: automotive and diesel, information technology, oil and gas, construction trades, culinary arts and welding. Mike Rowe, host of television’s Dirty Jobs and an outspoken proponent nationally for skilled labor and career education, was special keynote speaker for the event. 

As the country faces almost $1.7 trillion in student university debt, there are more than 11 million open jobs that need to be filled — the majority of which do not require a four year college degree, Rowe said.

“They require training,” he said. “The kind of training that SkillsUSA provides and has provided for decades. The kind of training that’s about to commence in this building that surrounds us. This is a miracle, honestly.”

Hobbs Superintendent of Schools Gene Strickland agreed.

“Having the opportunity to see this dream and this vision become a reality is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Hobbs Superintendent of Schools Gene Strickland said. “Where some of the adults may wish they had the opportunity to roll the dice with career and technical education, our students will have that opportunity. The odds are in our students favor, today and into the future.”

Student registration started early, near the close of the 2021-22 school year, with students flocking to sign up for CTECH programs, Principal Zeke Kaney told the News-Sun in January. More than 700 students signed up early for classes from Hobbs, Jal, Eunice and Tatum municipal schools.

As of the end of CTECH’s first semester, enrollment had reached 900 students, about 60 percent of the projected 1,500 student capacity, Kaney told the News-Sun.

8-9) TIE: Lea leads in rig count

For three years running, starting in December 2019, Lea County tops all other counties in the nation with active oil rigs, and surpasses all but two states — New Mexico and Texas. According to data published by oil field services company Baker Hughes, Lea County had a total of 72 active rigs, about two-thirds of New Mexico’s 106 in early December.

Meanwhile, crude oil production set another record in August at 29.2 million barrels, the first time the amount of black gold pumped out of Lea County exceeded 29 million.

8-9) TIE: Record high gas prices/$100 oil

Oil prices surged by late spring 2022, with benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude jumping from an average $71 per barrel in December 2021 to $109 in May 2022, briefly to more than $120 in March and June. The price by mid-December had dropped to $74 per barrel.

Meanwhile, U.S. inventories of gasoline and diesel ran low and refining capacity was strained while export demand remained strong. High prices exceeding a national average of just over $5 per gallon in June were blamed on supply and demand imbalance in part caused by the Russia-Ukraine war. By mid-December, the price was about $3.11 per gallon nationally, and $2.99 in Hobbs.

10) Resdistricting — Hobbs, Lea County split up

Starting in 2023 and at least for the next decade, thousands of Lea County voters residing north of Marland Street in Hobbs will be represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by the same person elected to represent constituents in northwestern New Mexico.

In a special redistricting session, the Democrat-controlled state Legislature last year stretched the state’s U.S. Congressional District 3, into Hobbs, much to the chagrin of minority Republican leaders.  Designed to ensure Democrat wins in elections, the redistricting map splits up not only Lea County, Eddy County, Chaves County and the cities of Hobbs, Carlsbad and Artesia, but extends all three congressional districts into Roswell.

New Mexico has three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, one to be elected from each of the congressional districts. Redistricting puts Lovington in Congressional District (CD) 3 with Santa Fe while setting Eunice in CD-2 with Las Cruces. The horizontal dividing line between the two districts is mostly along Marland Street in Hobbs.

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