Local and State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state auditor says he's launching a special audit of the planning and funding behind a new Historic Route 66 rapid transit route in Albuquerque. State Auditor Wayne Johnson's announcement came Thursday, a day after Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller's office confirmed the city's inspector general also had placed the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project under review. The state auditor and city's inspector general have said they are focusing on funding and contracting related to the project, known as ART.

HOBBS, N.M. (AP) — A group of religious residents in a southeastern New Mexico city is rallying around a Ten Commandments monument from public property. The Hobbs News-Sun reports the residents crowded a commissioners' meeting this week in Hobbs, New Mexico, to speak out against a another group's effort to take down the marker. The move came after members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation said the Hobbs monument violated the separation of church and state.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Authorities say they found two bodies in southern Santa Fe County, in an investigation that apparently started after a rancher discovered a dead woman stuffed into a garbage container along the road near his home. The Santa Fe County sheriff's office says the rancher, Fidel Montoya of Stanley, found the deceased woman Monday, and calls the deaths "suspicious." The bodies have been sent to the state Office of the Medical Investigator.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A winter weather advisory is scheduled for parts of northern New Mexico. The National Weather Service says wintry weather is expected along a wide stretch of the state's northern border starting Wednesday. Three inches to a half-foot of snow is expected in the San Juan and Jemez mountains, as well as the northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains above 9,500 feet. Chama and Taos are among towns expected to get snow. In the high terrain closest to the Colorado border, there could be more than 10 inches of snow.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — There are at least 114 Mexican gray wolves roaming the American Southwest. That's one more than was recorded during the previous survey, and U.S. wildlife managers say lower survival rates among pups are primarily to blame. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday released the findings of its annual population survey, which included tracking wolves in parts of Arizona and New Mexico over the winter and more recent monitoring flights. The latest figure includes 26 pups that survived through the end of last year.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Legislature received a flurry of reports about possible sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination during the recently concluded legislative session. In response to a public records request, the Legislative Council Service that serves as legal counsel to the Legislature said there were five direct complaints or reports by observers of potential misconduct during the legislative session that ended Feb. 15. No probably cause was found to warrant a formal charge and few details were released.

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico man has been reunited with cash he left at an ATM after a woman found it and turned it in to police. Roswell police say the man called authorities Monday to report he had left $300 on top of the machine. His call came in just as the woman had dropped by the station to turn in the money. She told officers there was no receipt or other information with the money to identify the owner but that she had noticed a man making a transaction while she waited her turn. She recognized the man and his vehicle when he arrived at the station.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The top two regents New Mexico State University are defending a recent vote to limit some administrative powers of the school's outgoing chancellor after critics called for their resignations. Democratic Senate President Mary Kay Papen last week drafted a letter calling out the regents. It was signed by more than 40 legislative colleagues.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A melee broke out among fans at the state high school wrestling tournaments in Rio Rancho. The Albuquerque Journal reports two women at the center of a heated dispute disagreed on who instigated the melee Saturday night. One is the mother a Belen High School wrestler. The other was the mother of a St. Pius High School wrestler. The exchange escalated quickly and nearly blew up into a full-fledged fight in the stands. There was a good deal of yelling and shouting and pushing, and not confined to just the two women.

LOVING, N.M. (AP) — Two men in a pickup truck were killed when their vehicle was involved in a head-on collision with a semi-truck near Loving. New Mexico State Police say 39-year-old Michael Ponce of Roswell and 60-year-old Fernando Garcia Martinez of Carlsbad were killed in Sunday's crash. The semi-truck had crossed the center line on U.S. 285 and side-swiped another semi-truck before the head-on collision with the pickup truck. Neither driver of the semi-trucks was injured. The crash is under investigation. Alcohol isn't believed to be a factor in the crash.

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — A northwest New Mexico community is considering using online fundraising to pay the $700,000 it owes from a lawsuit that stemmed from a dispute over a Ten Commandments monument that was formerly located outside of Bloomfield City Hall. The Farmington Daily Times reports the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 sided with a lower court that ordered the monument's removal, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution and represented a government endorsement of religion.

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico agency that regulates oil and natural gas development says it has a plan to start plugging more of the hundreds of abandoned wells located across the state. The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the state Oil Conservation Division is seeking to plug 41 wells on state land and 19 on private land during the current fiscal year. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the remediation of an abandoned well and the reclamation of the land costs about $100,000.

ALBQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Authorities say a sixth person has been arrested in connection with the robbery killing of an attendant at an Edgewood gas station along Interstate 40. The New Mexico State Police says 29-year-old Misty Nevarez was arrested Saturday in Albuquerque. She's booked into the Bernalillo County Detention Center on suspicion of first-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence. Five others were arrested previously in the Feb.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The nonprofit behind the nearly century-old Santa Fe Indian Market has appointed a new executive director. A spokeswoman for the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts says Ira Wilson will take the helm of the organization, replacing Dallin Maybee. Maybee, an artist and attorney, announced recently that he was stepping down from the position. The annual Santa Fe Indian Market in August has been touted as one of the nation's most prestigious art markets.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The city of Las Cruces soon will be dedicating what officials are billing as one of only a few monuments that focus solely on women veterans. The dedication ceremony for the collection of six life-sized bronze statues is planned for March 10 at Veterans Memorial Park in Las Cruces. The statues honor each branch of the military and their uniforms represent different eras. Officials say the special guests for the upcoming ceremony will include Captain Betty Somppi, a centenarian who served as an original member of the first Women Auxiliary Army Corp from 1942-1945.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A grand jury has indicted a New Mexico man on a count of first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend's stepson. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Thomas Wayne Ferguson, the lead suspect in the death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia, also has been indicted on kidnapping, child abuse, tampering with evidence and conspiracy charges. The boy's mother, Tracy Ann Pena, and Ferguson's 19-year-old son, Jordan Nunez, are also charged in the case. Court documents show a grand jury is expected to review evidence against them March 6.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Authorities say a New Mexico man who traveled to Austin to kill and rob two YouTube celebrities likely died of a self-inflicted gunshot after being confronted by police. The Travis County medical examiner's office says that Christopher Giles was struck by police fire on Jan. 26 but the preliminary determination is he died by suicide. Police say Giles shot out a glass door and entered the home of YouTube stars Gavin Free and Megan Turney after becoming infatuated with Turney and jealous of their relationship. The couple called Austin police while hiding in a closet.

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Susana Martinez has secured state funding to help shore up a giant cavern in southern New Mexico that is on the verge of collapse. The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports the Republican governor on Thursday signed into a law a bill that redirects a portion of the vehicle excise tax to generate $30 million over three years to address the brine well near Carlsbad. The cavity underneath the edge of the city was caused by the extraction of a salt formation.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has declined to say whether she will vote for the sole Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2018 elections. Martinez was asked Thursday at a news conference whether she will vote for Republican Congressman Steve Pearce to be the next governor. She said that she is not going to answer that question. Pearce is giving up a firm hold on New Mexico's southern congressional district to run for governor. Martinez cannot run for re-election in 2018 to a third term.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico House has approved a bill aimed at overhauling New Mexico's guardianship laws. House members voted late Wednesday for reforms designed to increase state oversight and public access to information regarding professional guardians and conservators who manage finances and care for vulnerable elderly and disabled people. The amended bill now moves back to the Senate. The measure includes more stringent reporting and financial accountability measures. It also requires that conservators be bonded or secure other asset-protection.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Legislature is wrapping up a 30-day session after approving a $6.3 billion budget bill that shores up spending on the criminal justice system and public education with pay raises allotted to teachers and state workers. The Democrat-led legislature has until noon on Thursday to approve legislation. New Mexico's rising crime rate has been a dominant concern of the legislative session.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Legal challenges against a federal contractor involved in a mine waste spill that polluted rivers in three Western states are being allowed to move forward. The New Mexico Attorney General's Office announced Wednesday that a federal judge is allowing the state's lawsuit and a similar claim brought by the Navajo Nation against contractor Environmental Restoration LLC to proceed. State officials say they're looking forward to working with the tribe to recoup damages done to the environment, the economy and cultural sites. Lawsuits also are pending against the U.S.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers have approved a measure that clears the way for the study of safe havens where people can inject drugs as states look for other ways to combat opioid overdoses. The proposal calls for a legislative committee to take testimony on the possible creation of clinics where people could shoot up under the supervision of medical professionals who could administer an overdose antidote if necessary. Injection sites are operating in Canada, Australia and around Europe. Philadelphia and Seattle also have plans for such sites. Rep.

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Latest on state budget negotiations in the New Mexico Statehouse (all times local): 8:10 p.m. The New Mexico Legislature has sent a $6.3 billion budget plan to the governor that would boost spending on public schools, the criminal justice system, roadways and Medicaid in the coming fiscal year. The House and Senate on Wednesday evening approved a compromise on disputed budge provisions. New Mexico governor Susana Martinez can veto the budget line-by-line or in its entirety.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A package of public safety bills has won approval in the New Mexico Senate, where it was both praised as a model for crafting bi-partisan criminal justice legislation moving forward and criticized for not going far enough in tackling the state's crime problem. Rising crime rates in New Mexico, and especially in Albuquerque, have put public safety at the center of legislative debates this year. The wide-ranging omnibus legislation approved in the Senate on Wednesday has gotten the most attention among proposed crime bills.