Year in Review: The most important news stories of 2017


Here are our top picks for the most important local news stories of 2017.

'Stunned by shootings: String of murders rattles Northern New Mexico'

By John Miller

June 22, 2017

At the end of the day on June 15, Damian Herrera's mother, stepfather, younger brother and two strangers, including a longtime Carson National Forest archeologist, had suffered fatal gunshot wounds, all allegedly at the hands of Herrera, who stands accused of one of the worst shooting sprees to take place in New Mexico in decades.

For many New Mexico residents, it is a date that has been cemented as a reminder of the possibility of extreme violence to emerge in the seemingly most impossible places, perpetrated by people they otherwise knew to be quiet and non-violent.

Following his arrest, Herrera allegedly attempted to escape from the Rio Arriba County jail, locked a jailer in his cell and assaulted another guard with a flashlight. A jury selection has been set for June 18 in Rio Arriba County. Another trial is expected to take place in Taos County, but a date has not yet been set.

'New barriers installed near gorge bridge under cover of darkness'

By Jesse Moya

September 15, 2017

After a visitor was badly injured at the Río Grande Gorge Bridge by a speeding driver, officials decided it was time to prevent vendors from setting up next to the highway across the bridge. Vendors who normally set up at the gorge bridge to sell their goods were met with an army of concrete barricades blocking them off from their usual spots. During the night, the New Mexico Department of Transportation placed more than 100 barriers preventing the vendors from setting up in spots they have used for years. Some of the vendors took matters into their own hands and moved some of the barriers, so they could set up and customers could purchase goods.

'BLM greenlights pipeline reroute through Río Grande Gorge'

By Cody Hooks

May 4, 2017

The local office of the Bureau of Land Management gave New Mexico Gas Company the OK to undertake an extensive renovation of the only natural gas pipeline coming into Taos County. The plan had been talked about for a couple of years and residents in Dixon, the most populated area affected by construction in the Rio Grande Gorge, helped craft the route eventually selected. Work began in August and soon thereafter the two-lane highway through the gorge was choked down to one lane. Even with a lack of snow and above-average temperatures, the gas company's contractors didn't finish by the proposed November deadline. They will begin work again in the new year.

'Short Term rentals: plague or plus?'

By Jesse Moya

November 30, 2017

In a town like Taos, short-term rentals are seen by many hosts as a way to make a few extra dollars per month by renting them out on Airbnb and other lodging and travel websites. The boom in the past few years has some in Taos rethinking their position on the properties and has caused the Town of Taos to enact an ordinance regulating such short-term rentals. Some in the town limits have even alleged the properties are reducing the number of long-term rental properties available and driving up monthly rental rates.

'We felt lost without our brother': Body discovered in Río Grande Gorge may be missing Arroyo Hondo man

By John Miller

Nov. 9, 2017

Frankie Martin, a wildland firefighter and dishwasher of Navajo descent, led a relatively quiet life in Taos County, but when he went missing on a spring day in 2016, his name became widely known to law enforcement, investigators and other area residents.

The combined relief and sadness that followed when authorities reported they had discovered a body, believed to be Martin's, on Oct. 24, was also widespread. While Martin's sisters and mother believe they have likely found some closure, authorities are still waiting for a positive confirmation that the body is in fact that of Frankie Martin, one of at least two Taos County residents that went missing in 2016.

'More than a dozen abusive clergy served local parishes'

By Cody Hooks

September 21, 2017

In a surprise move in early September, the Roman Catholic Church's Archdiocese of Santa Fe released the list of 74 priests, deacons and brothers who had been found guilty of sexually abusing minors. The list of priests isn't comprehensive and is scant on details, but it is largely considered a step in the right direction of transparency and accountability and a way for abuse survivors to heal.

An extensive search of The Taos News archives revealed at least 14 of the named clergy were from or served in Taos County parishes, including those in Questa, Peñasco, Taos, Ranchos de Taos and Arroyo Seco. Vincent Lipinski and Michael O'Brien, the founder of the Pilgrimage for Vocations and a well-liked priest throughout Taos County, were among the more well-known priests.

'Town council approves 3-story hotel'

By Jesse Moya

August 24, 2017

More than a year of debate over a four-story Holiday Inn Express came to an end as the town of Taos council unanimously approved the plans for a three-story hotel in Taos. Developer Jay Batra asked the town council to consider a three-story model after hearing the opinions and concerns of the public. He later returned to the council with the revised plans. Several members of the community spoke out in favor and against the hotel.

'Herbicides near Río Grande raise ire of local farmers'

By Cody Hooks

July 6, 2017

After a farmer who lives near Embudo was sprayed in the face with a potent cocktail of three different herbicides in June, farmers in northern Río Arriba County led the charge to get the state to quit spraying herbicides near the banks of the Rio Grande where they raise families, fruit and other crops. Employees and representatives of the state Department of Transportation sat down with the community in September to talk about the issue but stopped short of meeting the community's demand: an end to spraying herbicides in their community.

Locals are hopeful they can keep the momentum going and eventually work with the department to lessen their reliance on herbicides across New Mexico.

'Now Hiring: Local businesses say finding reliable work a challenge'

By Jesse Moya

October 5, 2017

Businesses in Taos are constantly searching for reliable employment that they say just isn't there most of the time. Many of the business owners cite several factors, such as drug and alcohol use, as reasons, but others are looking at a lack of a skilled workforce. Educated youth in Taos often leave and look for opportunity elsewhere due to the lack of opportunity in their fields. Those that stay scrape by on jobs that, though they pay more than minimum wage, aren't enough to cover the high cost of living in Taos.

'Río Grande del Norte dragged into monument debate'

By Cody Hooks

May 4, 2017

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument entered the national spotlight this spring after President Donald J. Trump announced 27 national monuments would be under review for possible alteration. New Mexico's U.S. senators, along with environmental groups, say the president lacks the authority to follow through on his plans; they also lambasted the department for using false information in its reveiw. One national analysis found that 98 percent of comments submitted to the Department of Interior about Taos' monument were supportive and asked that it be left alone. Nonetheless, when the department's final report came out in December, it recommended partially handing control of the monument over to a tribe (without naming Taos Pueblo) and potentially changing the designation.

'Alleged shooter charged with murder'

By John Miller

Feb. 23, 2017

Brandon Lopez allegedly pulled a pistol and fired several shots during a dispute with a group of people at the Shell gas station on the south end of Taos on Feb. 3, striking a young Taos mother, 23-year-old Destiny Valdez, in the head. The announcement in a Taos courtroom on Feb. 7 that the young woman had been taken off life support was a sobering moment for all, including the defendant, who hung his head in tears.

Lopez was charged with eight felony charges, including first-degree murder, and is scheduled to appear at trial on Jan. 22, 2018 in Taos District Court.

'Chicanos, Aztlán and the Tierra Amarilla courthouse raid'

By Cody Hooks and Jesse Moya

June 8 2017

For the 50-year anniversary of the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse raid, Taos News reporters Cody Hooks and Jesse Moya sit down with Enriqueta Vasquez to get her story of the times leading up to and following the historic debate over land rights in New Mexico. Many during the Chicano uprising in the 1960s felt an unequal division of privilege with signs that read "no dogs or Mexicans allowed" on several businesses and decided to build an identity of their own. Vasquez recalls the influence Reyes "El Tigre" Tijerina had on her friends, family and collegues of the day.