Questa man gets max, the year of rock slides and notable people join Blue Lake fight


- 10 years ago -

'Questa man gets max in girlfriend's death'

By Andy DennisonJan. 31- Feb.6, 2008

A district judged handed down a three-year prison sentence for a 37-year-old man from Questa because of a 2005 incident in which a person died in his vehicle because he failed to get the proper medical attention.

Bandon Bailón's sentence, which came with a two-year probation period in addition to the prison sentence, was the max he could get for the 2005 death of Victoria Byars. She was 47-years-old.

The judge, Abigail Aragón, noted Bailón's "lack of remorse" over the woman's death. "An animal would have received more consideration than what Victoria Byars got," she said during the trial.

Bailón "claimed that Byars fell out of his van late on the evening of Sept. 4, 2005, after a party in Questa," according to The Taos News. It would take another three hours before Byars was taken to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos. She was then transferred to a hospital in Farmington, where she died days later.

Bailón was also charged with tampering with evidence "that stemmed from [him] washing Byars' blood out of his van the same night," but he was acquitted on that charge. Nothing came of the drug charges also brought by the district attorney.

While Bailón's family called him a "good person" during his defense, Byars' daughter, Dion Gallegos, drew a distinct line between Bailón's time in prison and the family's life sentence "without our precious mother."

Bailón failed to surrender himself at the Taos County jail by Feb. 4 and later filed a motion to have his sentence reviewed, which the judge dismissed. In Nov. 2011, the courts filed to waive his probation and his voting rights were restored, according to court records of the case.

- 25 years ago -

'The rock slide'

By Jess WilliamsFeb. 11, 1993

The old State Road 570 was perilous to drive, barely big enough for the drivers of two small cars to pass by each other, breath held and eyes turned straight ahead.

On Feb. 3, 1993, about 57,000 tons of rock fell from the side of an embankment onto SR 570, closing the road to vehicles.

The unpaved state highway never reopened and these days has a new name: the "Slide Trail" at the end of County Road 110, one of the most popular trails in the Taos Valley Overlook area of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.

The powers-that-be let the rock slide stay where it was. It was estimated to take months to do geologic testing and make a long-term decision about the fate of the dirt-and-cliff highway.

With SR 570 out of commission, residents from west of the river had to drive through Pilar to get to Taos, or traverse the unpaved, "sometimes impassible" Rim Road that connects to US 64 and that was only an option during "good weather conditions." They could also head south through Española and back up the low road.

Locals and officials were mixed on the utility of SR 570 and whether it should have a future as a car-carrying thoroughfare.

Taos County EMS director Kevin Kierst told The Taos News, "I've always felt 570 was unimprovable. It's a really marginal route." State officials concurred, guessing that a fix to the route would cost at least $5 million, money that could better be spent elsewhere.

But residents west of the Río Grande had different opinions.

One local who wrote to the newspaper said, "One front-end loader could clean [SR 570] up in a day. What agencies and individuals have to sign off on the clean-up effort? Fire them. It's called down-sizing." At an April meeting hosted by the county manager at a campground in Orilla Verde, 70 Carson and Pilar residents shouted the county manager down from his boasting about improvements to hospitals. What good is that, they asked, if there's no road to get there?

Their concern wasn't hypothetical. Ambulance drivers concluded that closing SR 570 added 15 minutes to their response times, which not everyone was willing to wait around for; in June, a Carson resident drove his neighbor to the hospital after a motorcycle crash because he didn't trust emergency responders could make it in time.

Looking back, Taos could have marketed 1993 with a big banner across Paseo that read "Year of Rock Slides." The Bureau of Land Management was dealing with the shifting geology and ever-present threat of rock slides north of Velarde (hence the metal fences that keep rocks from falling into the highway). And when August rolled around -- on Friday the 13th, no less -- a big rainstorm flooded parts of the Taos area. Rock slides at the mouth of the Taos Canyon blocked the highway.

That road received a markedly different treatment than old 570. As cars and trucks backed up near the canyon, heavy equipment crews were quick to move the debris and get traffic moving.

- 50 years ago -

'Notables Join Indians In Blue Lake Struggle"

Staff reportFeb. 1, 1968

The Taos Pueblo effort to reclaim thousands of acres of their land from the federal government gathered some big-name support in the final years of the sustained legal struggle.

On Feb. 1, 1968, a national committee was formed to help Taos Pueblo win back tribal land. Mrs. Oliver LaFarge (Consuelo Otile Baca) of Santa Fe, the widow of the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Laughing Boy" headed the group.

She was joined by "an array of nationally known names," including John Wanamaker of Philadelphia; Bill Mauldin, a political cartoonist; the Most Rev. James Peter Davis, Archbishop of Santa Fe; Eliot Porter, conservationist and photographer; and S. P. Schwartz, a prominent New Mexico businessman, according to The Taos News.

The United State government seized tribal lands from Taos Pueblo in 1906, labeling the area a "forest reserve" and then the Carson National Forest. The forests were opened to some logging and recreation and included Blue Lake, a central feature in the tribe's Native religion.

"The tribe contends that the area has been subject to repeated desecrations and threatened by commercial exploitation under government ownership," the 1968 story read.

"This is not an Indian problem, but a question of national justice and honor," said LaFarge. "There is simply no reason that the rights of this small minority of first Americans should be infringed upon by a government bureaucracy when the land can be returned to its rightful owners without harming anyone," she said.

Several measures to return the forest around Blue Lake had been introduced to Congress but failed to make it to a vote. After more than a half-century of waging a legal battle over tribal land, President Richard Nixon signed Blue Lake and nearly 50,000 acres back to Taos Pueblo in 1970. The measure openly acknowledged the "injustice" of the government land grab at the turn of the century.