Santa Fe officers, civilians honored for valor
Five Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies trekked through woodlands in pitch darkness and near freezing temperatures one night in early October in search of woman who needed aid.
The calls had begun coming in shortly after 11 p.m. Residents of a northeast-side neighborhood off Hyde Park Road reported they had heard a woman yelling “help me” from a nearby mountain ridge.
According to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, the five deputies and a resident spotted her location in the distance as she used a flashlight to create a distress signal. Assisted by a New Mexico State Police officer, the deputies hiked for more than an hour through treacherous terrain and finally found the woman unconscious near a downed tree on a mountainside. She was wearing only a T-shirt, jeans and sandals.
By around 2:30 the following morning, as their flashlight batteries were wearing out, the deputies had brought the woman down the mountain, and she was treated at a local hospital.
Those deputies, along with two civilians and a Santa Fe police officer, were honored last week as paramount examples of what it means to protect and serve their communities.
At an annual Medal of Valor ceremony hosted by the nonprofit Santa Fe Crime Stoppers, Deputies Oliver McCartney, Jose Talache, Maria Hernandez, Edgar Madrid and Jeremy Duran,Santa Fe police Officer Gerardo Guerrero and residents Eric Montoya and Nick Vargas were honored for their efforts.
Montoya and Vargas are credited with aiding Guerrero — and potentially saving the officer’s life — as he worked to arrest a man attempting to carjack a state government vehicle at a gas station.
Guerrero had found 26-year-old Robert Noedel sleeping in a stolen vehicle in the South Capitol area the afternoon of July 17, and arrested him. As they were headed down Cerrillos Road in Guerrero’s patrol car, with Noedel in the back seat, the unexpected happened.
Noedel escaped the moving vehicle, uncuffed, and fled from the officer.
Police said Noedel had complained to Guerrero that he felt sick. When Guerrero rolled down the rear window, Noedel, who had managed to remove his handcuffs, reached through the window bars, opened the door, and fled on foot to a Giant gas station at Cerrillos Road and Baca Street.
There, Noedel tried to steal another vehicle from a state worker, police said. Guerrero ran to the passenger-side door of the car, while Vargas, trying to help the officer, held open the driver’s-side door. Noedel fled again.
Guerrero hit Noedel with a Taser, but Noedel pulled the probes from his body and ran to the yard of a nearby residence. During a struggle with Guerrero, Noedel tried to pull the officer’s pistol from its holster, according to police, and a shot was fired, hitting the officer’s holster.
Montoya then ran over to intercede, holding Noedel until more officers arrived and took him into custody, police said.
Noedel, now 27, has an extensive criminal record. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in January, court records show.
“That was an exceptional case, with civilians helping law enforcement,” Santa Fe Crime Stoppers President David C’de Baca told The New Mexican. “It could have turned really nasty. We wanted to show our appreciation.”
Three other Medal of Valor nominees also were honored Thursday: Santa Fe police Officers Dianna Conklin, Lindsey Lewin and Amanda Esquibel were heralded for their bravery and skill in two other risky incidents.
On July 27, Esquibel pursued a vehicle that had been stolen earlier in the day from a Cerrillos Road Motel 6 with a 3-year-old girl inside, police said. The chase continued across the city, police said, with 37-year-old William Vigil recklessly jumping curbs until he stopped in a driveway and fled.
The child was found crying but uninjured and was returned to her parents, and Vigil was arrested after being found hiding in a backyard, according to police.
Court records show Vigil, who has a lengthy criminal history, took a plea deal in the case earlier this month. Vigil agreed to plead guilty to charges of aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, and faces between one and four years in prison.
In another case, police said Conklin and Lewin were called to a restaurant north of the downtown area the night of Oct. 12 because a patron who hadn’t paid her bill was driving erratically in the parking lot.
What began as an attempt to talk with the driver, 46-year-old Carolyn Mills, turned potentially deadly when Mills repeatedly drove at the officers, screaming at them through an open window as they ran for cover behind a tree, police said.
Conklin drew her pistol and ordered the driver to stop, police said, but did not fire out of concern that there were other customers in the parking lot. Mills eventually sped away, with Conklin and Lewin in pursuit, according to police. Mills, who appeared to be intoxicated, led the officers to Old Santa Fe Trail, where she drove head-on into another vehicle, causing minor injuries to a man and a woman.
Conklin and Lewin pulled Mills from her own vehicle as it caught fire, according to police.
Mills, who was convicted of aggravated DWI in 2015, according to court records, was booked on eight charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, fleeing a law enforcement officer, driving under the influence and reckless driving.
The charges were dismissed in December, however, because state prosecutors did not move forward with the case on time, court records show.
Crime Stoppers, which raises money to support law enforcement causes, recently helped in the arrest of a teen who had eluded Santa Fe police for more than a week after he was accused of shooting his mother’s boyfriend, who later died.
Following the April 29 shooting of 39-year-old Ricardo Magana, Hunter Woods fled the family apartment in his mother’s car, according to police. Crime Stoppers offered a $1,000 reward for information about Woods’ whereabouts, and May 7, a telephone tip to the organization’s hotline led to Woods’ arrest, according to a police affidavit.
“We were lucky to get that tip and it worked, and I’m glad it did,” C’de Baca said. “It got him off the street.”