2009: A look at the year's top stories

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By The Staff

Unlike in years past, Optic readers got to select the top stories for the year 2009, and the results reveal considerable correlation with selections of the Optic’s editorial staff, which elected this year to let subscribers decide.

Topping the list was the multiple homicides in the Las Vegas area over the last year.

Not surprisingly, Robertson High School dominated much of the list, placing three sex-related news stories in the top 10. Across the Gallinas, West Las Vegas Schools drew the fifth and 10th-rated stories, according to readers; crime, utilities and politics comprised the rest of the top 10. Readers voted for the top 10 stories, including nominations of their own, with a No. 1 rating receiving 10 points, a No. 2 rating receiving 9 points, and so on.

Earlier this month, the Optic featured full-page pullout sheets for voters to select the top stories and to nominate some of their own.    

As with any consideration of “top stories,” the Optic staff realizes that major stories don’t necessarily have a starting and ending date; the repercussions of criminal behavior, for example, might not be manifested until months — sometimes years — after the fact.

The top three stories were separated by only three votes. Here, then are the top stories in order, as selected by readers:

1 The city reels from multiple homicides, creating a rate, it is estimated, several times the national average. Perhaps the most heart wrenching of the homicides in recent times was that a 6-year-old girl, Jasmine Garcia, who was shot while she slept at home in the summer of 2008. Then, in the fall of 2009, David Levi Chavez was convicted of the killing.

In August, Natividad Steve Roybal was accused of killing Terry Greer near Camp Luna. She allegedly died after Roybal hit her with a rock.

In September, Kevin Duran was shot to death outside his home on Chavez Street. Arrested was Louie Benavidez.

In November, Benito Lemos was fatally shot in an apparent road-rage incident at 12th Street and National Avenue. Richard Baca was arrested.

According to the FBI’s crime statistics, the national average for murders in the U.S. is 5.4 per 100,000 in population per year. Las Vegas has a population of under 15,000. Based on the national average, Las Vegas would have less than one murder per year. But since May 2007, the Las Vegas area has been the scene of at least 10 homicides.

That’s about five times the national average. By comparison, that’s about the same murder rate, per capita, as Detroit.

2 At least 16 wells have gone dry in the Ojitos Frios subdivision southwest of town. This story, concerning the need for some subdivision residents to acquire their own storage tanks because of the wells going dry, was only two votes from first place.

For years, the residents have blamed the city’s increased pumping at Taylor Wells for their water struggles. Most of the city’s water comes from the Gallinas River, but it uses Taylor Wells as a supplement.

These days, some of the residents are using water from their rain-harvesting systems. They have explored ways to truck water into their subdivision.  

3Even though the incidence of hazing-out-of-control, involving members of the Robertson High School Cardinals football team, occurred in the fall of 2008, some of the after-effects remained high in the public’s mind, with numerous court hearings, pleas and sentencing and dispositions making the news in 2009. In addition, RHS principal Richard Lopez resigned in light of allegations of sexual harassment; longtime teacher Jay Quintana faces multiple charges of having sex with a female student; and a counselor and a cheerleading sponsor have been suspended amid charges of “inappropriate” behavior.

Quintana was accused of having sex multiple times with a female student over a number of years, while Lopez allegedly harassed a job applicant. Authorities haven’t discussed the nature of the allegations against the counselor and cheerleading coach. However, a criminal investigation into the coach was closed, with the local police chief saying her actions didn’t rise to the level of a crime.

4 Earlier this year, the New Mexico attorney general sided with the Optic over the release of public records. The newspaper’s stance was that city e-mails were public information, whereas city officials contended they were private.

The Optic requested the e-mails between a quorum of City Council members in the spring. But the city denied that request, saying it didn’t have them, even though City Attorney Carlos Quiñones was copied in on many of them. He has since resigned.

Although the Optic got the e-mails in question from another source, the newspaper filed a complaint with the state attorney general. In that process, Quiñones acknowledged that the mayor had the e-mails on his private e-mail account. The AG then found that the city had a duty to release those e-mails, even if they were on a private account.

The city then did so. Earlier in the process, Quiñones once told an Optic reporter the paper was “full of s---” in its stories containing criticism of the city’s withholding of the e-mails — something he apparently didn’t tell the AG.

Despite the loss, Quiñones told the council in a confidential memo that someone on the council couldn’t be trusted because the Optic had already received the e-mails. He asked the council about what action it should take. The council didn’t do anything about it.

5 Roberta Vigil, the former bilingual director at West Las Vegas, was convicted of improper use of bilingual program funds for a nearly $10,000 invitation-only, adults-only party, which came to light after a 2006 Optic investigation.

Roberta Vigil is the wife of state Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera, who was instrumental in securing funds for his wife’s program. In addition, Ralph Garcia, a school board member for almost three decades, was cleared in connection with his having catered the bilingual bash, while a board member.

A jury found Roberta Vigil guilty after a week-long trial. Vigil, who didn’t have a prior criminal record, was later sentenced to probation.

6 Victims of the assaults at a training camp, in which members of the Cardinals football team were sodomized with broomsticks, claim coaches at the camp were aware of the assaults. Lawyers for the defense attempted to point out inconsistencies in the victims’ statements.

Prosecutors later dropped charges against the coaches, the superintendent and the athletic director for their allegedly not doing enough to stop abuse during the camp.

Two of the football suspects have entered plea deals with prosecutors, while the four others are set to go on trial this year.

7 As former Robertson principal Richard Lopez and teacher Jay Quintana face sex allegations, information surfaced that others may have known about the alleged incidents. And shortly after Superintendent Richard Romero dismissed Jay Quintana, LeeEtte Quintana, assistant superintendent and also the wife of Jay Quintana, circulated a petition requesting that Jay Quintana be reinstated. She reportedly asked subordinates to sign the petition, an activity that Romero frowned upon.

The lawyer for Lopez’s alleged victim reported that his client had gone to one of the school board members.

Las Vegas City Schools board member Philip Leger acknowledged that he had spoken to Lopez’s alleged victim. Leger said he told the victim to speak to Superintendent Romero and explain the situation to him.

Leger said she didn’t say “harassment,” but rather said she didn’t feel comfortable interviewing with Lopez after what had happened to her the first time.

“I told her ‘I knew that she had problems the first time. Hopefully, it won’t happen again, but I would suggest you talk to Mr. Romero and explain the situation to him,’” Leger said.

Leger said he also called Romero directly and explained the situation to him.

8 Benito Lemos, a former RHS standout football player, was shot and killed near 12th Street and National Avenue. The shooting, reportedly the result of a near-collision in traffic, left the 22-year-old Lemos dead, with three shots to his chest. The suspect, charged with an open count of murder, is Richard Baca, 21.

The murder galvanized the community, with Mayor Tony Marquez forming an anti-crime task force. Hundreds attended Lemos’ funeral.

9 Another facelift for the Plaza is the opening of the Ilfeld Building, adjoining the Plaza Hotel, and including a large ballroom. Already the renovated room has become a popular spot for dances, plays and other events.  

10 A recent report from the Legislative Finance Committee determined that the West Las Vegas school district is among the most top-heavy in the state. The report revealed that West and a handful of other districts spend a disproportionate amount of their budget on administration and have an inordinately high administration-to-teacher ratio. West Las Vegas was considered the most top heavy in administration. The East school district was criticized in the report as well, though not as severely as West.

School board member Caroline Lopez said the district should take seriously the report, contending it indicated severe problems. She was part of a school board faction that had become increasingly critical of Superintendent Jim Abreu’s performance.