The night before Alex Montoya and Cochise Bayhan died, Denise Encinias says she gave them their medications at 8:30 p.m. and asked them to put on their pajamas.
The two had been staying in an outbuilding behind the Encinias home.
Encinias said she went back to the “apartment” at about 10 p.m. to tell Montoya, 61, and Bayhan, 56, to go to bed. The two were relaxing on a couch.
A little more than four hours later — about 2 a.m. on Oct. 24 — Encinias’ husband, Joe, woke up to use the bathroom and noticed that the lights inside the apartment were still on, so he went to check on the two men who had been released from the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute just three weeks earlier.
Joe Encinias rushed back to wake up Denise Encinias and tell her that their boarders weren’t breathing. When she went to see, she noticed that the two men were in the same position they had been in when she asked them to go to bed.
They ran back to their house and called 911, and Encinias said they were frantically trying to figure out what had happened, wondering what they might have ingested.
Emergency personnel from the fire department rushed to the home on Ning Road, just off Harlan Road, but it was too late. Montoya and Bayhan were dead.
Emergency responders immediately suspected carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that can be fatal. The fire department measured carbon monoxide levels inside the structure at 183 parts per million. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, sustained carbon monoxide concentrations above 150 to 200 parts per million can cause disorientation, unconsciousness and even death.
State police are investigating the deaths.
“I cry every day,” Denise Encinias said during an interview at her home on Monday. “I did everything for them out of the goodness of my heart.”
An emotional Encinias said people who don’t even know her or her family are judging them, calling them murderers, and she said that’s not fair.
She said a boarding home is only required to provide food and shelter to its clients. She said she went above and beyond, taking her clients to doctors appointments, for flu and pneumonia shots and assorted other things.
“I did everything possible for them,” she said, tears running down her face.
Should be licensed
Still, the deaths have advocates for the mentally ill renewing their calls for reforms in how New Mexico regulates boarding homes for the mentally ill.
Shela Silverman, director of Mental Health Association of New Mexico, said all boarding homes for the mentally ill should be licensed and regulated to ensure that they provide a minimum quality of care for the individuals they’re taking in.
In exchange for housing and feeding clients, boarding homes often receive a large portion of their clients’ monthly SSI checks.
Under current state law, residential care facilities providing “health care services” are licensed and regulated.
But many boarding homes, like the one operated by the Encinias family, are not licensed or regulated by the state or federal government.
“I’ve always said, it’s going to take some deaths before anyone is going to get interested,” Silverman said.
Small wood structure
Montoya and Bayhan had moved into the outbuilding behind the Encinias single-wide mobile home three weeks before their deaths, although Montoya had stayed there previously.
Encinias said she and her husband had purchased the small wood structure from Floyd’s Rental recently after seeing a sign that it could be used as an office building. The structure, which the Encinias family refers to as an apartment, has plumbing, Encinias said. She said an electric heater being used wasn’t getting the apartment warm enough, so about three days before Montoya and Bayhan died, the Enciniases installed a propane heater that Joe Encinias’ friend had given them.
Denise Encinias said the propane heater was vented, and the propane tanks were outside. She said the only thing they didn’t do was call the gas company.
Encinias said she and her family still have another boarder who lives in another structure behind their home.
She said she has a handicapped daughter and is always at home, so about four months ago, she and her husband decided to open a boarding home.
She said they wanted to help people and to get ahead in life.
“I didn’t bring them to hurt them; I brought them to take care of them,” she said. Encinias said she hopes to continue taking care of boarders.
“I’m a good person,” she said. “The people that know me know who we are. Get to know us before you judge us.”