Car crash kills principal, storytelling doctor passes, veteran honored
– 10 YEARS AGO – ‘Investigation into cause of N.M. 68 fatal crash underway’
By Chandra Johnson Dec. 4, 2008
Chandra Johnson focused this accident story on David Weaver, the Taos Police Department’s crash reconstructionist. (Weaver later served as Taos police chief from 2013 to 2016.)
That’s because this crash was unusual in both its complexity and its heart-wrenching tragedy: Six cars piled up at Pilar on State Road 68. The crash killed beloved former Ranchos Elementary principal Robert Benavidez, 58, and his three-year-old grandson Angelo, sent 10 others to the hospital, left three cars in flames at the side of the road and created a police investigation that lasted 16 hours at the scene.
One witness to the accident, Leslie Gomez of Taos said, “The only thing I remember is that it looked like a pinwheel. There was no place for those cars to go.”
At the time of Johnson’s report, not many details were known as to what went wrong although Weaver told her, “Due to two vehicles trying to pass, a chain-reaction collision occurred.” Alcohol was not a factor, he said.
Johnson then went on to explain the detailed job of the reconstructionist at the scene and for weeks after such a collision. As she put it, “To be a good reconstructionist, Weaver must be part patrolman, part physicist.”
At the scene he must identify, measure and photograph every mark at the scene. “Skid marks are especially revealing once Weaver has calculated the friction level of the roadway with a special scale,” she explained. “From there Weaver will do an inspection of each vehicle involved, taking paint transfers and measurements that help him discover the direction vehicles were struck and how fast the vehicle was likely going.”
For the mathematicians, here’s an intriguing fact Weaver shared: “A minimum speed for a vehicle accident is calculated as the square root of the length of the skid mark multiplied by other factors, (such as) friction level of the road and the number of wheels that locked up before impact.”
The take-away: Don’t try to pass on Pilar hill.
– 25 YEARS AGO – ‘Dr. Hawley says, ‘The end.’
By Kathy Córdova Dec. 2 1993
Dr. Robert L. Hawley’s obituary ran this week. He was chief pathologist at Holy Cross Hospital, but apparently most Taoseños had known him as a storyteller since 1975 when he and his family moved here from Kansas City, Missouri.
He authored “13 Tales from Taos” in collaboration with his children, Sylvia and Richard. He told his stories at the Harwood Children’s Library and the Taos Herb Shop for 18 years before the library was opened. His stories included his originals and classic tales that he gave his own touch. He also lectured adults on thematic storytelling at the Harwood Library.
He was an auxiliary member of the Hermanos Penitentes de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno of San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos and walked the 100-mile pilgrimage for vocations for 25 years.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio he went to college in Hawaii, medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and at the University of Colorado. He worked in and taught medicine at health care facilities
in Colorado and Kansas City and was a clinical professor at University of New Mexico Medical School in Albuquerque. He worked part-time at Holy Cross until his death.
Storytelling is still a lively tradition in Taos, celebrated every year at the Taos Storytelling Festival sponsored by SOMOS.
– 50 YEARS AGO – ‘Bronze Star for soldier’ Staff report
Nov. 28, 1968
It was to be only PFC John Paul Mondragon’s first Bronze Star when it was
announced in The Taos News this week. He went on to earn two more Bronze Stars plus the Purple Heart before he came home from the Vietnam War.
A member of Taos Pueblo, Mondragon had been in Vietnam for less than two months when he dragged two wounded soldiers to safety while under fire. He was serving as part of the Army’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry when his unit came under “intense” enemy attack.
He left his bunker and went to the perimeter to “engage “with the enemy. It was then that he saw the wounded soldiers. The award stated, “He continued in this manner until he saw two wounded men lying in an exposed area. With complete disregard for his own safety, he exposed himself to devastating enemy fire as he ran to the men, administered first aid and evacuated them to safety.”
Mondragon was in Vietnam nine months after the surprise Tet Offensive when North Vietnam surprised the South Vietnamese and their American allies by launching a surprise and widely coordinated attack during Vietnamese New Year Jan. 31, a time when the south was expecting a cease fire. That campaign kicked off some of the most ferocious and deadly fighting of the controversial war and in part spurred President Lyndon Johnson to announce he would not run for a second term in March 1968.
Back home, Mondragon later became part of Taos Pueblo’s Blue Lake Commemoration Color Guard only months before his death in September 2010.
Staff and parents mourn outside of Ranchos Elementary School in 2008 after learning principal Robert Benavidez had died in a car crash.
From left, Roger Claire McCord and John Paul Mondragon, 5th infantry regiment. Mondragon was awarded three bronze stars and a Purple Heart before he came home from Vietnam to Taos Pueblo.
From left, John Mondragon, Roger C. McCord (KIA) and Alexander Peoples (KIA).