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Editorial: Deputies turn I-40 crash site into ‘Hunger Games’

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In the best-selling book and movie “The Hunger Games,” contestants risk life and limb to recover items from a cornucopia. On Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque last weekend, bad samaritans did the same — but to steal items strewn across the freeway after a family of five survived a double rollover and was transported to University of New Mexico Hospital.

If this is how the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department secures a scene, the odds are not ever in a crash victim’s favor.

Scavengers reportedly swiped items belonging to the Tucker family, ranging from Christmas ornaments to ammunition, that were scattered across the interstate after the family’s truck blew a tire early Saturday during a move from California to Texas.

Amanda Tucker says “when we were getting ready to leave in the ambulance, (her husband) Keith asked whether someone should stay behind to pick up our stuff, but the deputy said they’d take care it.”

They didn’t. Two days later — after human vultures had already picked the scene virtually clean of up to $15,000 worth of Tucker belongings, some irreplaceable like Keith’s Marine Corps “challenge coins” — State Police called Eagle Towing to get someone out to the scene to pick up whatever was left at the crash site. It wasn’t much.

During much of this time Keith was being treated for a dislocated shoulder and hip. Six-year-old Mason for a broken right arm. And Amanda, 10-year-old Madison and 2-year-old Mahayla for cuts and bruises.

Amanda says she has filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office, and spokesman Deputy Aaron Williamson says the incident has triggered an internal investigation “and as such I am unable to comment on this incident at this time.”

But Amanda can. She says the sheriff’s office “should have had someone there” and “there’s nothing they can do now to make this better.”

She’s right. But going forward the department can ensure it doesn’t happen again. A drive through New Mexico shouldn’t include requiring injured crash victims to stumble about the desert, gathering their possessions like survivors in a post-apocalyptic film.

At a minimum, the sheriff’s department investigation should result in strict adherence to a standard operating procedure that safeguards the property of crash victims. And puts the odds of keeping their belongings back in their favor.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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