Word was still spreading Sunday about a beloved Aztec family killed Friday in a fiery crash near Cuba.
Jimmie and Melissa Crawford and their children Grant, 4, and Chace, 2, and the driver of a truck officers say smashed into them were pronounced dead at the scene just after 8 p.m.
The family was headed to Albuquerque for a weekend youth soccer tournament when Sandoval County sheriff’s deputies say a “large work truck” crossed into oncoming lanes on U.S. 550 about 15 miles south of Cuba hitting the Crawfords’ SUV head on. Three work truck passengers were injured.
Lt. Keith Elder said in a news release Saturday that investigators believe alcohol was a factor in the crash, but he didn’t specify on whose part. Friends and neighbors of the Crawfords, however, said neither drank nor used drugs.
Elder did not release any names of those involved in the crash.
But family and friends shared the news on social media and gathered together to endure the tragedy and support Melissa’s two older sons, who were not in the SUV that night and are staying with their father.
Deputies say the crash caused the Crawfords’ SUV to catch fire, and none of the occupants could escape.
Melissa, 40, was a stay-at-home mom, while Jimmie, 45, had recently retired from the Farmington Fire Department. The couple married about five years ago and had two children, a boy and a girl, making a large blended family that neighbor Charisse Teahan described as a “well-mannered, really nice family.”
She said that in addition to having “fantastic kids,” the family had backyard chickens, geese and rabbits, a garden and a pet dog, and would get together with neighbors to can food and make apple cider.
“We will miss them so much,” she said. “They were just the perfect family.”
She said the Crawfords were always ready to help. Melissa was constantly taking hot meals to people who needed them.
Jimmie’s friend Mark Casey, of Norton, Ohio, is reeling from the news of his longtime friend’s death.
“It’s so hard to talk about it in the past tense it’s not even real to me,” he said.
Casey met Jimmie through their love of dirt bike racing, and he traveled to visit Jimmie in New Mexico, often meeting up for races in Las Cruces.
“One year, I was going to fly into Albuquerque and was going to drive north to his fire department. He trailered his Toyota Tacoma truck … all the way to Albuquerque’s long-term parking so I wouldn’t have to rent a car. He did this and he didn’t tell me and he mailed me the keys,” Casey recalled Sunday evening. “I told him, ‘You could have just paid for my rental car,’ and he said, ‘But no friend of mine is driving a little Toyota Corolla rental car.’ I don’t know too many people that would take the time to do that.”
In addition to being a loyal friend, Jimmie was a wonderful storyteller who loved going on adventures and hated to sit still.
“He could tell a story about him eating a sandwich at Whataburger and it would be interesting,” his friend Matt Jonasson, of Las Cruces, said. Since retiring from the fire department, Jimmie had been working at a refinery. Jonasson said Jimmie took some time off after retirement, but “it drove him crazy, he had to get back to being busy.”
He never dated much because, friends said, he was holding out for the perfect person.
He found that in Melissa — the only person who matched him for kindness and positivity, friend said.
“She embraced Jimmie for all of his quirks,” Jonasson said. “She brought out even more happiness in Jimmie.”
Melissa’s mother, Sandra Bouren, said her family was thrilled when Melissa came home with Jimmie. “You just know when you meet a good guy,” Bouren said. “He was hardworking, very respected in the community, just a really decent person.”
Melissa was a talented runner who competed for Bloomfield High School and Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado. She’d worked as a teacher, but later decided to stay home with her kids, though she still volunteered in the schools.
“She always loved people,” Bouren said. “You could never walk out of her house without a bag of something, she was very giving.”
The close knit family was grappling with the loss on Sunday, the day after deputies delivered news of the crash. Bouren said Jimmie and Melissa were beloved in town, and visitors were stopping by over the weekend offering condolences.
“I’ve had people walk into my house I’ve never seen before,” Bouren said. “We’ve had an amazing amount of support.”
A family friend set up a GoFundMe account, Melissa & Jimmie Crawford Memorial, to help with funeral costs and support for the older boys. The fund raised nearly $10,000 in its first five hours.
Journal staff writer Maggie Shepard contributed to this report.