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Teacher’s passing a ‘great loss’ for Rio Rancho High

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A beloved former Rio Rancho High School science teacher who died on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 49 is being remembered by friends, family and colleagues for his compassion and ability to inspire students to get outside to experiment and observe.

Matthew Farley

Matthew Farley had been a science teacher, walking the RRHS hallways for 17 years until June 26, 2017, when his Volkswagen was rear-ended by a speeding, allegedly impaired driver while he was stopped for a red light at the intersection of Academy and Eubank NE in Albuquerque.

He was rushed to a hospital in critical condition and remained in a coma until eventually succumbing to traumatic brain injuries nearly 17 months later. He leaves behind his wife of 17 years, Karen, and the couple’s two sons, Collin and Gavin.

A 53-year-old Albuquerque woman has been indicted on multiple charges in connection to the crash.

Just 16 days before he passed away, Farley had been chosen by the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico to receive the New Mexico Outstanding Environmental Educator award for 2018.

That nomination was for the person many considered to be, as the award noted, a “nature explorer extraordinaire, who inspired his students to get outside and experiment, measure, observe, examine, test, gather and play in the Rio Grande.”

During his career at RRHS, he played a key role in the development of the successful series of Advanced Placement environmental science and zoology courses there.

“Exceptional teacher. Great loss. A long-standing member of the SciMatics Academy family,” texted Russ Fisher-Ives, a former science teacher at RRHS.

RRHS colleague Jennifer Miyashiro penned on the school’s website: “He originally came to New Mexico to work at the Albuquerque BioPark (aquarium) but then – to our great fortune – turned his sights to teaching. Many students remember him as the compassionate, patient, enthusiastic and relatable Zoology and AP Environmental Science teacher who kept a menagerie of animals in his classroom and who took his students on eye-opening field trips to the Rio Grande bosque. … He was an irreplaceable member of the science department and he is sorely missed by his ‘Ram Family.’ ”

The District Attorney’s Office said Carol Sanchez, who was indicted in April on multiple charges connected to the crash, could face more serious charges in the wake of Farley’s death.

She already is charged with great bodily harm by vehicle, driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, possession of a methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, and leaving the scene of an accident.

Sanchez was driving south on Eubank when she rear-ended Farley’s vehicle, which then struck other nearby vehicles, causing a six-vehicle collision, according to a police report. Multiple people, including Farley and Sanchez, were taken to a local hospital after the wreck.

The police said in their initial crash report that Sanchez disregarded traffic signals and was inattentive. The police also said excessive speed was a contributing factor to the crash.

APD officers investigate the multi-car accident at Eubank and Academy NE on June 26, 2017, that left a Rio Rancho teacher comatose for 17 months before dying on Thanksgiving. Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal

According to a court filing, Sanchez’s attorney said she was having a seizure, which caused the crash.

A toxicology screen found traces of amphetamines, methamphetamines and antidepressants, and seizure medication in her system, according to court documents.

“Prosecutors have been in contact with the family since opening the case and the plan was to not be in a rush to indict due to the condition of Matthew,” said Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office. “At the time, he was in a vegetative state and if he took a turn for the worse, it would impact how we would charge the case.”

RRHS English teacher Leslie Keeney said she, Farley, and teachers Jennifer Miyashiro and Teresa Walker “were a close-knit group for the past 17 years, eating lunch together almost every Tuesday, among other times we spent together.”

Added her husband, Rob, also a longtime teacher at RRHS, “Matt was the kind of person who always did things right. He was kind to his students, staff at the school, parents and everyone he met. And his concern was real. He was truly interested in how someone’s day was. Not just to be polite, but because he genuinely cared about them. He shared in their joys and their sorrows in a way so rare in this world of ours.”

“Matt Farley is one of the best teachers I have had the honor to work with. He loved what he taught and he loved that he got to teach it to the next generation,” Miyashiro added.

One of his former students recalled Farley as outgoing and caring.

“There are always many students in a school that have no place to go, and Mr. Farley seemed to have room in his heart for all of us,” said Cole Holderman, RRHS Class of 2015 valedictorian who is due to graduate from Stanford University in May. “After riding my bike to school early in the mornings, I would lay down in the hallway and try to get a little bit more sleep before the school day began. Without fail, Mr. Farley was always among one of the first teachers to arrive and many of my days started with a conversation with him.”

“Yes, he was a very popular teacher and is missed daily,” RRHS Principal Sherri Carver said. “Such a tragedy!”

Journal staff writer Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.