Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Matthew Luxon’s job as a security guard supervisor at the National Hispanic Cultural Center has gone up in smoke, just like the “simulated doobies” he and a friend allegedly tried to smoke in the center’s Performing Arts Building.
Authorities say they ended up setting a small fire in a mechanical room. That and the ensuing sprinkler system activation ended up causing half a million dollars in damage at the center earlier this month.
Authorities allege that a series of bad decisions landed 26-year-old Luxon in his predicament – from ditching work and smoking to lying to an alarm company about the fact that sprinklers were going.
Luxon is charged with negligent arson, conspiracy and tampering with evidence, all fourth-degree felonies. His friend, 29-year-old Lyle Thompson, is also charged with negligent arson and conspiracy. Neither has a criminal history in New Mexico, according to online court records.
At a Wednesday morning news conference, Mark Torres, special agent in charge with the state Office of Superintendent of Insurance, ticked off the events that led him to charge Luxon, the center’s on-duty security guard.
Torres said it all started when Luxon’s two friends were in town for the weekend and he skipped out on his graveyard shift to go drinking Downtown. Then, Torres said, around 2:30 a.m. on March 10, Luxon took his friends back to the center, at Fourth and Bridge SW.
Things began to escalate from there.
Torres said the group was hanging out in an office when the gun Luxon carries for work accidentally discharged, piercing the building’s walls. So they went to the Roy E. Disney Performing Arts Center’s second-floor balcony, where they fired several more rounds into the adjacent bosque.
Torres said the trio wanted to get onto the roof, so they tried to do so by going through the mechanical room. When that didn’t work, they remained in the room and began playing with “simulated cigars or simulated doobies” they had formed out of plants and receipts from the night’s bar hopping.
“They were smoking paper and weeds – literally weeds – and they began coughing,” Torres said. “During that coughing episode, the cigarettes fell out of their hands, igniting paper which ignited the room on fire.”
Neither Luxon nor Thompson has been arrested, but they will be summoned to appear at a hearing. The second friend has not been charged because, Torres said, she was not there when the fire started. She has not been publicly identified.
Officials say Luxon had been working as a contract employee at the center for two years and was recently hired by the state on a probationary period.
Torres said the alarm company had called Luxon’s phone to see why the fire sprinklers had engaged, but he told them it was under maintenance and not to call the fire department.
“If he would have simply not answered the phone, the emergency process would have been initiated and Albuquerque Fire Rescue has told me they have been on scene within 10 minutes,” he said.
Instead, the sprinklers remained running for the next several hours, soaking through the floor of the mechanical room and down to the first floor of the performing arts center, which had about 4 inches of standing water when the next guard reported for duty. Several dressing rooms were damaged, and employees were displaced from their offices.
“Not until 8:30 a.m. when the new security guard took over the shift is when they were able to locate the damage, and call out Albuquerque Fire Rescue to shut off the water and the suppression system,” Torres said.
By then, Luxon was gone.
He did not show up for work again and has since been fired.
Luxon was found in Northeast Albuquerque and interviewed, and OSI’s special agents went to Gallup to track down his friend Thompson of Tohatchi.
Alberto Cuessy, the NHCC acting executive director, said that as a supervisor, Luxon was authorized to carry his gun at work.
“The events of March 10 have been felt deeply here at the center, and we are saddened by the results of the investigation,” Cuessy said. “There were no indications the employee charged in this matter was capable of these actions nor any history that would have raised concerns.”
The National Hispanic Cultural Center is a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and hosts more than 700 events a year. The fire and flooding affected only the Disney Performing Arts Center.
Several performances have had to be canceled or moved due to the damage to the building.
Officials initially estimated the damage to be $1.5 million, but have since said it was about $500,000. However, that estimate doesn’t include lost revenue from displaced performances.
Cuessy said it will be several weeks before the Performing Arts Center is back in full operation, but parts of it are open now, including the box office, the Wells Fargo Auditorium and the Bank of America Theatre.