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Much of northern and central New Mexico spent Thursday digging out from a winter storm that caused at least two fatal crashes on icy roads, shuttered major school districts and universities and brought Albuquerque trash collection and some bus service to a standstill.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has identified 31-year-old David Hunter as the victim of a truck rollover crash off Sandia Crest Road on Wednesday afternoon.
Hunter, a Metropolitan Detention Center sergeant, was also a member of MDC’s Corrections Emergency Response Team.
The Sheriff’s Office said the other individual in the truck was released from the hospital with minor injuries.
“The investigation into the crash is ongoing and in the preliminary stages,” the agency said in a release. “No additional information surrounding the investigation is available at this time.”
County crews recovered Hunter’s body from the snow-packed, icy crash site on Thursday. The truck was estimated to have fallen over 100 feet off the side of the mountain.
MDC Chief Greg Richardson said Hunter “will be greatly missed and never forgotten.”
“Those who knew Sgt. Hunter enjoyed his very dry sense of humor and sharing a laugh with him,” Richardson said. “Sgt. Hunter was never one to back down from a challenge or hard work and gave his full effort in everything he did. Sgt. Hunter was proud to be part of the elite team of CERT. Anytime his team was called into action, he was first to arrive and last to leave. Officers could always count on him having their backs in all situations.”
Commuters in the Albuquerque metro area faced hours-long drives home on Wednesday night as the frigid temperatures turned snowpacked roads into ice and even the smallest hills into major obstacles.
New Mexico State Police investigated a fatal crash Wednesday morning involving multiple vehicles on Interstate 40, just west of Santa Rosa.
The incident began when a semi-truck traveling east on I-40 rear-ended another semi-truck. Both male drivers, ages 62 and 35, were uninjured.
But then 11 more semi-trucks and three passenger cars in the eastbound lanes crashed into each other.
State Police said Florin Lordache, a 35-year-old from Romania, was in a van with five other people when the crash occurred.
Lordache sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the crash site.
State Police said the other five passengers, ranging in age from 13 to 39, were transported to an area hospital with unknown injuries.
Road conditions and inclement weather appear to have caused the crash.
The storm system began with a cold front on Monday night, said Todd Shoemake, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
“A much more substantial front coming from the Arctic slid down on Wednesday morning,” Shoemake said. “Then an upper-low disturbance came in and enveloped the eastern plains and spread into central New Mexico.”
After canceling Thursday classes, Albuquerque Public Schools planned to delay classes by two hours on Friday in anticipation of icy roads.
Rio Rancho Public Schools canceled classes on Thursday and Friday.
The Albuquerque Police Department responded to 48 crashes between 6 p.m. Wednesday and 5 a.m. Thursday, with three involving injuries.
Albuquerque deployed 35 snow plows and salt spreaders to clear the icy, snow-packed roads.
“We’re grateful for the preparedness of our city departments that worked to keep people safe and adjust to the changing weather,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a news release. “Supporting our community and our workforce so that folks can safely get the services they need is our top priority.”
Albuquerque closed all nonessential city offices and services on Thursday.
City residents who usually have trash, recycling and large items picked up on Thursday will be served on Friday this week. Friday customers will receive pickup on Saturday.
Albuquerque also ended some city bus routes early on Thursday.
Classes were canceled Thursday at the University of New Mexico’s Albuquerque and Rio Rancho campuses and at Central New Mexico Community College.
New Mexico state government offices were closed Thursday. But legislative business for the 30-day session continued at the Capitol.
The storm was exiting into Texas by Thursday evening, but chilly temperatures lingered.
Albuquerque is expected to have a low of 9 degrees on Friday, with a high of 34.
“It will probably be Tuesday of next week before we get more seasonal temperatures in the Albuquerque area,” Shoemake said. “There might be a few minor snow showers on Sunday night, but nothing like what we just went through.”
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.