NM town angles for solutions as more die in the cold
An unidentified Gallup Police Department community service aide searches for people under a freeway underpass in Gallup last month. (Mary Hudetz/The Associated Press)
GALLUP – Carl Smith found his son’s body in a cold, open field not far from the Route 66 saloon where the 24-year-old had gone to drink. He was wearing a pair of lace-up boots, jeans and a familiar gray jacket.
Carl Smith, 51, stands in the parking lot of a now-shuttered saloon in Gallup, where he says his son had been drinking before his death from exposure in October 2009 in a field across the highway. (Mary Hudetz/The Associated Press)
“He and I were like one,” said the 51-year-old social worker and recovering alcoholic. “When I found him, I knelt down and I said, ‘Son, I’m really sorry.'”
The death of Calvin Smith, a Navajo jeweler, in October 2009 was part of a familiar pattern in the high-desert city of 22,000 people, where alcoholism and frigid winter temperatures produce a high number of deaths each year.
Fourteen people succumbed to the cold between October 2014 and April, setting the city’s hypothermia death rate at 64 deaths for every 100,000 people last year, authorities said. The rate far outpaced the national average of about 0.5 hypothermia deaths per 100,000 people.