ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For years, Brian Lang had walked his dogs along the drainage ditch behind his house in Bernalillo.
So when he and a friend disappeared on March 1, sheriff’s deputies checked the ditch area. That’s where they found an ominous sign – Lang and his friend, Christopher Holland, had left clothing on the ditch bank. It looked like they’d jumped in.
After midnight, sheriff’s deputies found the men dead in the ice-cold water downstream near U.S. 550, the main road that runs through Bernalillo.
Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Keith Elder said he believes Lang’s dog either fell or jumped into the ditch, and Lang, 59, followed in an attempt to save the dog. Holland, 52, then jumped in to try to save Lang. Neither the dog nor the men made it out.
“It appears both men got into the water, and because of the fast running water they misjudged, they were not able to get back out and they got hypothermia and drowned,” Elder said.
Lang was an accomplished wildlife biologist who had worked for two decades with the state’s Department of Game and Fish, according to his friends. He loved talking about wildlife and once took pride in discovering a new species of snail, friends said.
Holland was Lang’s friend and rented his back casita. Holland’s family couldn’t be reached Tuesday.
Lang was an avid soccer player and coached Bernalillo High School students in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Paul Madrid coached soccer with Lang and said he was obsessed with the sport. When Madrid’s daughter was born, Lang didn’t take diapers or clothing – he took as a gift her first soccer ball.
He was so excited about World Cup games, which usually are played in different time zones, that he held 3:30 a.m. cookouts to watch them.
“You could find him at the high school running sprints; you could find him at the track,” Madrid said. “He always had a ball around him.”
Tony Parana, another friend, said Lang had warned him about the dangers of the ditches, but Madrid said Lang had jumped into them before with no problems.
“Brian was a phenomenal athlete,” Madrid said. “How in the world did he not get out?”
Elder said the ditches don’t look as dangerous as they are.
He said the water is near freezing this time of year and is often running more quickly than it appears, and there’s usually no easy way to climb out of a ditch.
“That canal has very steep walls. They probably tried to get out once they found they were in swift water,” Elder said. “But the ditches don’t have a method for people to self-rescue easily.”
The ditch the two men were found in has water running in it year-round, Elder said.
Parana, who was married to Lang’s stepdaughter before they divorced, said he lived with the family for years in Bernalillo and had traveled with Lang many times. He had intended to call him a couple weeks ago to catch up.
“He was like a father to me. I didn’t call, and I feel so bad,” Parana said. “I wish I could hear his voice a little longer.”