Dispatches illuminate Angel Fire house fire, officer-involved shooting

Online records suggest names of home’s last known occupants

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 5/9/19

Minutes after firefighters squelched a fire that engulfed a home early Sunday morning (May 5) at Monte Verde Lake in Angel Fire, another call came across radio channels.

“Go ahead and put in …

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Dispatches illuminate Angel Fire house fire, officer-involved shooting

Online records suggest names of home’s last known occupants

Posted

Minutes after firefighters squelched a fire that engulfed a home early Sunday morning (May 5) at Monte Verde Lake in Angel Fire, another call came across radio channels.

“Go ahead and put in an EMS call for this fire scene,” a first responder reported to a dispatcher. “Have an officer-involved shooting. One male is down.”

“Can I get specifics on the male?” the dispatcher asks.

“Sixty-year-old male, gunshot wound to the chest,” the worker responds.

According to Angel Fire Police, the man was armed with a knife when the officer encountered him.

Before the fatal shooting, a citizen who called in the fire said they could see a man walking around the burning home, who may be the same man who was shot.

While the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau is looking into the shooting, investigators have not yet released the identity of the man who was killed or the Angel Fire Police officer who shot him.

A search of records at the address where the incident took place – 14 Mountain Lake Terrace – indicated the last known occupants were George and Diane Herrera, both 61 years old.

A phone number listed for George Herrera was disconnected.

While multiple fire departments from around the Enchanted Circle fought the fire, his name came up again, when a first responder read a license plate number from a vehicle that was parked outside the burning home, asking the dispatcher who it belonged to.

“That comes back to a George Herrera,” the dispatcher responded.

But an inquiry to state police requesting confirmation that the Herreras were the home’s occupants or whether George Herrera is the man who was shot and killed by police went unanswered as of press time Wednesday (May 8).

“In the early stage of an incident there is a lot of information to be processed,” state police Public Information Officer Ray Wilson said in response to another inquiry this week. “Investigators must analyze all that information and the evidence at the scene before we comment or can accurately answer or confirm a question.”

The lack of answers from authorities regarding the man’s identity and the circumstances surrounding the fire have led local residents to speculate about what might have happened before the fire was reported.

On Monday (May 6), Gretchen Brockfeld, who lives on Mountain Lake Terrace, would only say two people had lived at the home. She said her interactions with them were brief — usually just a wave now and then as she passed by.

She wasn’t sure where the home’s residents were on Monday.

“The whole community is on edge right now,” she said. “I’ve lived here for a little over a year. There’s a lot of part-timers, a lot of rental homes, not many that are full time.

“A lot of the neighbors are very friendly,” she added. “We hang out. We have barbecues.”

Earlier on Monday, Angel Fire Police Chief Brad McCaslin and Lt. J.D. Harvey studied the 5-foot-high heap of ash, melted plastic and twisted metal left behind after the fire.

Half-burnt photos and old magazines blew among the huge pile of ashes. A steel oven stood intact on top of the heap. All around the yard, blue crime scene gloves had been discarded.

Three vehicles that didn’t belong to police were parked at the front of the property. One of them appeared to have been burned and gutted by the fire.

Local residents say these are rare events for this high-mountain resort village 40 minutes east of Taos, where vacation homes abound and the town’s population shrinks to around 1,000 full-time residents when the ski resort closes for the season.

“I’ve been here five and a half years, and I can’t think of any officer-involved shootings before or after I arrived here,” Harvey said, looking at the pile of scorched debris left by the fire. “Have you ever seen a home burned like that?”

The fire was reported at 2:45 a.m. Sunday at 14 Mountain Lake Terrace, not far from Monte Verde Lake.

Village fire chief John Murtagh said his crew responded within eight minutes to find the home engulfed in flames and collapsed in on itself. They were quickly joined by at least one officer from the Angel Fire Police Department and firefighters from Moreno Valley and Eagle Nest, he said.

As they were fighting the fire, the police officer encountered the man wielding a knife and fired shots at him, according to state police. The man later died of his wounds in the back of an ambulance. State police said his identification is pending an investigation by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner.

Harvey and McCaslin would not comment on the investigations into the fire or the shooting, but officers appeared to be searching for something at the crime scene Monday.

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