Dick Knipfing

Knipfing’s Notes: The Real ‘Champ’

May 4th, 2013 at 9:00 am by under Latest Posts

And, the winner is …. We don’t know his name but he’s the real champ.

“He” is the 17-year-old Rio Grande High School wrestling team member who was confronted by his much larger teammate, state champion Nick Chavez, in a highly publicized late February incident in the school cafeteria. A sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school says he saw the 18-year-old Chavez take $15 from the younger, smaller kid, knock his lunch tray out of his hand then slap him in the face when he asked for his money back. The deputy filed a report and charged Chavez with larceny and battery. APS suspended him for three days, making him ineligible for the state wrestling tournament and therefore ineligible to defend his 195 pound title. Then someone got South Valley politicians involved. Several made calls to APS about the suspension. When APS refused to overturn it, the family got a lawyer, went to court and convinced a judge to grant an injunction blocking the suspension and letting Chavez wrestle. He’s a damn good wrestler and he won another state championship.

Chavez and his supporters have tried to pass off the incident as just typical “horseplay” between two teenage boys. When all this was first unfolding, we didn’t know for sure what happened. There was no reason to doubt the deputy’s report, but we hadn’t really heard Nick Chavez’ side of the story, so we couldn’t be certain that he is a bully. We still don’t know his side of the story. He spoke little when the case went to court yesterday, saying only that he was sorry that he and the victim haven’t remained friends. The victim did speak in court. (I hate calling him “victim” because when you read what follows, you’ll realize this kid is not afraid to stand up for himself against any bully, teenage or adult.) He was not there in person because he had to take an exam. But his attorney read a statement the boy wrote, the most articulate statement by a 17 year old that I’ve ever seen. We’ve linked it here for you to read. When you do, decide for yourself if it was just “horseplay”. You decide for yourself if Chavez was a bully. You decide for yourself about the behavior of the politicians and other adults who inserted themselves into this sordid mess.

In the end the judge, with the “victim’s” approval, let Chavez off the hook. If he doesn’t get in any more trouble, the charges against him will be dismissed in 90 days. Some people might see that as another victory for “the champ.” But when you read that letter, you’ll realize who the real champion is. It’s the kid who weighs a hundred pounds less than Nick Chavez but who pinned him to the mat with heavyweight words and wisdom.

Way to go kid!


Knipfing’s Notes: The Fast and the Furiously Dead

April 27th, 2013 at 9:00 am by under Latest Posts

Lee Rista was his name. I’ve never forgotten it.

He was the first dead person I ever saw outside of a funeral.

A middle-aged California man, he was killed in a car crash between Albuquerque and Santa Fe in July of 1963.

Rista’s car had run off the highway and into the side of an embankment near San Felipe Pueblo.

Rista’s car didn’t have a seat-belt – not uncommon in 1963.  He hit the steering wheel hard enough to cause fatal chest injuries.

In those days long before yellow tape, reporters could walk right up to a car crash or a  crime scene.

And that’s what I did, a young reporter getting a good hard look at this man, slumped over the wheel – dead.

I still think of him every time I go by that site.

In 1963 TV news covered a lot of car crashes.  Sometimes five or six in a single program, so I saw a lot of dead, dying and hurting people.  But some, like Lee Rista, stick with you more than others.

Years later there was another tragic crash that still stands out in my mind.  A car carrying five or six construction workers was headed south on Coors Road in southwest Albuquerque.  A road grader was moving slowly, also south, on the shoulder of the highway.  The grader’s blade was protruding into traffic lanes.  The car full of construction workers hit the blade, spun out of control and into northbound lanes of traffic hitting an oncoming car head on.

Both cars and most of the people in them were demolished.  There were no cars left – just pieces.

To this day I still remember a car engine sitting off by itself some distance from the crash site.

The people who died, I can’t remember offhand out many, looked like broken dolls.  Their limbs at odd angles and facial features grotesquely rearranged.  This memory came back to me this week after a crash that has left three dead and the driver barely hanging on to life.

Witnesses say the driver was speeding and trying to race another car when he lost control near Central and Louisiana and flew across the street hitting several trees and a statue.   According to those witnesses, just before the crash, he had been gunning the engine at a stoplight, took off like a shot, got up to speed, lost it and then, catastrophe.

While plenty has changes since 1963 the immutable laws of physics have not – force still equals mass times acceleration. The force when human flesh and bone hit or are hit by objects with major mass usually means major problems for the owners of the flesh and bone.

Cars are a lot safer these days – we have seat belts, air bags and roll bars – but perhaps these cars have been too comfortable.

Today we also have so much creature comfort in our cars that we feel like we’re in our home theater instead of inside a large, fast moving and heavy object. Grim as it is to hear all this, it’s good to be reminded once in a while of crash consequences.

Sometimes accidents just happen, there’s nothing we can do about them. But crashes are often caused by things we can control.

Like the briefing sergeant on the old cop show “Hill Street Blues” always told his patrol officers as they left for their daily assignments, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”


Knipfing’s Notes: To Live in Fear or Just To Live

April 20th, 2013 at 9:00 am by under Latest Posts

How paranoid should we be? In light of Boston, a fair question.

The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders describes paranoia as “a symptom in which an individual feels as if the world is ‘out to get’ him or her.”

As this is written a massive manhunt is going on for the younger of the two brothers now believed to have set off the bombs that killed three people and injured more than 150 at the Boston Marathon. At this point both brothers are believed to have been born in Chechnya, an area of Russia that’s a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.

What’s been going on there is complicated and for outsiders difficult to fathom. There is a wealth of information about Chechnya, its issues, its terrorism.

Your search engine can turn you on to everything you want to know about Chechnya and neighboring areas of the Caucasus – where there’s so much trouble.

The salient point is that people and forces from the world far from the U.S. are, in fact, out to get us and have the capacity to do it. Feeling that “the world” is out to get us is not paranoia, it’s reality. We are targets of people who want to kill us, change the way we live, make us fearful, alter our lives.

The way to fight them is not to live in fear. But, and this is a BIG “but,” it is also crystal clear that we cannot live in a dream world and pretend that there is no threat.

So far terrorists have struck primarily major metropolitan areas. Places like New Mexico have not been hit, but there is a school of thought among anti-terrorism experts that bombers and killers will, at some point, turn their attention to parts of the U.S away from the big cities. Striking in “America’s Heartland”, even in small towns, would be especially chilling.

We’ve come to expect attacks in places like Boston and New York. Shifting the targets to areas Americans consider safe would have a huge psychological impact.

What do we do about that? After the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, federal, state and local lawmen constantly told us to be on the lookout for “anything suspicious.” When we in the media pressed them to be more specific, their reply was always the same, “just anything suspicious.” Not very helpful.

In Israel where terrorist bomb attacks have been a fact of life for years, citizens have become very alert to one specific threat, unattended packages, backpacks and luggage. The Boston bombers left their explosives in two ordinary looking backpacks in the midst of crowds. No one apparently gave them a second thought.

If you’re looking for something, anything specific you can do to protect against terrorism, that’s a place to start. In Israel if someone spots a suspicious package or backpack he, or she, shouts out “unattended package,” and people quickly clear the area.

That’s a hard thing to do. In America it’s a sin to be uncool. It would definitely be uncool to shout a warning, then discover the package or backpack was empty or had books or clothing. Everybody would think you were a dumb doofus.

The question is, “How close has Boston brought us to the point where we are willing to risk being dumb doofuses?” When will the risk of being dead outweigh the risk of looking dumb?


Knipfing’s Notes: A Tragic Twist of Fate

April 13th, 2013 at 9:00 am by under Latest Posts

In the long history of cruel twists of fate, this one has to rank somewhere near the top: a young woman who had been drinking, chose not to drive, chose instead to do the right thing. She called her sister to pick her up, then was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver who may not exist. How sadly strange is that?

Albuquerque Police Sergeant Adam Casaus was bound over for trial this week on a vehicular homicide charge. He was off duty in the early morning hours of February 10th, driving his police SUV at twenty miles an hour over the speed limit, when he ran a red light at a west side intersection and plowed into a smaller car driven by 19 year Lindsey Browder. She was badly hurt and her passenger, her 21 year old sister Ashley, was killed. Ashley had been drinking downtown, knew she should not drive, and called Lindsey to pick her up. That was absolutely the right thing to do and it may have killed her.

Here’s where the plot thickens – or sickens – if Sergeant Casaus is not telling the truth. He told investigators the reason he was going nearly 65 in a 45 mph zone and busted the red light, is that he was after a possible drunk driver who he had spotted. But at his preliminary hearing this week, witnesses to the crash testified that they saw no other car. There’s also the question of why Sergeant Casaus did not call in to APD dispatch that he was pursuing a possible drunk driver.

Besides what the witnesses didn’t see, something they didn’t hear is also important. Casaus claims he had his emergency lights and siren on. The witnesses agree about the emergency lights but none heard a siren. Lindsey Browder testified that she heard no siren, even though she had turned her car radio off because Ashley had fallen asleep. The siren that didn’t sound could turn out to be as crucial as Sherlock Holmes’ famous “dog that didn’t bark”. (If you’re not sure what that’s all about, look it up on your search engine)

To be fair, we have not heard much of Casaus’ side of the story. At the preliminary hearing prosecutors presented evidence that convinced a judge that there is probable cause he committed vehicular homicide and the judge bound him over for trial. But, probable cause is not guilt. And Casaus’ attorney chose not to call his client, or anyone else, to testify at the hearing. So we have not heard him explain what appear to be serious inconsistencies.

There’s something else we have not heard about that may have a bearing on what happened: What went on during the three hours he got off duty at eleven o’clock and the time of the crash? We know he visited his wife who was working the overnight shift as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office and left there shortly before the crash. Was he there for the entire three hours? If not, what was he doing between the time his shift ended and he went to the dispatch center?

There is no indication Sgt. Casaus had been drinking. The sheriff’s department investigator in charge of the case says he showed no sign of impairment at the scene, so his blood was not drawn. APD did draw Casaus’ blood under a city rule that mandates alcohol and drug tests for employees who crash in an official vehicle. But department policy says results of those tests are confidential. They also cannot be used for a criminal case, just for department discipline. APD’s internal affairs investigation is not complete. Depending on what it finds, he could be fired. But it’s not clear if the blood test results must be released. Meanwhile, he remains on leave with pay.

But, aside from all that, there’s this: even if a police officer has good reason to be running at high speed with emergency equipment on, APD policy makes it clear that he or she does not have the authority to simply go through an intersection, let alone a red light, without making sure that it’s safe to do so.

The criminal trial will almost certainly not be the end of this tragedy. A civil suit is likely. This story is not going away anytime soon. Of course the pain of this tragedy will never end for Ashley’s family, especially for her sister Lindsey .

Stay tuned.

> See our past coverage of this story and Sgt. Casaus


Knipfing’s Notes: ‘Noodle’ Rebound

April 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am by under Latest Posts

Ever break up with your steady in high school? It’s tough. Heartbreaking. Sad.

Neil Sedaka sang it true when he was singin’ blue in 1962:

Don’t take your love away from me
Don’t you leave my heart in misery
If you go then I’ll be blue ’cause breaking up is hard to do.

“Breaking up is Hard to do” as we learned once again this week.

One of those “where were you when you heard?” moments swept across Albuquerque last Saturday morning when word leaked that Steve Alford who had led Lobo basketball to such heights, was bailing for UCLA. It was especially stunning given the highly hyped announcement just ten days earlier that he had accepted a new ten year deal to stay here.

There’s endless speculation about what led to the gut-wrenchingly sudden change of heart. UCLA not only upped the ante, it doubled the deal, giving Alford a package of at least $2.5 million a year. And, after all, UCLA is one of the legendary programs in college basketball. Hard to turn that down even though Alford said just two months ago how happy he was here, adding “One of the things you don’t usually mess with is happy.” Guess we should have read more into that word “usually.”

Some people blame negativity from the Albuquerque media for driving him off. Alford was mightily miffed when reporters pressed him during a news conference a few days after the Harvard loss about how big a blemish that was on the season. Alford had an edge in his voice as he insisted that despite the shocking NCAA upset, UNM had a great season. No argument there but he didn’t seem to understand how that loss was such a total bummer for so many longtime fans who have suffered so many letdowns for so many years. Whatever! If questions about that, and other media negativity, did contribute to his UCLA decision, he’s already learned that he’s in for much worse there than here.

The second question at Alford’s UCLA introductory news conference was about his handling of sexual assault charges against one of his star players at the University of Iowa in 2003. A Chicago reporter who originally covered that story, headlined his blog on Alford’s move to UCLA: “UCLA Hired a Scum Bag”, going on to accuse Alford of acting to “shield a violent criminal and intimidate the victim, both publicly and privately.” Alford insists he did nothing wrong, the he simply followed the instructions of the Iowa administration in handling the incident. Whether he did or didn’t, the questions about the Iowa incident are a clear indication that he’s in for a rough time from the LA media. One LA columnist even described him as a “dolt”.

The ugly break up here may pale in comparison to the ugliness Alford faces there. Maybe he should have thought harder about that “don’t mess with happy” line.

On top of all that, UNM has now decided that he owes a million dollar buyout and has sent him a demand letter.

No, it was not a great first week on the new job for the ex-Lobo leader. But, in the end, from a strictly basketball perspective, UNM fans, no matter how unhappy they are about his sudden departure, owe Steve Alford a big “thanks” for taking a program that was a wreck six years ago and making it a perennial champion. He did the job he was hired to do, and did it well.

Now his long time top assistant, Craig Neal, has the job. There was great happiness about his hiring Wednesday. His basketball pedigree is top notch, the players clearly wanted him to succeed Alford, and his emotional and often funny news conference showed us a likeable personality that rarely surfaced in public during the Alford years. Besides, how could you not like a coach whose nickname is “Noodles.”

Just remember, though, that if “Noodles” does as well, or better (we hope), than his ex boss, we’re likely headed for another break up a few years down the road. It’s the nature of college basketball and football that when a mid-major coach succeeds, he gets offers from the big guys that are hard to turn down.

Keep that Neil Sedaka record handy.