Some stories never seem to go away… in fact they just seem to get better as time goes on.
And so it is with embattled Velarde, New Mexico Fire Chief Eddie Velarde. You may recall Chief Velarde was arrested last year at a wildland fire by a Rio Arriba County deputy sheriff who sought to take command of the incident. The deputy believed the chief was “out of control”, but Chief Velarde was later exonerated after a trial. The Chief then filed a wrongful arrest and abuse of process suit against the sheriff and the county. He alleges that county officials have a political vendetta against him.
The county turned up the heat on Chief Velarde, suspending him from the fire department on allegations that he falsified documents and used someone else’s social security number. Now comes the latest turn of events.
One of the Velarde Fire Department’s founding members, George Montoya, passed away on April 18, 2012, and his coffin was placed aboard a Velarde engine for the funeral procession on Sunday, April 22, 2012. So what is the big deal?
County officials have responded with outrage that a fire truck would be used in such an irresponsible manner. County Manager Tomas Campos was quoted in the press as saying “Let’s say the coffin fell off the truck” citing possible liability concerns. He continued: “What if someone injured their back while lifting the coffin”. His risk management concerns are truly touching.
Also related to the case: county officials are investigating allegations that Chief Velarde drove the engine. Chief Velarde has denied the allegations and other firefighters support his version of the events. Never the less, the controversy continues as the county is contemplating obtaining a restraining order against Chief Velarde to ensure he does not engage in any further activities. Meanwhile, a hearing on his suspension is scheduled for later this month.