MOUNTAINAIR, N.M. (KRQE) – There is a remote stretch of pavement along Highway 60 just outside Mountainair in Central New Mexico that’s quiet today. But back on a Fall day in September four years ago Mile Marker 204 was ground zero for heartbreaking tragedy. That Saturday afternoon, all hell broke loose and lives were changed forever.
What happened that day to Mountainair residents Billy Weinman and Karl Baumgartner was horrific. Karl is a retired machinist. Billy worked as a National Monument Park Ranger. When it came to hiking and cycling, Karl and Billy were inseparable. “We were kind of like two grown men acting like a couple of kids at times,” Karl remembers. “As a friend (Billy) was a really great guy. We shared interests in sports, in films that we liked, music that we liked,” Karl said.
For the pair of outdoor enthusiasts, cycling was a passion. At least twice a week, the experienced riders would tour Mountainair’s back roads. September 21, 2019, would be their last ride.
“(Billy) called me Saturday morning, and he said, ‘I feel like I need to get a little workout in.’ And I said, ‘Well, do you want to go for a hike?’ And he said, ‘No, let’s just go on a little bike ride.'” They rode west of town, stopped for lunch at a nearby church, and then headed home along Highway 60. Billy was in front. Karl behind.
At 12:45 p.m. a frantic call came into 911. “I’m out in Mountainair. There was two bicyclists, and I hit them. I clipped them with my car,” the female caller said. A black SUV traveling about 45 miles an hour struck both cyclists. The impact launched Karl Baumgartner into the brush. Billy Weinman was flung 60 feet. According to the 911 caller, “They’re both lying on the ground. One is breathing, I believe. The other one is not. He’s not moving.”
Paramedics and Torrance County Sheriff’s Deputies rushed to the scene. Billy Weinman was pronounced dead at the scene. Karl Baumgartner was airlifted to Albuquerque with serious injuries. The driver of the SUV was 43-year-old Shannon Murdock. She told the 911 operator, “They were on the side, and I couldn’t get over, and I clipped them.”
Murdock was ordered to perform a Field Sobriety Test. Deputies say she did not appear to be driving under the influence of alcohol. As Torrance County Deputies began their investigation, Murdock was told, “You are not under arrest, and you are not being detained. You are just being part of the crash investigation.”
After being read a Miranda Warning, Murdock invoked her right not to speak with deputies about the crash. Shannon Murdock is an expert on legal rights. In Torrance County, they don’t call her Ms. Murdock, they call her “Your Honor.” You see Shannon Murdock is a 7th Judicial District Court Judge.
So, what happened that day in September 2019? We know weather was not a factor. The sun was overhead, and the pavement was dry. The bicyclists were wearing bright clothing and because there was no shoulder, they were legally riding along the right margin of Highway 60. There is no evidence Judge Murdock swerved to avoid striking the riders.
Front-end damage to the SUV indicated it plowed into the bicyclists at full speed. Christy Chavez was an eyewitness. In a statement to police, Chavez says prior to the crash, she saw the SUV weaving in traffic. “There was a couple of bicyclists over on the right-hand side, right there on the white line, and I (saw) this black SUV, and it was riding the white line, and I just told myself, ‘Please. let that car move over. Please, let it move over.’ And about that time, it hit the two bicyclists, and then I said, ‘Oh my God.'”
Judge Murdock refused to speak with investigators about the fatal crash. Her only explanation came during the 911 call, “I didn’t see them, and then when I did see them, I couldn’t get over.”
Following a New Mexico State Police investigation, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges. Insufficient evidence they said. Shannon Murdock was slapped with a Misdemeanor traffic ticket (Overtaking A Vehicle On The Left). In Magistrate Court she pleaded ‘No Contest,’ was handed a ‘Deferred’ sentence, and paid $82 in court costs. The charge was later dismissed. However, this is not the end of the story.
In 2020, The Personal Representative for Billy Weinman’s Estate along with Karl Baumgartner and his wife Samantha filed a Wrongful Death lawsuit against Shannon Murdock and her employer, the 7th Judicial District Court. Those cases have now been settled.
According to a Stipulated Final Judgment, Shannon Murdock “agrees that she negligently operated her vehicle on September 21, 2019, thereby causing the death of Billy Weinman and serious personal injury to Karl Baumgartner.” The Court Order also states Billy Weinman’s Estate and the Baumgartners “are entitled to recovery of $50,000 from defendant Murdock in her personal capacity for the damages alleged as a result of the September 21, 2019 accident.”
Because on that fatal day, Shannon Murdock was returning from a speaking engagement to Socorro Drug Court graduates, Judge Victor Lopez found the 7th Judicial District Court “vicariously liable for the acts of Defendant Murdock that caused the September 21, 2019 accident.” The Final Judgment states Billy Weinman’s Estate and the Baumgartners are entitled to recovery of $750,000 from the 7th Judicial District Court.” The Court found Karl Baumgartner is “additionally entitled to recovery of $197,969.26 from the 7th Judicial District Court for medical bills incurred as a result of the accident.”
The 7th Judicial District Court, which includes Socorro, Sierra, Catron, and Torrance County, disputes the ruling that Judge Murdock was on duty at the time of the crash. Attorneys for the Court have appealed the $949,969 judgment to New Mexico’s Court of Appeals. A ruling in that case is not expected until sometime next year.
Today, Karl Baumgartner has mostly recovered from his physical injuries, but the emotional trauma still remains. In the backyard of Karl and Samantha’s Mountainair home is a touching memorial dedicated to their friend Billy.
“It’s been hell. It’s just been hell,” Samantha Baumgartner says. “He just made our lives so much richer. It’s just going to be an empty place where his smile and his laugh used to be.”
Billy Weinman is survived by his sister Irene, son Matt, daughter-in-law Melissa, and granddaughter Rosie.
“He was one of the most intelligent and funniest people I’d ever met in my life. He made me laugh my whole life,” Matt Weinman says.
“The world seemed like it turned upside down when Billy died,” Melissa Weinman says. “He was just really, really special, and we’re missing out by him not being here with us on earth.”