MOUNTAINAIR, N.M. (KRQE) – Meet Mountainair residents, Billy Weinman and Karl Baumgartner. Karl is a retired machinist, Billy a retired park service ranger. And when it came to the out of doors, Karl and Billy were inseparable. Both were avid hikers and bicyclists.
“When the weather was nice, about twice a week, we would do like a 20 miler around town. There’s a lot of nice dirt roads around Mountainair,” Karl Baumgartner said.
And when they rode, safety was always a top priority.
“We always relate to each other. If there’s a car back or car front, we have rearview mirrors on our bikes that we check,” Karl Baumgartner says. “We’re not a couple of kids out there. I’ve been riding bikes all my life and Billy has too.”
September 21st last year would be their last ride together.
“(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, I’d rather, let’s just go on a little bike ride,'” Karl says.
They headed east out of Mountainair, stopping for lunch at the San Lorenzo Church at Abo. “We ate our lunch and then we got on our bikes and headed home,” Karl told KRQE News 13.
They leisurely rode eastbound along a remote stretch of State Highway 60 in central New Mexico just outside Mountainair. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon on that day last Fall. Mile marker 204 would be ground zero for chaos and tragedy. At 12:45 all hell broke loose and lives were changed forever.
Billy was in front. Karl behind. Just outside the Mountainair town limits, a black SUV traveling at least 45 miles an hour struck both bicyclists. The impact launched Karl into the brush. Billy was flung 60 feet. Their bikes were destroyed.
The first call to 911 came in at 12.46 pm.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“I’m out in Mountainair.”
“What’s the address?”
“I have no idea. It’s just by Mountainair.”
“Are you on the roadway?”
“Yeah. 60. There was two bicyclists and I hit them. I clipped them with my car.”
“Ok are they injured?”
” … They’re both lying on the ground. I see one of them laying on the ground. … One is breathing I believe. The other one is not. He’s not moving. … They were on the side and I couldn’t get over and I clipped them,” the caller told the 911 Operator.
Paramedics and Torrance County Sheriff’s Deputies rushed to the scene.
Karl Baumgartner was critically injured. While being treated in an ambulance, he spoke with a Torrance County Deputy. The conversation was recorded on a lapel camera.
“Can you tell me what happened sir,” the Deputy asked Karl Baumgartner.
“We were riding up and suddenly, boom,” Karl said.
“Were you on the side of the road, the middle of the road?”
“Side of the road. Someone didn’t see us I guess and (didn’t) pull over.”
” … How is Billy, my friend?”
“Uh not too sure yet.”
” … He lives outside Mountainair. Is he ok?”
“They’re working on him.”
In fact, Billy Weinman was declared dead at the scene. Suffering from multiple injuries, Karl Baumgartner was airlifted by a medical helicopter to UNMH in Albuquerque.
The driver of the black SUV was 42-year-old, Shannon Murdock. Now in Torrance County, they don’t call her Ms. Murdock. They call her ‘Your Honor.’ You see, Shannon Murdock is a District Court Judge for the Seventh Judicial District. She was appointed to the bench in 2017.
On September 21, Judge Murdock was on her way home from a meeting in Socorro when she struck the two bicyclists.
“I didn’t see them and then when I did see them I couldn’t get over,” Judge Murdock told the 911 Operator moments after the crash.
So what happened that day? There are no skid marks at the point of impact. Nor is there evidence Judge Murdock applied her brakes or swerved to avoid striking the riders. Front end damage indicates the SUV plowed into the bicyclists at full speed.
The weather was apparently not a factor. At the time of the accident, the sun was overhead and the pavement was dry. That stretch of Highway 60 is straight as an arrow. The bicyclists were wearing bright clothing and because there is no shoulder, they were legally riding along the right margin of the roadway.
Christy Chavez saw the whole thing and gave a statement to investigators.
“There was a couple of bicyclists over on the right-hand side right there on the white line,” Chavez said in her recorded statement.
“I was able to go around them because I had the passing lane. … I looked in my rearview mirror and I (saw) this black SUV and it was riding the white line. … 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,” Chavez told investigators.
Once Torrance County Deputies had secured the scene on Highway 60, Judge Murdock was administered a battery of routine field sobriety tests which she passed.
“Shannon from all the indicators and tests that you’ve participated in today from my interviewing with you today I have no indicators or clues that you’ve consumed any kind of alcohol that affected your driving today,” a Torrance County Deputy said at the scene.
To determine whether Judge Murdock was distracted while driving she was asked to surrender her cell phone. “The reason why the Detective is asking to do that is because it’s part of a crash investigation where a death has occurred,” a Sheriff’s Deputy said.
A subsequent investigation determined the Judge had not been using her phone at the time of the accident. However, KRQE News 13 has learned Judge Murdock had a second phone, issued by the state. That phone was not turned over to authorities and has not been analyzed by investigators.
Judge Murdock was not detained or arrested. Pending the results of an investigation, she was read her rights and declined to speak further with Deputies at the scene.
So why didn’t the Judge swerve to avoid hitting the bicyclists? A State Police investigation will determine whether her actions were careless or reckless. Due to a conflict in Torrance County, the case is under review by the San Juan County D.A. in Farmington.
Karl Baumgartner suffered extensive injuries and was hospitalized for a month. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Karl met with KRQE News 13 recently and talked about how the September accident affected his life. “Physically it’s huge. And financially, the medical bills, the air ambulance bills, those will be a huge burden,” Karl Baumgartner says. “But the biggest thing was losing my friend, my good friend.”
“He was so much fun. He laughed, he enjoyed life,” says Billy Weinman’s sister, Irene.
“It was instantaneous for my brother. A blessing in some regards, but I didn’t get to say goodbye. … I just didn’t expect his time to come so quickly,” Irene Weinman tells KRQE News 13.
“It’s been hell. It’s just been hell,” says Karl’s wife, Samantha Baumgartner.
“He just made our lives so much richer and he’s just left a huge hole. … It’s going to be an empty place where his smile or his laugh used to be,” Samantha Baumgartner says.
Judge Shannon Murdock did not return a phone call for comment.