Tragic accident or reckless crime?

Larry Barker

A KRQE News 13 Follow-up Investigation

MOUNTAINAIR, N.M. (KRQE) – September 21, 2019, was a horrific day near the central New Mexico town of Mountainair. A black SUV slammed into two bicyclists, killing one and injuring the other.

We know what happened, but one year later, we still don’t why it happened. Was it an accident or a crime? A 6-month State Police fatal crash investigation was officially closed with an $82 traffic ticket.

Let’s go back.

When it came to hiking and cycling, Mountainair residents Karl Baumgartner and Billy Weinman were inseparable. “We were kind of like two grown men acting like a couple of kids at times,” says Karl Baumgartner. “As a friend (Billy) was a really great guy. We shared interests in sports, in films that we liked, music that we liked,” Baumgartner said.

Karl is a retired machinist. Billy worked as a Park Ranger at Abo National Monument. “He was one of the most intelligent and funniest people I’d ever met in my life,” Billy Weinman’s son Matt said. “He made me laugh my whole life. He loved being out in nature, and he loved long hikes, and he loved bicycling through really beautiful areas of the country,” Matt Weinman says.

For Billy and Karl, cycling was a passion. At least twice a week, the experienced riders would tour Mountainair’s back roads. September 21, 2019, was a warm sunny Fall day. “(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 Baumgartner said.

They cycled 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, all hell broke loose. There was a frantic call to 911, “I’m out in Mountainair…there was two bicyclists, and I hit them…I clipped them with my car.” An SUV traveling about 45 miles an hour struck both cyclists. The impact launched Karl into the brush; Billy was flung 60 feet.

“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,” the 911 Operator was told. Paramedics and Torrance County Sheriff’s Deputies rushed to the scene. Billy Weinman was dead. Karl Baumgartner was airlifted to Albuquerque with multiple injuries and was hospitalized for weeks.

The driver of the SUV was 43-year-old, Shannon Murdock. At the crash scene, Murdock was ordered to perform a Field Sobriety Test. Deputies say she did not appear to be driving under the influence of alcohol. 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. Murdoch; they call her ‘Your Honor.’ You see, Shannon Murdoch is a State District Court Judge. Last Fall, she was on her way home from a speaking engagement in Socorro when she struck Billy and Karl. Judge Murdock was allowed to go home pending an investigation.

So what happened that day? The weather was not a factor. The sun was overhead and the pavement was dry. The bicyclists were wearing bright clothing, and because there is no shoulder, they were legally riding along the right margin of the roadway. A subsequent police accident reconstruction of the crash found no evidence Judge Murdock tried to avoid striking the cyclists. Front end damage to Judge Murdock’s SUV indicates she plowed into the bicyclists at full speed.

Mountainair resident Christy Chavez was an eyewitness. In a statement to police investigators, Chavez says, prior to the crash, she observed the black SUV weaving in traffic northbound on I-25.

“There was a couple of bicyclists over on the right-hand side right there on the white line,” Chavez told State Police Investigators. “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,'” Chavez said in her statement to police.

Through her attorney, Judge Murdock declined to provide a statement to the State Police about the fatal crash. The Judge’s only explanation came during the 911 emergency call. 9-1-1: “Did you not see them when you were driving?” Murdock: “No, I didn’t see them, and then when I did see them, I couldn’t get over,” Judge Murdock said to the 911 Operator.

State police launched an investigation that included an FBI analysis of the Judge’s cell phone. That probe found no evidence the device was in use at the time of the crash. The Investigation Report was reviewed by the District Attorney in Farmington due to a conflict in Torrance County. Chief Deputy D.A. Brent Capshaw concluded, “…there is insufficient evidence to charge Murdock with a vehicular homicide.”

“A vehicular homicide charge would require evidence of impairment in her ability to safely operate a vehicle due to drugs or alcohol or criminally reckless conduct. Reckless driving requires willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others. There is insufficient evidence to support either charge,” Capshaw wrote. The District Attorney recommended no criminal charges be filed against Shannon Murdock.

In lieu of criminal charges, State Police slapped Judge Murdock with a traffic ticket for “Overtaking A Vehicle On The Left.” At an unscheduled Magistrate Court Hearing, Judge Murdock was represented by Criminal Defense Attorney Gary Mitchell. Murdock pleaded ‘No Contest’ and received a deferred sentence that included 90-days unsupervised probation. Shannon Murdock paid $82 for court fees; Case closed.

Was Judge Murdock somehow distracted, or did she fall asleep at the wheel? Why was she weaving in traffic? Why didn’t she swerve to avoid the cyclists? We will never know; The Judge isn’t talking.

Billy Weinman died in September 2019. One year later, Billy’s death still haunts his family. “The world seemed like it turned upside down when Billy died,” says Billy’s daughter-in-law Melissa Weinman.

“It’s been so difficult. Explaining what happened to our daughter (Rosie) has been one of the most [sic] sad and brutal parts of this. Rosie (has been) asking questions about Grandpa Billy and telling us that she misses him,” says Billy’s son Matt.

For the Weinman family, the most difficult part has been the lack of explanations or apologies. Matt and Melissa say they never heard from the State Police, the District Attorney, or Judge Murdock. “That’s one of the hardest parts is the silence,” Melissa Weinman says. “Somebody has to take responsibility for what happened, and even people in positions of power should be held accountable for their actions,” Melissa Weinman said.

In May, Karl and Samantha Baumgartner filed a “Complaint For Damages And Loss Of Consortium” against Shannon Murdock. The case is pending.

In March, Billy Weinman’s Estate filed a “Complaint To Recover Damages For Wrongful Death” against Judge Murdock. That case is also pending in Bernalillo County District Court.

“(Judge Murdock) has caused our family a tremendous amount of pain, and her complete silence has only exasperated that pain,” Matt Weinman said. “It feels so dishonorable, and it feels like the most inhuman thing I’ve ever had done to me,” Matt Weinman says.

“I was so willing to really be open about forgiving someone who’d done something this tragic. It’s getting harder and harder to be open to forgiving someone when they deny your family any apology after killing your dad,” Matt Weinman says.

Torrance County District Court Judge Shannon Murdock did not respond to a KRQE News 13 request for comment.

Shannon Murdock Original Citation

Shannon Murdock Judgement & Sentence

Photo of Billy Weinman and Friends & Family

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