Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico on January 1, 1993 · Page 35
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Albuquerque Journal from Albuquerque, New Mexico · Page 35

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Albuquerque, New Mexico
Issue Date:
Friday, January 1, 1993
Page:
Page 35
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METROPOLITAN Friday, January 1, 1993 Albuquerque Journal Page 1, Section D ' , . ... , . - - ' I, iii . i Lance Milford was almost a surrogate father to his sister's three little girls. Now he has 1 only the happy memories to comfort him. DWI Crusade Grips Church Congregation p r - m h i 1 : . By Dennis Latta JOURNAL STAFF WRITER LANCE Milford has no tears left. He's used them all at least he hopes he has. Milford does have plenty of memories, however. He has many, many happy ones. Those come from the time when he was virtually a stand-in father for three pretty little girls. Those are the memories he'll always have. He also has the one of him standing on the side of the road late on Christmas Eve while firemen worked feverishly trying to cut a car apart to get to his sister and those three little girls. That's a memory he hopes he can forget. Many people in New Mexico know Milford as a 6-foot-8 basketball player for the University of New Mexico. As a walk-on, Milford doesn't get to play a lot. But he's a crowd favorite when he does get in. Melanie Cravens, his sister, would have turned 32 today. But there will be no birthday celebrations, just memories. Kandyce Woodard, 9, Erin Woodard, 8,.and Kacee Woodard, 5, were his nieces. They were on their way to the Milford home to open Christmas presents when a pickup truck going the wrong way on 140 ran head-on into the Cravens' car. The driver of the pickup had a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent, which is the presumptive level of intoxication in New Mexico. Paul Cravens, Melanie's husband, survived but is in serious condition. "We haven't told him that Mel and the girls were killed. Doctors feel that he couldn't take it yet. I've been to see him and he asks about them, but we haven't told him," says Milford. "I'm the youngest," explains Milford, who has two older sisters and a brother. "Mel was going through some tough times when she got her divorce. She moved back home with the girls. They stayed with mom and dad and me. "I was kind of their father for a year or two. I did some of the disciplining. I took them everywhere. We just did , everything together. I'd even take ; them out on dates with me," Milford recalls. "Maybe I'm prejudiced, but I've I never seen anyone as pretty as those girls. They were special, very special." - When Melanie married Paul : Cravens, Milford resumed his role as an uncle. , On Christmas Eve, Milford was at home with his fiancee, Lynette Eggers, waiting for the Cravens family to arrive. Lance had proposed to Lynette during a timeout in a recent Lobo game in the Pit. , "We were planning to set a date during Christmas break," Milford says. That's been forgotten for now. "We had been to the candlelight services and then I went to Lynette's house. She came over to our house after that with her brother. We were waiting for Mel and my dad was watching TV. They broke into Night-line to show the accident Dad thought he recognized the car and asked me to go check it. "Lynette and her brother went with me. I shook it off at first, but as I drove I started to get worried. "When I got there,. the fire department was trying to remove them from the car. They wouldn't let me get close enough to see the girls. The chaplin, Bart Montgomery, finally told us." The Milfords have always been a very religious family. Lance graduated from Hope Christian Academy and his fiancee teaches there. Kandyce and Erin were students at Hope. "When we didn't return home, Mom and Dad came to the scene. I was crying. I was asking Mom how God would let this happen. I said one time that I hated the guy who was driving. "Mom said 'no.' She said it wasn't right, that God is forgiving and we have to love and not hate. Since then, I've prayed and prayed. Something like this either makes you better or bitter. I chose to forgive that man. As a family, we talked about it and we've all chosen for forgive him." On Thursday morning, the Milford family met with the district attorney to discuss the case. "We want justice. We want the courts to do what is right. But we're not seeking revenge," Milford explains. The collision has created a loud cry for stricter DWI laws in New Mexico. Milford said he and his family will become active in those efforts. "For me, drinking is completely wrong. But I'm realistic. I know people drink. It's inevitable. I feel the consequences need to be harsher. "We're talking about human life. What value can you place on that. Before this even happened, I valued human life. But those little girls . . ." Milford has forgotten about basketball and the Pit for a week. He didn't 0 By Patricia Gabbett Snow JOURNAL STAFF WRITER JEFF ALEXANDER JOURNAL Lance Milford served as a pallbearer during the funeral earlier this week for his sister and her three daughters. pay much attention to what UNM did in the Lobo Invitational this week, though he was aware the Lobos had won. Thursday afternoon, he stopped by basketball practice for the first time. The team was leaving for a trip to Utah and Brigham Young. He wanted to thank the players and coach Dave Bliss. "Bliss called quite a few times. I was really glad to see the team at the funeral That made me feel good. We are really close. I'm a little different, but they still love me and I love them. I'm looking forward to going back to practice and being with them. It'll get my mind off everything," Milford says. If there is a silver lining, according to Milford, it's the support bis family has received. America West Airlines offered free airfare and available seats for family members and friends who had to get to the funeral on a busy holiday weekend. Milford asked that anyone who knew Melanie Cravens and has "fond memories" of her and her daughters write letters to the family, which family members will keep. They asked that letters be addressed to the Milford home, 1414 Del Monte Trail SW, Albuquerque 87121. "People have called from all over. We've even gotten calls from strangers outside New Mexico. We couldn't believe there were over 3,000 people at the funeral." And then Milford's voice drops off. "You're on such an emotional roller coaster. One minute you're fine and handling things. The next minute, you're bawling uncontrollably. I hope I've done all the crying I'm going to do." House Gets Out of Hospital JOURNAL STAFF REPORT Gordon House, accused of killing Melanie Cravens and her three daughters in a Christmas Eve auto accident, was released from University Hospital Thursday afternoon. Patti Jones, hospital spokeswoman, said House, 33, was discharged at about 4 p.m. House's attorney Ray Twobig would not say where his client would be recuperating, adding that House and his family have received threats. "Some people have said the same is going to happen to his family," Twohig said. House, of Thoreau, has waived arraignment and pleaded not guilty to four charges of vehicular homicide. Bond was set at $25,000, and House's family has already posted 10 percent of that. The crusade against drunken drivers launched by the deaths of Melanie Cravens and her three daughters is being called "the second' civil rights movement" by its organizers. "Now that the funeral is over, it's a natural progression," said Alan Granger, senior pastor at Church of the Crosses in Las Cruces and one of the crusade's organizers. All eight phone lines at Victory Love Fellowship Church, where the funeral was held, rang off the hook Thursday with calls from people angry about the accident who want to know how to help, Granger said. Family and church members plan to release a DWI reform proposal during a news conference Tuesday. "This is the second civil rights movement," Granger said. "We need to protect the rights of everyone in this state." In addition to the news conference Tuesday, the church is holding a meeting that evening with state legislators, Granger said. Lawmakers will be invited to lay out their ideas for reform and then listen to church members' proposals. That meeting will not be open to the public, Granger said, although the media has been invited. Victory Love will be the focal point of the movement. Anyone who has suggestions can call 831-0961. Granger said that so far, the new advocacy group has agreed on several changes, including: Mandatory jail sentences for DWI convicts. Lowering the breath-alcohol level of intoxication from 0.10 to 0.08. Seizing the vehicles of DWI convicts. Money raised from the auction of those vehicles could be used to fund DWI reform efforts. Passage of a local-option excise tax on liquor. A liability law so that liquor establishments can be held financially liable if they are found to have contributed to a DWI accident or death. Reporting systems in which DWI arrests are automatically recorded in court records and law enforcement computer systems. "We are not advocating prohibition. We are advocating responsibility and accountability on the part of individuals and the liquor industry," Granger said. On Jan. 31, Victory Love will open its doors to victims of DWI and those who abuse alcohol and need counseling, Granger said. Two servicesrallies will be held, and residents are invited to attend to get help or sign petitions advocating DWI reform. A local printing shop has offered to make buttons for the church. Members have decided to make their movement's symbol the DWI initials with the universal red slash symbol through them. Granger said they've ordered 10,000 of them, though they don't know if they'll get that many. Melanie Cravens' siblings, Lance Milford and Celeste Groomer, on Thursday asked residents to inundate legislators with letters and phone calls on the family's behalf. "The Legislature doesn't need any more sleep for the next 30 days," Granger said. "They've been asleep for 10 years." Several legislators have already said they plan to sponsor DWI reforms when the 1993 session begins this month. Sen. Gloria Howes, D-Gallup, added her name to the list Thursday, saying in a telephone interview she had been working on drafting four pieces of legislation for some time. Howes said she will propose that DWI education and a subsequent test on drunken-driving issues be given to youths when they first apply for a driver's license. "We have a captive audience when kids go to get their first license," she said. Harvest of Trees 'l - ' - '- :V "... - tP- . r 5to 0 t ''-' ... 1 .":'..'. V ' WJXk -v . JTI'TrTP-'tm"' MJ"'i'!'S'W'llll!(!','l''''l jf4, : : y f 't: O 1 Rowland Nurseries employee Tomas Be-navidez stacks used Christmas trees in preparation for recycling. Crews from As-plundh Inc. are turning the trees into wood chips, which will be composted at a city plant and used in parks and medians. Trees may ;.s , JOURNAL PHOTO be dropped off at any Rowland location until Jan. 15. Keep Albuquerque Beautiful coordinator Madeline Dunn said anyone who wants to have a tree picked up, or who wants to pick up trees for a small fee, may call 761-8163 for more Information. ft- T Outgoing DA Wants Sandlin Death Ruled a Homicide By Colleen Heild JOURNAL STAFF WRITER Outgoing Socorro District Attorney Lee Deschamps asked the state Office of Medical Investigator this week to rule the 1988 death of a Mountainair policeman a homicide. Deschamps, who lost his reelection bid last year, said he felt he couldn't leave office without asking OMI officials to re-examine their findings on the shooting death of Officer Steve Sandlin. "It's something that has haunted me since I became aware of this case," Deschamps said this week. "This is an attempt to set the record straight." Sandlin, 21, was found dead in the Mountainair police office on May 7, 1988. Several months after Sandlin's death, the OMI concluded that the manner of death was "undetermined." But Deschamps asked OMI to review the additional information gathered since that time. Law enforcement officials initially considered the death a suicide because Sandlin was shot once in the head with his service revolver. But the state Attorney General's Office has spent the past 4Vi years investigating whether Sandlin may have been killed in a conspiracy organized by area drug traffickers. Attorney general's officials won't state publicly whether they are treating the death as a homicide. "This is still an open investigation and we never discuss our investigations," said Kay Roybal, spokeswoman for Attorney General Tom Udall. Deschamps also asked Udall to make available to the OMI any information on the case. Roybal said her agency would be glad to cooperate with the OMI. Deschamps, in a Dec. 30 letter to Dr. Ross Zumwalt of the OMI in Albuquerque, listed 10 reasons as to why Sandlin's death points to murder including the fact that the man who found the dying officer later failed several lie detector tests. Deschamps said he spoke with Zumwalt last week, and said Zumwalt told him he'd be willing to look at any new information. Zumwalt was out of the office Thursday and couldn't be reached. Deschamps said he's not trying to apply political pressure on Udall's office to solve the case, but merely wants to erase the stigma that Sandlin might have committed suicide. "Them's no question there's a cloud over Officer Sandlin. It's his memory is all that's going to benefit." Though the shooting occurred in Deschamps' Seventh Judicial District, the state attorney general's criminal division assumed control of the investigation from the beginning. Former prosecutors on the case have said the investigation had been hampered because the scene of the shooting was never properly secured by Mountainair and Torrance county law enforcement officials. They also said leads weren't aggressively followed. For example, State Police officers who responded to the scene that night dismissed pertinent information from another law enforcement official because they considered the death to be a suicide. Two former assistant attorneys general held a press conference in 1990 contending that former state Attorney General Hal Stratton and other top agency officials were impeding the investigation. The two former prosecutors said Sandlin's death was a homicide but wasn't being labeled as such so that the investigation could be more easily closed. Stratton and others denied there was any attempt to thwart the inquiry. r J

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