Death of garbage collection employee prompts investigations

Nov. 29—Law enforcement and a state agency are investigating the death of a garbage collection employee last week after a work-related incident in Rio Arriba County.

North Central Solid Waste Authority confirmed the death Monday.

Authority General Manager Janet Saucedo declined to provide details about what happened but wrote in an email the employee died Wednesday, a day after the incident, near Dixon, a small community that sits between Española and Taos.

"On November 22, 2022 at approximately 12 pm, near Dixon, an accident involving two [North Central Solid Waste Authority] employees occurred," Saucedo wrote in an email Monday. "One of the employees was airlifted to UNM where he passed away on November 23, 2022. The other employee was not injured."

She added an investigation is ongoing and more information was not available.

The deceased employee was 47-year-old Alfred Trujillo, his aunt Sarah Chavez confirmed Monday.

Trujillo lived in Cordova and worked odd jobs until he was hired at the garbage collection agency, Chavez said.

"He was a good person with a good heart," Chavez said. "He was happy to get up every morning and go to work."

In addition to the internal investigation by the solid waste authority, the incident also is being investigated by Rio Arriba County Sheriff's Office, as well as the state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau.

State police spokesman Mark Soriano wrote in an email county police are handling the investigation. Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield did not return calls or emails Monday requesting comment.

State Environment Department spokesman Matthew Maez confirmed the state bureau that enforces the Occupational Health and Safety Act has opened an investigation as well.

The bureau has one other open investigation into North Central Solid Waste Authority that began in August "following a report of an employee being stuck with a needle when cleaning a compactor truck," Maez wrote.

North Central Solid Waste Authority serves Rio Arriba County, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo and Española with garbage collection services, as well as transfer stations for self-hauling.

In early October, the Española City Council voted to embark on its own program for garbage collection after residents and business owners spoke out about months of unreliable service from the solid waste authority.

Throughout the summer, the solid waste authority had struggled to collect garbage from residential and commercial customers. In June, the agency announced its commercial accounts would have to self-haul garbage to transfer stations, as it had no operable front-loading trucks at the time.

The authority's finances appeared to be in peril in October, with income statements showing only 10 percent of the agency's projected revenue had come in after three months of the current fiscal year.

In November, the authority's board of directors — including representatives from each entity served — voted to approve an 8 percent increase to rates on all accounts that will take effect in December.

A news release from North Central Solid Waste Authority announced the rate increase last week.

"A significant portion of the income that these new rates will generate will be directed toward procuring much-needed vehicles and equipment so that we can improve service levels to all our customers," the release stated.