Teen drowns in Highline Canal

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A 19-year-old Albuquerque man drowned in an irrigation ditch in Los Lunas at about 3 a.m. Saturday, after efforts to pull him out failed.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Matthew mares, 19, of Albuquerque, drowned in the Highline Canal in Los Lunas early Saturday morning. Los Lunas Lt. Naithan Gurule said Mares was walking across a small bridge over the ditch when he dropped his cell phone. While attempting to recover the phone, Mares fell into the water.

The incident took place at the Highline Canal between Adela Lane and Redondo Road along Canal Boulevard, south of Main Street.

Matthew Mares had been visiting in Los Lunas before going away to school, said Los Lunas Police Lt. Naithan Gurule.

Gurule said Mares and four friends were at the ditch when Mares slipped in, but it is not known why they were there, said Gurule.

According to Gurule, Mares was attempting to cross the ditch by way of a small bridge and in doing so, dropped his cell phone. Mares attempted to recover the phone and fell into the water.

The friends were Los Lunas resident Junior Nieto, 19, Albuquerque residents Allen Head, 18, Lance Trahan, 25, and Justin Ricker, 19.

Gurule said one of them tried to help Mares as he clung to a metal foot bridge, but Mares’ leg was trapped by a metal bar.

The Los Lunas Police Department responded to a 911 call at about 2:40 a.m.

Los Lunas police officers Rene Ruiz and Micah Bogue tried to get Mares out of the water, but they were unsuccessful, Gurule said.

“One of them threw him a rope to get him out, but he couldn’t get out,” Gurule said. “This was while one of his friends was also trying to get him out.”

The Highline Canal is about seven-feet deep and 35-feet wide. Water is backed up to facilitate flow for irrigation, but doesn’t flow much more than 1-2 mph, said David Gensler, the water hydrologist at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

It was flowing at about half its normal operating range, and was probably only about two feet deep, but people can drown in just inches of water, Gensler said.

Tom Thorpe, spokesman for the district, said while ditches can look calm on the surface, underneath, the water can be moving quickly and turbulently.

He also reminded the public that the MRGCD ditches have one specific purpose — to carry irrigation water to farmers.

“They are not for playing in, swimming or wading,” Thorpe said. “I think kids may look at it as ‘just water.’ We hope adults know better. There’s no question — ditches are dangerous.”

The New Mexico State Police and the Albuquerque Police Department dive teams responded to the scene and recovered Mares from the water.

Right now, there is no evidence or indication of foul play.

Los Lunas Detective Curtis Lucero is investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident to determine if alcohol was a factor.

The victim’s body was sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

A toxicology test will determine if Mares had any alcohol in his system.

(News-Bulletin reporter Julia M. Dendinger contributed to this story.)


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.