When volunteer firefighter Ashten Salazar saw the acting chief arrive at the Velarde Valley Fire Department’s monthly meeting Monday night in Velarde 30 minutes late, wearing a bullet-proof vest and bearing an assault rifle and handgun, she immediately took cover.
She said Darwin Yazzie, 28, was yelling, “Where are they? I’m going to get them!” Salazar fled with most of the 30 others at the business meeting.
As Yazzie approached the open garage doors of the fire station off Rio Arriba County Road 50, Salazar said, his brother disarmed him of the assault rifle. But, she said, Yazzie then started waving the handgun around, continuing to yell, “I’m going to get them.”
Yazzie, of Ohkay Owingeh, was arrested four hours later at his home on the pueblo by Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputies and was charged with five counts of aggravated assault, according to the Rio Arriba County jail.
Salazar, who has been a volunteer firefighter for four years with the department, said Yazzie was named the acting chief following the termination of Eddie Velarde. Velarde was charged with obstructing an officer, disorderly conduct and concealing his identity after an incident during the Crazy Horse Fire in the community in March 2011.
Velarde was later acquitted of the charges and has since filed a lawsuit against Rio Arriba County. Salazar says the Velarde Fire Department has been divided into two groups since the lawsuit was filed six months ago: those who reject Velarde as chief and those who support him.
Salazar said Yazzie supports Velarde, and she believes Velarde has continued to run the department through Yazzie.
“Darwin has been Eddie Velarde’s right-hand man for a number of years,” Salazar said.
According to Erika Martinez, a spokeswoman for Rio Arriba County, Yazzie was Velarde’s assistant chief and assumed Velarde’s role automatically when Velarde was fired.
Martinez said Tuesday that the county fired Yazzie following Monday’s threats, and the county is seeking a temporary restraining order on Yazzie.
“We don’t want him to be able to be on any county property in order to protect all of our employees,” Martinez said.
Rio Arriba County Fire Marshal Jerome Sanchez will take over duties as the Velarde fire chief, Martinez said, and Rio Arriba County Emergency Manager Mateo DeVargas will be his assistant chief.
Calls to Velarde and his attorney, Diego Zamora, were not returned Tuesday.
Yazzie did not fire any shots, and no one was injured Monday, but Salazar said Yazzie “has been very aggressive toward a number of people in the department” in the last six months.
Yazzie was found asleep at home by Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputies shortly after midnight Tuesday morning, according The New Mexican’s media partner, KOB-TV.
A spokesperson at the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Department said Sheriff Tommy Rodella has refused to allow staff to speak to The New Mexican about the incident because of an editorial about Rodella that appeared several months ago regarding the Democratic primary election. The sheriff’s department did confirm, however, that the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office.
KOB-TV reports indicate deputies did not recover any weapons when they arrested Yazzie.
According to court records, Yazzie has a long history of DWI arrests in Ohkay Owingeh and Rio Arriba County, and Salazar couldn’t explain how or why the department named him acting chief. “He has quite an extensive rap sheet to even be in his position,” Salazar said.
Yazzie pleaded guilty/no contest to drunken driving in Española in 2008. He has been arrested four times since 2006 by Ohkay Owingeh police on DWI charges, including two arrests since April of this year, according to the Santa Fe County jail website.
On April 26, Yazzie was arrested on charges of aggravated DWI, driving without proof of insurance and driving with expired plates. He was released from jail May 6, according to jail records, then arrested again May 20 on the same charges.
He also was arrested in 2010 on charges of aggravated DWI and carrying a concealed weapon.
State court records do not show the results of the cases against Yazzie because they were handled by Ohkay Owingeh courts. Phone calls to Ohkay Owingeh officials were not returned Tuesday.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler.