Posted at: 05/07/2014 10:43 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Pride of ownership runs deep in most New Mexico communities. But families in one neighborhood are fed up with a homeowner who skipped town, abandoned his home, and who now owes them thousands of overdue taxes and fees.
Tom Romero, the president of the Pinon Ridge Homeowners Association near Pecos, took the 4 On Your Side investigative team on a tour of his neighborhood – his personal heaven.
“I used to live in Santa Fe, and I wanted somewhere quiet,” he said.
The subdivision of roughly a dozen homes overlooks a large, heavily-wooded Valley west of Pecos. Romero considers the area beautiful, but said the rotting mess next door to his home ruins it and makes the area feel like a personal hell at times.
“It's rat-infested, the walls are moldy,” he said. “This is a homeowner that neglected his property and just packed up and left.”
Romero said the home, which sits on the edge of a ridge, has weathered winds, rain, and snow since 1997 or 1998. He said it’s been neglected the entire time.
The wooden staircase that leads to the home from the road below has since collapsed. Old vehicles, appliances, paint cans, and furniture remain. Vandals continue to spray-paint graffiti, including images of demons, inside.
“It brings everybody's property values down. People drive up, and this is the first thing they see,” Romero said. “Everybody says, 'Tom, what are we going to do about that house?' Well, I'm trying to do everything possible.”
He said he’s filed a lien on the property every two years, which is required to keep the lien active. He said the property owners, Darwin and Bertha Pattengale, quit paying their homeowners association dues in roughly 2004.
The couple’s outstanding balance with the homeowners association, or HOA, now tops $10,000.
According to the San Miguel County Treasurer’s Office, the Pattengales stopped paying property taxes after 2004. To date, they owe $7,089.43 in back taxes.
Romero and the county have been trying to locate the Pattengales but haven’t had any luck. They knew the couple first moved to Roswell in the late 1990s, and then Carlsbad, but lost track of them after that. They’ve only ever had one clue.
“We saw the property owner, Darwin Pattengale, on the news,” Romero said.
Indeed, in May of 2004, Pattengale appeared in a story on KOB Eyewitness News 4. The station interviewed him in his capacity with Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department. A KOB photographer had found a tooth in a burrito at a restaurant. Pattengale explained why the situation was not necessarily unusual.
“Especially in meat products, we get bone chips and different things that make their way into it,” Pattengale said.
Pattengale retired not long after that story.
According to his resume, which the city still maintains on file, Pattengale worked for New Mexico’s Environment Department for years. Before he took the Albuquerque job, he lived in Roswell and Carlsbad – consistent with what Romero and his neighbors had heard.
Through a search of county assessor records in the Albuquerque metro, the 4 On Your Side team located a Darwin and Bertha Pattengale in Rio Rancho. The team knocked on the couple’s door and quickly learned the family was not interested in discussing the Pecos property when Darwin Pattengale slammed the door closed.
So far, in the weeks that KOB has been pursuing the story, the Pattengales have yet to take care of the "horror on the hill."
“Come back and take care of business over here. You know, clean it up," Romero said.
The small staff of San Miguel County workers will attempt to reach the Pattengales at their Rio Rancho address.