KTSM’s Top 25 El Paso Stories of 2018

El Paso News
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From the hard news to viral moments, 2018 has been a memorable year in El Paso.

Here are 25 of KTSM’s biggest stories of the year, listed in no particular order, based on website clicks and social media interactions.


Daniel Villegas found not guilty of capital murder

After 25 years, Daniel Villegas’ name has been cleared. The 41-year-old man who was arrested in 1993 on suspicion of a double murder, was found not guilty by an El Paso jury on Oct. 5.

This was the third trial for Villegas, who had a mistrial in 1994 and was found guilty in 1995. He spent nearly 20 years behind bars when his conviction was overturned and he was allowed to bail out of jail.

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Tornillo facility houses unaccompanied migrant children in ‘tent city’

In June, the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security selected the Tornillo Port of Entry to serve as a temporary shelter for more than 2,000 unaccompanied migrant children.

The largest portion of kids at the Tornillo shelter are from Guatemala, followed by children from El Salvador.

The facility was originally slated to close by the end of 2018, but will remain open through early 2019, according to the Trump administration.

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El Paso police officer points gun at unruly children in viral video

A Facebook video posted by a local teenager made national headlines for showing an El Paso police officer pointing a gun at a group of heckling children in July.

The five-minute-long video racked up millions of views and shares before it was deleted.

The officer in the video was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and is back patrolling the same neighborhood where the incident happened, El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen announced in August.

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Deadly crash on first day of school 

An El Paso mother was killed, and three children were injured, in a crash outside West El Paso’s Tippin Elementary on the first day of school back in August.

According to a police report, Roger Hawkins, 58, was driving out of the school parking lot when he allegedly hit Kharisma James, her two children, as well as another mother, Senthilpriya Rajagopal, and her son, Athindra Sathish Kumar.

The father of James’ children, Sonny Holland, removed his children from the school three weeks after the incident.

“My decision was based on my children seeing too much of their mother’s death that day in that parking lot,” Holland wrote in a Facebook post. “We just didn’t need the constant reminder of what happened when I either took them to school everyday or whenever they had recess, etc.”

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Hit-and-run driver kills teenage girl walking home from school

The West El Paso community mourned the death of Giselle Martinez, 13, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in September.

Martinez was walking home with her little brother when she was hit.

The driver suspected in the crash, Samuel Thomas Garcia, 17, later turned himself in to police.

“She’s up there in heaven. It hurts so much. I never expected to leave my granddaughter. My first one,” her grandfather told KTSM.

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Hit-and-run driver kills El Paso teacher

The Ysleta ISD community came together to remember Amanda Weyant Ferguson, 28, who was killed in a hit-and-run crash in the Cincinnati Entertainment District early Thanksgiving morning.

Ferguson was a six-year employee of the district and most recently served as a 6th grade teacher at Eastwood Heights Elementary School. 

Joel Velazquez, 24, remains in custody, as a U.S. Customs and Immigration hold prevents him from bonding out.

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Franklin students injured in rollover crash

Franklin High School students and staff united to help two students who were injured in a rollover crash in Santa Teresa in November.

Student-athlete James McClain-Green and Nathalie Diaz were both seriously injured, but are on the mend. Two drivers were arrested for DWI. 

Dozens of El Pasoans donated blood to help the victims and joined to pray for their recovery.

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Fiery semi-truck crash creates traffic disaster, driver makes miraculous exit

In July, I-10 West at Missouri was completely closed for more than a day after a semi-truck careened off the interstate and up the highway’s embankment before becoming engulfed in flames.

The driver, Abel Garcia, told KTSM that he was reaching for a water bottle at the same time he felt what he believed was a flat tire. 

Garcia said he lost consciousness and awoke because smoke was filling the cab. Fortunately, he was able to exit safely and without injuries.

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Beto O’Rourke vs. Ted Cruz

Republican incumbent Ted Cruz defeated El Paso’s Beto O’Rourke in a highly-contested race for U.S. Senate in November.

Statewide, Cruz received 4,244,204 votes compared to O’Rourke’s 4,024,777.

The race made national headlines and even garnered the attention of celebrities including LeBron James and Beyonce.

During the election, El Pasoans broke a record with 17,294 votes cast during the first day of early voting.

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Child pornography reason behind sunspot observatory closure 

A federal search warrant revealed that Souther’s New Mexico’s Sunspot Solar Observatory was shut down due to child pornography in September.

The warrant states the suspect would use the observatory Wi-Fi and a personal laptop to download the child pornography. 

An investigation by the FBI revealed that a janitor is the main suspect in the search, however he has not been charged with a crime even though his name is on the warrant.

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Wyler Aerial Tramway closes indefinitely

The Wyler Aerial Tramway closed to the public in September after an inspection found it had surpassed its life expectancy.

A report compiled by Colorado-based Tramway Engineering, LTD states that “continuing to operate the tram exposed the State of Texas to high liability” based on several findings.

It goes on to say that if the tramway was to be replaced, it would take more than $7 million to build.

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More than 1,000 migrants unexpectedly dropped off in El Paso

Local immigration advocates scrambled to help after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents dropped off nearly 1,500 migrants right before Christmas.

Roughly 400 immigrants were left stranded at El Paso’s Downtown Greyhound bus station on Dec. 23. ICE released another 1,200 people shortly thereafter.

The Annunciation House and other local shelters continue to seek donations and volunteers to help the migrants.

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Eastlake graduate visits deported father at border in viral video

A heartwarming reunion of a local high school student and her deported father went viral in June.

Eastlake High School graduate Leslie Silva met her father at a local port of entry so he could see her before she crossed the stage 

Silva says he had been deported three times and missed her and her sisters’ graduation ceremonies.

El Paso woman dies from complications at Juarez plastic surgery clinic

An El Paso woman died in November after suffering complications at a Juarez plastic surgery clinic.

Laura Avila, 36, was placed in a coma on Oct. 30 after suffering cardiac arrest from anesthesia at the Rino Clinic.

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Gabriel Barron, student with rare cancer, dies

Gabriel Barron, a beloved Bel Air Middle School student, died in April after being diagnosed with a rare leukemia.

As soon as Gabriel was diagnosed, the Bel Air community rallied behind the teen, organizing fundraisers, organizing visits by law enforcement and creating a GoFundMe page

KTSM’s Estefania Seyffert followed every setback and triumph during his treatment process.  

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More than 1,000 protest gun violence during El Paso’s ‘March for Our Lives’

In March, more than 1,000 El Pasoans took to the Downtown streets to voice their concerns while urging lawmakers to pass new laws to prevent gun violence.

“It’s not OK for so many lives to be taken away. Not old, not young, not teachers, not students,” one student said.   

El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke was also in attendance.

El Paso Streetcars return to Downtown

The El Paso Streetcars officially began operating in Downtown El Paso in November after years of restoration work.

The street cars are the same ones that ran on El Paso streets until 1974 and will be operated and serviced by Sun Metro.

Each of the six cars are painted in one of three original color schemes representing the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

El Paso announces first USL team, El Paso Locomotive FC

All aboard! In February, the United Soccer League (USL) announced that El Paso will be the next addition to the league for the 2019 season.

MountainStar Sports and USL officials announced the team name, El Paso Locomotive FC, in October.

The team name had been a mystery since March when a name-the-team contest was announced. Other possibilities included the Tejanos, Stars, Estrellas and Lagartos. 

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El Paso’s first Topgolf opens

“Tee” time at El Paso’s first Topgolf location officially began in February.

The 65,000-foot driving range features more than 100 golf bays, two sports bars, a full-service restaurant, and kids activities.

The venue is the company’s 41st worldwide, and 10th in Texas. 

Khalid continues to show love to El Paso while climbing the charts

Although R&B star Khalid continues to ascend to global fame, the American Teen doesn’t forget the city he calls “home”. 

Khalid-mania took over the city as the singer performed two “Hometown” shows at the Don Haskins Center in September. He even made a surprise appearance at Shawn Mendes’ October concert.

The R&B star also gave several shout outs to the “City of the 915”, from his speech at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards to naming his new EP, “Suncity”.

Khalid was most recently in town in December when he paid a visit to Socorro ISD’s Ernesto Serna School to surprise each student with a gift and hug.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo returned the love by presenting the singer with the key to the city in September.

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Andress twins earn full-rise scholarships to Notre Dame

Twin brothers Darian and Dominique Smith get it done on the field and in the classroom at Andress High School.

The brothers star on the football and baseball fields for the Golden Eagles, and are number 1 and 2 in their class academically, both possessing GPAs above a 4.0. 

Their hard work earned them both full-ride academic scholarships to the University of Notre Dame in December.

El Paso mom celebrates son’s first birthday with Chico’s Tacos-themed photo shoot

When it comes to first birthdays, many parents go all out to commemorate the occasion — and one local mother rang in her son’s first year with some El Paso flair.

Crystal Salas created a Chico’s Tacos-themed photo shoot for her son, Jeremih’s, first birthday back in January.

The photos show Jeremih in a server uniform with a cake depicting the restaurant’s famous rolled tacos and crinkle-cut fries.

Local Chick-fil-A employee escorts customers in rain, goes viral

It was one Northeast El Paso Chick-fil-A employee’s pleasure to escort customers to and from the restaurant in the rain in July.

Matt Nunez, 24, is the Executive Hospitality Director at the North Hills Crossing location, and has worked for the company for seven years.

Nunez plans to continue working to help others by entering the medical field, leading his church’s student ministry, and possibly opening a Chick-fil-A location of his own.

Las Cruces PD’s lip sync video ranked among nation’s best

The internet has been flooded with lip sync challenge videos, but the Las Cruces Police Department’s performance is being called one of the best.

The Las Cruces Police Department posted its rendition of Toby Keith’s “I Should’ve Been a Cowboy” in July.

The video became so popular that Toby Keith himself gave the department a shout-out on Twitter.

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29 children adopted during National Adoption Day ceremony

More than two dozen local children received the gift of loving homes just in time for the holiday season.

12 families adopted 29 children during a superhero-themed National Adoption Day event at the El Paso County Courthouse in December. 

Officials say many of the adopted children were previously in the foster care system and were victims of abuse and neglect. 

“For the first time, they will have a loving and forever home,” Yahara Lisa Gutierrez, Judge of the 65th District Court, said.

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