The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Good time to remember Rito Mendez


The Independence Day effort to save a 12-year-old boy from drowning at Hillcrest Park's pond brings to mind Rito Mendez.

Like the emergency responders who rushed to pull Gevion Lewis from the filthy waters of Hillcrest's pond on Tuesday, Mendez risked his life for a struggling child. That happened on Nov. 1, 1936, at the Santa Fe rail yards.

Lavelle Brown was 7 when she fell in a water tank 12 feet deep. Mendez and three other railway workers - T. E. Montgomery, M. H. Hailey and W. M. Burgett - rushed over when they heard the screams of Lavelle's playmate.

The men formed a human chain in an effort to reach the little girl. Montgomery held onto a post while the others held hands with him and stretched down into the tank.

The man on the end of the chain, Burgett, was able to grab the girl and her rescuers began pulling her out when Mendez's work glove slipped off.

Mendez, Burgett and Lavelle went tumbling back into the water.

This time, Montgomery found a long piece of wire and reached out to Burgett, who was then pulled to safety, along with the girl he was grasping.

But Mendez, unable to swim, went under the greasy, dirty water that had been piped to the settling tank after being used to clean locomotives.

One of the men dived into the murk and located Mendez, but was unable to pull him to the surface.

By the time he was freed, with assistance from a grappling hook, he'd been in the water 27 minutes.

"Mendez's heart beat for some time," the Clovis Evening News-Journal reported, but he could not be revived.

He was 45.

The newspaper reported Lavelle was in shock after the incident, but she recovered.

Mendez was buried in a "hero's grave" two days later, a newspaper headline read.

He was survived by six children and his wife, Caroline. They lived at 201 Reid St. in Clovis.

About a month later, Caroline Mendez received $2,000 in a lawsuit settlement with the railroad.

Let's all hope Gevion Lewis recovers from Tuesday's near-drowning at Hillcrest and is able to thank those who risked their lives for his.

Let's be glad Lavelle Brown was able to thank T. E. Montgomery, M. H. Hailey and W. M. Burgett for her extra time on Earth.

And let's not forget Rito Mendez for the sacrifice he made more than 80 years ago.

David Stevens is editor for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:


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