Death of former law enforcement officer in Chimayó investigated as suspicious

Nicole Romero

Deputies from the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office are investigating suspicious circumstances behind the death of a former police officer and sheriff’s deputy in Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties.

Nicole Romero, 31, died at Presbyterian Española Hospital on Nov. 29, after emergency responders found her unresponsive and breathing irregularly, with a foamy substance around her lips, in a trailer home in Chimayó, according to a search warrant filed in First Judicial District Court.

The 911 call came from a man named Dion Trujillo, 57, the search warrant says. Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Salazar said Trujillo was Romero’s boyfriend.

At first, search warrants say, sheriff’s deputies and emergency responders thought Romero had possibly taken lorazepam, an anxiety medication, while drinking alcohol. Combining lorazepam with alcohol can lead to any number of side effects, according to American Addiction Centers. The mix also increases the risk of overdose.

Paramedics rushed Romero to the hospital, the search warrant says, where she later died.

But that’s not where the story ends.

According to the search warrant, doctors who examined Romero discovered she had a subdural hematoma — in essence, a brain bleed. One doctor at the hospital told police that “the only way that condition could occur is from head trauma,” the warrant states.

Sheriff’s deputies now are investigating the situation as a suspicious death, Salazar said, and Trujillo is a person of interest in the case.

According to online court documents, Trujillo has not been charged with any crimes. He could not be reached for comment.

Relatives told sheriff’s deputies that Romero had confided in them in the past that Trujillo had hit her, according to the warrant.

“They mentioned times that they saw Nicole with injuries to her face that were consistent with being hit,” the warrant states.

Reached by The New Mexican this week, Romero’s aunt, Monica Romero, referred questions about the case to the sheriff’s office.

Deputies, who thought “it was a possibility that the injury could have been caused by Mr. Trujillo,” asked the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque to conduct an autopsy on Romero’s body, according to the warrant. Results from the autopsy are not yet available.

An initial exam revealed bruises on Romero’s arms and legs, chest, stomach and back, the warrant says. Medical examiners also found “a soft spot on the back of her head that … could be swelling or the shape of her skull.”

When questioned by the sheriff’s deputies, Trujillo said Romero often drank and fell over frequently while she was drinking, according to the warrant.

Trujillo did tell deputies that he had been violent with Romero in the past, the warrant says, but denied hitting Romero with anything.



Police took DNA samples at the scene and seized Trujillo’s phone, Salazar said.

Salazar said the department is still waiting on the results of Romero’s autopsy, is conducting interviews with “witnesses who knew of possible domestic violence” and is in the process of sending materials to the crime lab for processing.

Romero was buried in Chimayó on Dec. 6, according to a memorial page on the DeVargas Funeral Home website. An online obituary says she graduated from McCurdy Charter School in 2005 and earned a degree in criminal justice at Northern New Mexico College. She worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for a time, the obituary says, before she entered law enforcement.

According to the Rio Grande Sun, Romero worked as an Española police officer from October 2009 to July 2011, then moved to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office from August 2011 to January 2015.

During her time at the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, Romero was cited for a traffic violation when she reportedly hit a car in an Española liquor store parking lot and fled the scene, The New Mexican reported at the time.

Romero joined the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office in November 2015, the Sun reported — but she was fired less than three weeks on the job for not showing up to work, Sheriff James Lujan told the newspaper at the time.

In recent weeks, dozens have left messages remembering Romero on her online obituary. They remember her as a basketball player, a “bubbly spirit” and, as one person put it, a “sister in blue.”

“Such a very sad loss and too young,” one person wrote. “… Thank you for your service and you will be dearly missed.”

Reporter

Sami Edge covers public-safety issues for Santa Fe New Mexican and follows developments in this year's fire season.

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