Head-on collision takes lives of mental patients

By Don McAlavy: local columnist

Six people were killed and three others critically injured in a head-on collision three miles east of Fort Sumner on Highway 60 on the night of Nov. 16, 1950, the Clovis News Journal reported the next day.

Five apparently died instantly and the other was dead on arrival at Clovis Memorial Hospital. The crash telescoped the two vehicles, fatally injuring four of the seven occupants of a station wagon and both occupants of the other car.

Positive identification of four of the dead awaited the arrival of Harry Whitmer, business manager of the Arizona State Hospital for the Insane.
Three of those killed were inmates of the Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix. One tentatively identified early in the investigation was the hospital’s deportation officer.

One of those in the Clovis hospital was the wife of the hospital officer who was driving the Arizona State Hospital’s station wagon. Two others in the Clovis hospital were identified as being escapees from the Arizona hospital. The woman and the two escapees suffered head injuries and none of them was conscious long enough to be questioned.

Sheriff Roy Skipworth, of DeBaca County, said two occupants of a gas truck heading east on the highway told him the station wagon pulled out to pass the truck and smashed head-on into a sedan driven west on a level stretch of the highway.

Sheriff Skipworth said one of the seven riding in the station wagon was handcuffed. He was identified from a newspaper clipping found in his pocket. The clipping told of an escapee from the Arizona hospital the Tuesday before this accident.

In Phoenix, Dr. Bruce Hart, the hospital superintendent, said the five patients in the station wagon were being returned to their home states for hospitalization. Aside from the inmate who broke out, the sheriff described them as “quiet and anxious to return to their homes.” Final destination of the journey, said the sheriff, was said to be Brooklyn, N.Y.
The remaining two dead, in the second car, were identified as Henry Adkinson, 36, and Joe Watts, about 25, both Amherst, Texas, farmers.
Adkinson’s wife, Jo, made the identification of her husband. Surviving Adkinson were also three daughters between 5 and 15.

Joe Watts was survived by his wife, a year-old son, and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Watts Sr., of Ralls, Texas.

State police were placed on guard at Clovis Memorial Hospital.

Some of those who died in this accident were taken to the Julian Funeral Home in Fort Sumner. In the Steed Funeral Home book in the Genealogy Room at the Clovis-Carver Public Library, page 174, notes “Julian’s Wreck Victims.”

In 1999, Wanda Dunn, then president of the genealogical society, recorded this data. Those who died in the Nov. 16, 1950, accident are not listed by name.

This terrible accident brought to 236 the unofficial traffic death toll for New Mexico in 1950.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com