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'Living Treasure' Dies in Wreck

May 2, 2008

By Vic Vela
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Journal
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tibetan Buddhist scholar Lobsang Lhalungpa died in Santa Fe on Monday,
the day after the car he was riding in was struck by a pickup truck
police say was littered with beer cans.

The man police have identified as the driver of the truck— Roque Lucero,
40, of Santo Domingo Pueblo— has multiple DWI citations on his record.

Lucero fled the scene of the crash on St. Michael's Drive on Sunday
afternoon and had not been apprehended as of Monday evening. Three
people who were passengers in the truck with Lucero were caught but have
not been charged.

Lhalungpa, 80, worked for the Dalai Lama's Tibetan government in India
before emigrating first to Canada and then to the U.S. He came to Santa
Fe in 1989. His translation of a 16th century guide to Mahamudra
meditation includes a forward by the Dalai Lama.

Lhalungpa once told the Journal that he missed Tibet but could never
return because of the turmoil there since the Chinese takeover in the 1950s.

"Oh, how I wish I could go back," he said in 1998, when he was named a
Santa Fe "living treasure" by the local nonprofit group that honors
residents whose lives have had an exceptional impact on the City Different.

"The conditions are so difficult, and I know it's not the same country I
left," he said. "There's no way I can return there because it would
cause so much trouble for the people I love."

Lhakpa Dolma, vice president of the Tibetan Association of Santa Fe,
said Monday that Lhalungpa was "a very kind and peaceful man" who felt
education on the Tibetan culture was important.

"He was a landmark scholar and an exceptional teacher," said Dolma.

Subaru struck

Lhalungpa was a passenger in a white Subaru station wagon that his wife
was driving west on St. Michael's about 12:30 Sunday afternoon, in front
of the Kmart store.

The accident took place when the driver of a gold 2005 Dodge pickup
pulled out of the Kmart parking lot and tried to cross four lanes of
traffic on St. Michael's, apparently in an effort to make a left turn,
according to Santa Fe Police Deputy Chief Benjie Montaño.

The pickup T-boned the Subaru, causing it to spin around, while the
truck "completely flipped over and landed upright," Montaño said.

The truck's driver and three passengers got out of the truck and ran.

Responding officers were able to catch up with the three passengers, all
of whom are also from Santo Domingo Pueblo. They were identified as
Santa Nita, Louis Lucero and Louis Lucero Jr.

Roque Lucero, identified as the driver, was not found. But Montaño said
police have leads on his whereabouts and continue to search for him.

According to online court records, Roque Lucero was found guilty of a
DWI offense in February 1992. Before that, he pleaded guilty to a DWI
offense from February 1989. Online state Motor Vehicle Division Records
show another DWI charge in 2000.

A January 1989 DWI case against Lucero was dismissed.

Police suspect the passengers of the truck may have been drinking at the
time because open Bud Light cans were found inside the truck.

Lhalungpa was taken by ambulance to St. Vincent Regional Medical Center
and died at the hospital Monday morning. His wife, Gisela Minke,
suffered non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

'A visionary'

As a member of the Tibetan government, Lhalungpa was sent to work in
India in 1947. He would later help set up the Tibetan government in
exile there following the Chinese takeover of Tibet in the late 1950s.

Lhalungpa helped many Tibetan refugees who fled to India in the 1950s
stay connected to news when he started the Tibetan Radio Program for
"All India Radio."

After moving to Canada and spending time in other parts of the U.S.,
Lhalungpa moved to Santa Fe in 1989, where he taught and wrote about
Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan culture. He helped write and translate a
number of books on Buddhism.

"He really was a living treasure of the Tibetan culture," said Santa Fe
resident Harmon Houghton, who first met Lhalungpa when he gave a
presentation in New York 25 years ago.

Houghton, a publisher for Clear Light Books, called Lhalungpa "a visionary."

"Every generation spins exceptional people that define those people,"
said Houghton. "For the Tibetan people, Lobsang Lhalungpa was one of
those people."

Tenzen Lhalungpa, one of Lhalungpa's three sons, remembered his father
as being a warm, funny man.

"He had a great sense of humor and he was great to be with," he said.
"We would laugh until we had tears in our eyes when we were around him."

Tenzen Lhalungpa said his father also had a way with animals.

He recalled when the family had a "vicious cat" that would scratch at
anyone who tried to come near it, expect for his father, who was the
only one who could calm the feline.

There was also a neighborhood "nasty dog" that everyone was frightened
by— expect Lobsang Lhalungpa.

"He would walk by the dog and he would stop to pet it," said Tenzen.
"Everyone would be afraid of (the dog) biting him, but it wouldn't.

"There was definitely something to him."
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