COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – PRCA permit holders Mike Hillman and Jesse Andrus, both 18, were found dead in the camper shell of their pickup truck April 12 in Scottsdale, Ariz., apparently the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The men were on their way to their homes in Roswell, N.M., after competing in the Fiesta Days Rodeo in Cave Creek, Ariz., where Hillman had won the saddle bronc riding competition – his first win in a PRCA rodeo. It was Andrus’ first PRCA rodeo.
When Hillman and Andrus did not get home on April 11 as expected, their families reported them missing. Scottsdale police were contacted April 12 and located the men’s vehicle in a Safeway parking lot by using a telephone GPS.
Investigators said that a generator on the rear of the vehicle may have been running while the men slept.
A crisis intervention team has been sent to Goddard High School, where both Hillman and Andrus were seniors, according to Michael Gottlieb, superintendent of the Roswell Independent School District.
“We set up groups to come in and work with students and staff (who are) grieving,” Gottlieb told the Roswell Daily Record. “We started them (Monday) afternoon, and we’ll be there as long as we need to be.”
Hillman held a substantial lead in the New Mexico High School saddle bronc riding standings, and Andrus was eighth in the bull riding standings, even though he had missed several high school rodeos while competing in junior Professional Bull Riding events.
Ross Kirkes, president of the New Mexico High School Rodeo Association, said he expected both of them to represent the state at the National High School Finals Rodeo this year in Gillette, Wyo.
“They were the cream of the crop,” Kirkes said. “Nothing against any of the other guys, but both Mike and Jesse were at the top of their game. Mike was good at both ends of the arena, a Linderman sort of guy. Besides saddle bronc riding, he was also a pretty good tie-down roper and he team roped, too.”
Hillman had committed to attend Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla., and compete on the rodeo team for former National Finals Rodeo qualifier Craig Latham in all three events. He was going to team rope with PRCA saddle bronc rider Cody Taton’s sister.
“We were tickled to have Mike coming here,” Latham said. “He was a great kid and heck of a cowboy with a boatload of potential. We really felt he was going to make his mark here and be a tremendous asset. This is a very sad day.”
Andrus was planning to attend New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and ride bulls for coach Jim Brown.
Both Hillman and Andrus bought their PRCA permits within about a month of their 18th birthdays and demonstrated at Cave Creek last week that they were up-and-comers with a great love of the sport.
Hillman’s 79-point ride on Honeycutt Rodeo’s Painted Sparrow won the competition by a point over Colin Stalley and Brandon Biebelle and earned him his first PRCA check, worth $859. Andrus earned day money of $215.
“To be able to knock heads with the guys on top of the heap and excel – the talent was obvious,” said John Kissel, a PRCA judge who worked the Fiesta Days Rodeo.
Hillman had made his PRCA debut in another Honeycutt Rodeo-produced event in Yuma, Ariz., in February. By the luck of the draw, he had his entry fees paid by the Honeycutt family and was given $100 cash, a Cowboy Bible and a Christian testimony letter.
“The Honeycutts do that for one cowboy at every one of their rodeos,” Kissel said. “Sometimes, that’s the end of it. They never hear another word from the cowboy. Well, Cave Creek was the first time Mike was around any of the Honeycutts since Yuma, and when he arrived, he sought out Jerry Honeycutt and handed him a full-page, handwritten letter thanking him for the kindness they had done.
“It just shows what kind of kids Mike and Jesse were, what kind of families they came from.”
Indian champion Tsosie dies in fall
Nelson Tsosie, a two-time Indian National Finals Rodeo bareback riding world champion, International Indian Finals Rodeo world champion, and a competitor on the reality television series Toughest Cowboy, died April 10 in Sanostee, N.M. He was 23.
Brenda Charley, Tsosie’s older sister, told the Navajo Times that her brother slipped or fell from a mesa, plummeting about 100 feet to his death.
The incident is still under investigation by the FBI. Phone calls to the FBI and Navajo Nation Police by the Times were not returned.
Charley said Tsosie went into Farmington, N.M., the morning of April 9 to run errands, but never returned home. He reportedly visited a friend in Sanostee on April 10.
“The family, we’re holding up,” Charley said. “My mom is taking it hard, and my dad ... we’re all hurting, but we’re just trying not to show it. We just still can’t believe it. He was just so young, his birthday was coming up on Saturday, the 17th, he was going to be 24. He will be missed; we’ll always love him and we’ll always remember him.”
In 2005, at the age of 19, Tsosie won his first world title as the International Indian Finals Rodeo bareback riding champion. In 2007, he won the Toughest Cowboy title and also his first bareback riding championship at the Indian National Finals Rodeo.A year later, he won the INFR title for the second year in a row.
Tsosie grew up in Burnham, N.M., attending Newcomb Middle School and Farmington High School, where he graduated in 2005. He competed in PRCA rodeos for one year as a permit holder in 2005.