2017 filled with good times, hard times

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SANDPOINT — From the murder of a Hope resident and the stabbing of a Laclede man to more racist flyers scattered in the community and beginning talks of turf at Memorial Field, April was a busy month for news in Bonner County.

This is the third in a series of articles looking back at the top local stories of the 2017. We continue with stories from February and March before heading into April, but otherwise, stories are listed in no particular order.

• KHQ’s Dan Kleckner made his way to Sandpoint High School on March 24 to honor Wendy Auld, SHS math department chair, as Eastern Washington University’s Teacher of the Month.

“There is no question, no doubt, that these teachers here at Sandpoint really go above and beyond the call of duty, making you better people every single day,” Kleckner said. “But there is one teacher, one teacher in particular, that we would like to recognize as our Teacher of the Month.”

Auld was nominated by SHS junior Emily Shveyda. In her nomination letter, read to the crowd by EWU field representative Clive Gary, Shveyda said Auld is a teacher who “consistently goes the extra mile to help every student who she comes in contact with.”

• Sandpoint High School seniors Laney Search, Hannah Fingel and Abby Kassa were joined by their parents and school officials during the luncheon to celebrate their being named valedictorian and salutatorians for the 2017 graduation ceremony.

With their respective, unweighted 4.0 GPAs, Search was named valedictorian, and Fingel and Kassa co-salutatorians.

“We are very proud of them — their hard work, perseverance, dedication to academics — they are all three great representatives of Sandpoint High School,” said SHS Principal Tom Albertson.

• Pilot error and insufficient preflight preparations were determined to be the probable causes of plane crash that claimed the lives of three people, including aviator and entrepreneur Dr. Pam Riddle Bird, according to a final National Transportation Safety Board report published on Jan. 31.

Bird, 59, was presumably killed in the Oct. 8, 2015, crash in the Cabinet Mountains near Hope, although her remains are still unaccounted for. The crash also killed Don Hensley, 84, and his 80-year-old wife, Tookie.

The remains of the Hensleys were positively identified and NTSB investigators concluded Bird’s remains were consumed in a post-crash fire that destroyed the cabin of Bird’s Cessna 182P airplane.

• Bonner County Magistrate Court Judge Debra Heise is stepping down from the bench after more than 32 years of service.

But the long-serving jurist won’t be stepping away from the court as she has been approved for senior status, which means she will continue to serve as co-director and advisor of judicial education for the Idaho Supreme Court.

Those responsibilities include statewide training for sitting judges and developing orientation programs for incoming judges, duties which Heise has been doing for the past six years.

• A Bonner County man accused of firing on a Bonner County sheriff’s deputy during a pursuit pleaded not guilty on Feb. 9 to an additional charge arising from the incident.

Steven Michael Gervasi is accused of opening fire on Deputy Alex Hughes after the deputy pursued him into Pend Oreille County, Wash., on May 9, 2016. Hughes narrowly missed being struck by incoming rounds and Gervasi was later apprehended.

Gervasi, 26, was charged with attempted second-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree. Gervasi was barred from possessing a gun due to a 2006 burglary conviction in Bonner County.

If convicted of attempting to kill a law officer who was discharging his duties, the mandatory penalty is life in prison without possibility of parole. The weapons offense is punishable by up to 10 years, according to charging documents.

• A former Lake Pend Oreille School teacher faced a felony charge for allegedly having sex with a student.

Nichole Noel Thiel was charged with sexual battery of minor between the ages of 16-17. A preliminary hearing in Bonner County Magistrate Court was set for March 1, but was postponed. Thiel was eventually acquitted of the charges.

• Clark Fork City Council members unanimously objected to a federal wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks in February.

The council notified U.S. Sen. Jim Risch that it was coming out against a wilderness designation because it was never brought into the discussion and public meetings weren’t held in the Clark Fork area to discuss the proposal. The council also said support for the designation has been overstated by Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

“We also feel the designation to wilderness is an overreach to future generations who will use this area and for this, we recommend against this designation or, at least, to minimize the acreage of wilderness and recommend returning surrounding areas to multiple use management,” the council said in a letter to Risch it drafted.

Risch introduced legislation last December which aimed to designate approximately 13,900 acres of the Cabinet Mountains in Idaho as a wilderness area. Friends of Scotchman Peaks is advocating for an adjoining 48,000 acres in Montana to be designated wilderness.

Bonner County commissioners adopted a resolution in 2015 which recommended a wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks.

• A Bonner County woman accused of bludgeoning her boyfriend to death last fall pleaded guilty Feb. 28 to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.

The state agreed to recommend a five- to 15-year sentence in Linda Provo-Buxton’s case, while the defense will be free to recommend a four- to 10-year term.

Provo-Buxton, 54, was accused of killing her boyfriend inside their residence on West Spring Creek Road near Hope on Oct. 15, 2016. Jeffrey Newton, 57, died of blunt force trauma to the head.

• A Nampa murder suspect who gave authorities the slip in Bonner County last year was sentenced on Feb. 28 to life in prison, according to a news report published by the Idaho Press-Tribune.

James Patrick Mancuso will have to serve at least 10 years in prison before he can be considered for parole, the newspaper reported. He was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of Robert L. Stevens on March 10, 2016. Stevens, 30, was partially disemboweled after being stabbed in the lower abdomen, according to media accounts.

Mancuso and Ashley Nicoli Ford turned up in Kootenai on March 23, but evaded law enforcement and allegedly stole a vehicle to effect their getaway.

Ford was apprehended in Las Vegas in May 2016, while Mancuso was arrested in Spokane County in June 2016.

Mancuso pled guilty to the murder charge and was sentenced in 3rd District Court in Caldwell. Ford was charged with harboring a fugitive, a felony.

• Search warrants were reportedly executed in two northern Idaho locations in connection with the murder of Travis Jay “T.J.” Gillett in Montana.

The Western News reported that the warrants were executed for a residence and vehicle in Ponderay and vehicle in Bonners Ferry. The report did not specify when the warrants were executed, although Lincoln County sheriff’s officials confirmed they were part of the Gillett homicide investigation. Investigators also conducted interviews in conjunction with the warrant executions.

Gillett, 31, was found shot to death in the Yaak River Valley on Jan. 16. He was shot multiple times, sheriff’s officials have said.

Gillett was reported missing in Bonner County on Jan. 14. Two days later, Lincoln County dispatchers received a report that Gillett left Sandpoint on Jan. 13 with someone from Thompson Falls, Mont. They left in a dark blue or green pickup truck to make a delivery somewhere in the Yaak area. Gillett was due back on Jan. 14, but he never returned and was reported missing, according to The Western News.

• Up to 60 empty coal cars and a locomotive derailed in early morning of March 17 in Ponderay, following a washout on Montana Rail Link’s mainline along Lake Pend Oreille.

There were no injuries and no hazardous materials were released, the company said in a statement. The derailed cars and locomotive remained upright. The derailment occurred shortly after 6 a.m. The washout occurred east of the intersection of Third Street and Cedar Avenue.

One set of train tracks and a Jersey barrier were suspended over a 30-foot tall void in the railroad’s embankment on Friday. At the bottom of the void was a current of stormwater. Other culverts under the tracks on Ponder Point appeared to be running at or near capacity that afternoon.

• Racist fliers littered Sandpoint on March 19, attracting condemnation from the community and the local human rights task force.

Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon said as many as 30 of the fliers, which promoted a website that traffics in speech against Hispanics, Jews and other creeds and nationalities, were collected.

“Over the weekend there appears to have been a random distribution of hate fliers,” Bonner County Human Rights Task Force President Lynn Bridges. “Unfortunately Sandpoint and Bonner County have been down this road before. Our community has shown over and over that they do not tolerate hate groups.”

• An Elmira man who has been quietly living in Bonner County under an assumed identity for the past 17 years was into the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service in March to answer to a charge of unlawfully possessing firearms.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush ordered Eric Lavon Corbett detained partly because of his longstanding effort to evade authorities by living under the alias Jubal Burke, according to U.S. District Court records. Corbett’s prior criminal history — a witness tampering charge — also factored into Corbett’s pretrial detention.

Corbett, a farmer and wood craftsman, was indicted last December for possessing a shotgun and three hunting rifles. Corbett is barred from possessing firearms because of the witness tampering conviction in Florida.

The witness tampering charge dates back to 1996, when Corbett was involved in a confrontation with a well-known drug addict and petty thief, court records state. During the confrontation, two of the man’s associates approached in a menacing manner, prompting Corbett to draw a permitted concealed weapon and back out of the bar. Federal prosecutors disputed that it was a case of self-defense and charged Corbett with witness tampering.

Corbett, 45, was sentenced last year to time served for evading supervision in Florida, court records indicate.

• Shirley Ann Ramey was found shot to death in her Trestle Creek home on April 5. Ramey, 78, had long served as the city of Hope’s clerk.

Ramey was found unresponsive by her husband at around 5 p.m. Daryl Ramey, who was ruled out as a suspect, told investigators that he discovered his wife unresponsive on the floor of their home after returning from playing cards with friends at a senior center.

Bonner County Sheriff’s officials spent several days hunting for Nathan Lane Utt, 41, who was believed to be a suspect in the murder. When Utt was located, it was determined he had been in another state at the time of Ramey’s death.

Sheriff’s officials said the investigation remains active and other leads that have been developed are still being examined.

Those with information about the case are urged to contact Bonner Dispatch at 265-5525. Tips can also be reported anonymously at 208-255-COPS.

• Artificial turf, grass or a mixture of both?

City officials hosted the first in a series of public workshops on the War Memorial Field turf issue in April. Tom Sherry, from SPVV Landscape Architects in Spokane, presented the pros, cons and costs of three options — high performance natural turf, artificial turf or a combination of the two.

Public comment was split between Festival at Sandpoint folks who would like to see natural turf go in, and athletic officials and fans who want the artificial turf. The turf is scheduled to be replaced in 2018, but a final decision by City Council members is still up in the air.

• Clark Fork High School’s Max Icardo and Nona Young were named valedictorian and salutatorian respectively.

Icardo had a 3.973 GPA and, while staying at the top of his class academically, worked at the Cenex gas station and played sports. Young, who traveled from west of Dover to Clark Fork for school, yet she maintained a 3.76 GPA

• The Postmaster General's Hero Award is reserved for employees of the United States Postal Service who go above and beyond the call of duty, protecting human life and property.

Ole Olson, a clerk at the Sandpoint post office, did just that when he saved the life of a man whose Jeep plunged down a 30-foot embankment in December 2016. In April, Olson was presented with the PMG Hero Award for his courageous efforts in rescuing Marc McGregor that icy cold day in December.

The outside temperature on Dec. 16, 2016, was 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Olson, upon seeing signs of a crash, walked into an ice-covered slough at the base of the embankment to reach McGregor, who was trapped in his vehicle. Together, they broke out the windshield with bare hands and Olson helped McGregor to his vehicle to warm up. McGregor suffered a broken neck, three broken ribs and a broken scapula and was transported to Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene. He was released four days later.

• City Council members got a sneak peek at the final design of the Cedar Street project during a special council meeting in April.

The first phase, which was slated to begin in June, was later delayed until 2018. That phase encompasses Cedar Street between Second and Fifth avenues, which will be getting wider sidewalks to support pedestrian traffic, new street furniture, storm gardens and more. With the storm gardens, seat walls will be added near the bulb outs on each corner.

• The city saw few dry days in April, throwing off the Idaho Transportation Department’s timeline of transitioning streets from one-way to two-way.

Originally, according to a work schedule released by ITD in March, Fifth Avenue and Pine Street would have been converted in April. Church Street was scheduled to be converted in April as well.

• The Sandpoint Business Improvement District was placed under interim management by the city in April until a decision is reached by council whether or not to dissolve it.

The BID was managed by the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, but while the contract was extended through the end of March, it expired at that time. Ultimately, after a series of workshops and other outreach efforts, the BID was dissolved this summer.

• Another flier, sowing anti-immigration sentiments attributed to Mayor Shelby Rognstad, was distributed in the community in April.

The one-page flyer turned up in city mailboxes, featuring a mugshot of Rognstad with a purported quote from him which espouses the cause of multiculturalism and his role in bringing it to Sandpoint. What follows is a block of text that it ostensibly attributed to Rognstad which holds that Syrian immigration is cover for immigration from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and “black Africans” and portrays the rape of women and young boys as a fact of life which must be accepted.

The quote was never made by Rognstad and the views expressed in the paragraph that followed it are also not Rognstad’s, city Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said at the time. The same group is suspected of distributing racist fliers in Sandpoint in March.

• Water and septic services were abruptly cut off to residents of the Idaho Club on April 13 amid an extensive legal dispute between the current and former owners of the golf resort and housing development.

Valiant Idaho, which operates the Idaho Club, announced on April 14 that services were being restored through a temporary restraining order.

William Haberman of Valiant released a statement that the water provider took it upon themselves to shut off the water service at the Idaho Club.

The Idaho Club’s water and sewer system are at the center of a struggle that began with the foreclosure of the resort in 2009, according to 1st District Court documents. The dispute is spread across 44 file folders. Contemporary court filings appear to largely involve the water and sewer system.

First District Judge Barbara Buchanan sustained an order on April 19 that ensures residents of the Idaho Club will not be denied water and septic services.

• On April 11, Caldwell attorney Tera Harden was picked to fill a vacancy on the Bonner County Magistrate Court bench, created by the retirement of Judge Debra Heise, who has been approved for senior status after more than 32 years of service.

Harden, the daughter of retired magistrate court Judge Quentin Harden and a public defender in Canyon County, was selected to fill the vacancy by the 1st District Court’s Magistrate Commission, which conducted interviews of finalists for the position.

Heise, who retired in May, continues to serve the Idaho judiciary as an advisor of judicial education for the Idaho Supreme Court.

• Bonner County sheriff’s deputies arrested a Washington state man implicated in a Laclede stabbing following an overnight manhunt on April 16.

Shawn Montgomery Harp, 34, is accused of stabbing another man once in the chest and once in the back with a kitchen knife shortly after 4 p.m. on April 16. The unidentified victim was taken to Bonner General Health and was listed in stable condition, sheriff’s officials said.

Harp allegedly fled the scene in a utility terrain vehicle that he took from the home. Sheriff’s officials sent out an advisory warning there was a heavy police presence. Deputies later located Harp, a Spokane resident, in the area of the stabbing. Harp tried to evade deputies on foot, but was apprehended in a chicken coop, sheriff’s officials said in a news release.

Harp was charged with attempted murder, operating a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent and possession of drug paraphernalia. Judge Lori Meulenberg set Harp’s bail at $250,575 and appointed a public defender to represent him. Meulenberg also entered an order forbidding Harp from having any contact with the alleged victim.

• Adam Deacon Foster, accused of attempting to kill two Bonner County sheriff’s deputies during a shootout was ruled “dangerously mentally ill.”

The ruling was made from the bench during Foster’s competency hearing in magistrate court on March 23. The ruling suspends criminal proceedings against Foster until determinations are made whether he can understand the charges against him and assist in his own legal defense.

• Authorities in Bonner County spent several hours on April 21 hunting for a Kootenai man who escaped while being arrested by Idaho State Police on U.S. Highway 95 in Cocolalla.

Daniel James Springsteel was involved in a traffic stop when he fled on foot shortly after 1 p.m., state police said in a news release. Springsteel was reportedly wearing handcuffs when he made his escape, according to radio communications between Bonner Dispatch and law officers who were summoned to the area in an attempt to find him.

Deputies and police searched areas on the east and western sides of the highway from Huckleberry Mountain Road to Old Highway 95 Road near the southern end of Cocolalla Lake. A K-9 officer was used in the search.

• There were no suspects immediately after the fire destroyed the Sandpoint Parks and Recreation Department facility and adjoining portable toilets Great Northern Park on April 23 or 24.

By the end of the week, however, the situation turned in investigators’ favor when the suspects began bragging about the crime. The suspects were a quartet of juveniles, two boys and two girls between the ages of 13 and 15 years old, said Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon. All four were charged with second-degree arson.

The fire caused, at a minimum, $20,000 in damages, according to Sandpoint Police. The structure provided for all-weather usage of the portable toilets, in addition to storage for sports equipment.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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