Rescues, fires mark busy 2017

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SANDPOINT — From bird rescues and human rescues, to fires plaguing the region, there was no shortage of news in Bonner County in 2017.

And July was no exception.

This is the fifth in a series looking back at the top stories of the year, continuing with July. Stories are listed in no particular order.

• The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office welcomed its newest addition to the force, Nova, in late June.

Nova is a black Labrador retriever from Pacific Coast K9 in Custer, Wash. Nova’s handler Deputy Tom Cimbalik and Nova were congratulated for attaining state of Idaho certification as a narcotics-detection team.

• An injured adult bald eagle was on the mend in July after being discovered along the Lake Pend Oreille shoreline at Sunnyside.

The wounded male eagle was discovered on Sunnyside Road on June 30. A passersby managed to safely corral the national bird despite the fact that it swam into the lake at one point to evade capture.

Misadventure involving a motor vehicle is the suspected cause of the eagle’s injuries. Eagles are well known for their fish diets, although they’re not above indulging in less elegant fare, such as a morbidly obese raccoon that should have zigged when it should have zagged while crossing a road with traffic. The injured eagle was later released back into the wild.

Also, a pair of Osprey chicks were rescued from a nest at War Memorial Field after a passerby witnessed the parents collide with each other, resulting in their deaths. Janie Veltkamp of Birds of Prey Northwest said the adult birds were likely defending their nest from a third bird, miscalculating their course and colliding in a "freak accident."

In addition, Birds of Prey Northwest volunteers in Bonner County rescued a pair of red-tailed hawks on June 14 that were blown out of their nest off Dufort Road near Otts Basin Road.

Bonner County Birds of Prey volunteer Judy Lundak said three infant hawks were blown out of their nest and survived being on the ground for a week. They were given a low survival rate when rescued, but they survived and were released back into the skies on July 14.

• A 60-year-old woman who was attacked by a black bear sow on the Chipmunk Rapids trail at Priest Lake on July 4 was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to Idaho Department of Fish & Game officials.

Fish & Game wildlife conservation educator Phil Cooper said the woman and the bear abruptly crossed paths, prompting the bear to swiftly charge and attack her and her two dogs.

The woman assumed a fetal position to protect her vital organs after being knocked down by the bruin. The bear proceeded to bite and claw her and she sustained injuries to her head, side and her abdomen.

• Two small fires were reported on the Priest Lake Ranger District on July 10.

Firefighters began actively suppressing the 1-acre Cedar Creek Fire that is suspected to have been touched off by a lightning strike. Approximately 5 miles west of the Cedar Creek Fire is the North Fork Hughes Fire, located north of Hughes Meadows in the upper Hughes Creek drainage. The Hughes Creek fire, also believed to have been caused by lightning, was approximately 15 acres at the time.

By July 20, multiple fires took hold in the Idaho Panhandle National thanks to lightning storms, according to the U.S. Forest Service, including the Trestle Creek and Rattle Creek fires, as well as the Reeder Mountain Fire, the Nickel Fire, the Muskegon and Muskegon 2 fires, and the North Fork Hughes Fire.

Several small fires were reported as well across the Sandpoint and Priest Lake ranger districts, but were quickly contained.

• A Bonner County man was charged with first-degree arson for allegedly attempting to burn down an occupied residence in the early morning of July 7.

Michael Shaun Peterson faced additional misdemeanor charges of battery, injury to a child and malicious injury to property. The alleged arson attempt came a day after a divorce certificate was issued, according to the Idaho Supreme Court Data Repository.

• Sandpoint City Beach lifeguards were credited with rescuing a swimmer’s life on July 9. They were again praised for a rescue on July 19 when a 24-year-old man was seriously injured after diving into shallow water in Lake Pend Oreille at City Beach.

The lifeguards received awards from Sandpoint officials for their heroic acts.

John Key, a 67-year-old Newman Lake resident, disappeared while returning to Bayview after a day on the lake on July 2. Friends discovered his unoccupied vessel near Cedar Creek. The boat was idling in a neutral gear, Bonner County sheriff’s officials said.

Friends and nearby boaters began searching for Key and three Bonner County sheriff’s vessels joined the search party, but no evidence of Key could be found. A private helicopter searched from the air and a Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office sonar team was deployed, but called off the search as the instruments were unable to see the bottom of the lake where Key’s body was presumably located.

• Daryl Ramey offered a $5,000 reward in July for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the death of his wife, Shirley Ramey, who was found shot to death in their Trestle Creek home on April 5.

• The wraps covering a sex scandal at the Bonner County Jail began to come off in July.

Documents show former detention Deputy Brandon Myrel Williams became the subject of employment termination proceedings because of misconduct with three former jail inmates between December 2012 and July 2013.

A three-page notice written by Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler in 2013 cites four county employee policy violations including engaging in sexual activity while on duty, engaging in unbecoming conduct while on- and off-duty, failing to guard against a conflict of interest and forming personal relationships with those who are going through or have already been through the justice system.

Williams was not the subject of a criminal investigation.

• Mayor Shelby Rognstad was elected director for District 1 by members of the Association of Idaho Cities.

Rognstad traveled to Boise where he took the oath of office on June 22. District 1 covers the Idaho Panhandle north of Plummer. AIC is a nonprofit organization out of Boise, with a mission to "promote excellence in, and advocate for, city governance, community leadership and service to citizens in order to strengthen Idaho cities," Rognstad said. AIC focuses primarily on education for elected and city staff, he said.

• In regards to that effort, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality announced Wednesday it is awarding the city a $65,000 wastewater planning grant. And with aging infrastructure and new permit requirements, it's about time for the city of Sandpoint to take a look at its wastewater treatment plant.

The funds will be used to prepare a wastewater planning study. The purpose of the project is to evaluate the current wastewater treatment system and identify needed improvements to address new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements.

• A 60-year-old man died on July 3 after attempts by civilians and emergency personnel to save his life were unsuccessful.

According to the Bonner County Sheriff's Office, Brian A. Flewelling and his wife were swimming in Lake Pend Oreille to cool off when their boat drifted a bit in the wind. He became fatigued as he swam and couldn't make it to the boat or to the shore. Bystanders performed CPR until Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS crews responded and took over the life-saving efforts. The incident was reported off of Eureka Road in the Bottle Bay area.

• Sandpoint City Council members began the discussion of a raise for the city's elected officials, but ultimately decided to forego the bump in pay.

The last raise for elected officials in Sandpoint was approved in 2014 and took effect in January 2016. Council increased from $275 per month to $400, and the mayoral position increased from $1,000 per month to $1,275.

• A man is lucky to be alive after falling into an abandoned water well on July 16.

Emergency crews responded to the 10000 block of Lakeshore Drive in Sagle to find the man treading water in the deep well. The surface of the water was about 12 feet below ground level, but the depth of the water is unknown, said Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS Battalion Chief Jason Cordle.

The victim's core temperature was in the mid-90s, Cordle said. Along with the onset of hypothermia, he also suffered from abrasions and lacerations to his arms and thoracic area. He was taken to Bonner General Health and treated for his injuries.

• Pulitzer prize winner Marilyn Robinson, who was raised in Sandpoint for a time, was in town on July 20 for the campaign launch of Reclaim Idaho, an effort founded by Sandpoint locals Luke Mayville and Garrett Strizich to strengthen public schools, protect public lands and extend healthcare to working families.

On July 25, Strizich and Mayville launched their “Medicaid for Idaho” tour across the state in their “Medicaid Mobile.”

• After an extensive outreach process over the past several months, the top recommendation by Roger Woodworth, the city’s independent consultant, is to stop the current Business Improvement District and “push a restart button.”

Woodworth offered several recommendations in his final report in July, including the first “core recommendation” of terminating the BID, which was the ultimate decision of council this fall.

• The Daily Bee welcomed Alsy Brinkmeyer to the team on July 24. She serves as the advertising director and general manager for the Bonner County Daily Bee, Bonners Ferry Herald and Priest River Times.

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

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