RUPERT — A Rupert man is accused of shooting another man in the town of Minidoka April 28 and also of shooting the man’s daughter in the hand and threatening to kill her.
Rafael Gil Vargas, 43, of Minidoka, later died at the hospital.
Denis O. Lopez-Serrano, 22, of Rupert, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and two counts of first-degree kidnapping. He is set to be arraigned on the charges Monday in Minidoka County Magistrate Court.
Police say Lopez-Serrano lured the mother of his child, Nallely Vargas Juarez, 19, of Minidoka, saying he wanted her to pick up the child, but then fatally shot the woman’s father and shot her in the hand, according to court records.
Vargas Juarez told police she got a text from Lopez-Serrano saying she needed to come get her child, so she headed to Rupert from Minidoka. But then he sent another text saying he would keep the child, so she turned back toward Minidoka.
Before she got to Sears Street, Vargas Juarez told police, Lopez-Serrano and his friend stopped their car by pulling in front of them head-on. She said Lopez-Serrano got out of his friend’s vehicle and approached the car, pulling a handgun from his waistband and threatening them by pointing his gun at her and telling her to get out of the car.
Her father told her to call the police. Then, she said, Lopez-Serrano hit the car window with the gun breaking the window and then shot Vargas and shot Vargas Juarez in the hand.
Lopez-Serrano told her to get in the back seat of the car.
The woman said he drove them east of Minidoka where he told her he was going to dump her father’s body and then kill her. Lopez-Serrano’s friend followed them, she said.
She heard him ask the friend what he should do, to which the friend replied, “It’s up to you. You did this.”
Lopez-Serrano made her agree not to tell police that he shot them, court records said. Vargas Juarez said she could still hear her father breathing, so she agreed. Lopez-Serrano then took her phone and shot it, she said. Detectives later reported recovering the phone, which was in five pieces, and the gun.
Lopez-Serrano told the woman his friend would kill her and her family if she said anything to police, court records said. Lopez-Serrano’s friend told detectives he heard and saw Lopez-Serrano shoot them both.
Afterward, Lopez-Serrano put the semi-automatic gun between the driver’s seat and the center console of his friend’s vehicle, court records said.
Minidoka County Sheriff Eric Snar declined to say whether the child was in either car during the shooting.
The Minidoka County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release they began investigating the case at about 10 p.m. Saturday.
Vargas was flown to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, where he died of his injuries.
Vargas Juarez underwent surgery to repair the injury to her hand and was released Sunday.
The sheriff’s office said the case remains under investigation.
BUHL — With a failing foundation and plumbing problems, the College of Southern Idaho is closing its Head Start building in Buhl, but is figuring out how to continue offering preschool for low-income children.
Its 11th Avenue North facility — constructed in 1910 — used to house 20 West End children. It was closed last week and 13 of the affected families have opted to receive home-based services until the school year ends in late May.
But CSI officials want to make one thing clear: Head Start isn’t permanently leaving Buhl and plans to offer preschool in the community — eventually, in a different facility.
“We are not intending to leave the community of Buhl,” CSI Head Start/Early Head Start director Mancole Fedder said Monday. “We’re coming back. It takes Head Start time to come up with funding for facilities.”
They’ll provide busing next school year for Buhl children to get to the Twin Falls Head Start Center, where they’ll attend class. Officials say it’s just a temporary fix until they can find a new building option in Buhl, but that could take a couple of years.
The Buhl center employs seven people who can stay with CSI’s Head Start program and have employment options within 20 miles, Fedder said.
Since 1999, CSI has received federal grants to operate Head Start/Early Head Start programs and oversees 10 centers across southern Idaho. Last year, CSI closed its Hailey center — a way to cope with a Head Start budget shortfall.
Head Start offers preschool classes, while Early Head Start is for pregnant women, infants and toddlers up to age 3. They’re federally-funded programs free of charge to families, but parents must meet federal poverty guidelines.
Buhl School District Superintendent Ron Anthony said Monday he doesn’t work with Head Start too often because “their clientele is different than ours,” but the building closure will affect the town’s residents.
“It will be a big loss to our community because I know there will be families who don’t want their kids bused and they’ll miss out,” he said.
The bus ride from Twin Falls to Buhl is a reasonable distance, Fedder said, but not all families will be OK with it. “I know it’s not going to work for everybody. I hope it works for enough Buhl families.”
Finding affordable preschool options — especially, in rural communities — can be tough. Idaho is among just seven U.S. states without publicly-funded preschool, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
In Buhl, the school district offers preschool for three-to-five-year-olds who have disabilities. And there are a handful of private options for other families.
For CSI, the Buhl Head Start facility situation is complicated. The building is 100 percent federally owned, Fedder said, meaning it’s not as simple to get a loan to rebuild or buy another property as in the private sector.
But there’s a need. “The building itself is failing us,” he said. “The foundation is no longer viable. The plumbing has gone bad. The facility itself is not safe anymore.”
Earlier this month, CSI received a report from a structural engineer about the building’s condition. “The building was going to be safe short-term for staff and children, but is no longer a long-term viable option,” Fedder said.
Initially, Head Start officials thought they’d finish out the school year in the facility. But after plumbing issues surfaced, that plan changed.
Officials found out April 20 a large chunk had broken off an old sewer pipe and it would cost thousands of dollars to upgrade. It didn’t make sense to tackle that project with only one month left in the school year, Fedder said.
Now, options include selling the building, demolishing it and rebuilding on the same site, buying a different facility, or replacing the existing building’s foundation and plumbing.
“All of that stuff takes an enormous amount of time,” Fedder said. “There’s no short-term solution to the facility issue. We’re working on how to come back.”
He’s working with Region IV Development Association to consider ways to get funding or grants. Fedder also plans to meet with Buhl’s mayor in late May to talk about how the city may be able to partner with CSI to help.
He has also been in touch with a couple of people — “movers and shakers in the community” — who could potentially drum up support and help Head Start get into a facility, he said. “In the meantime, we don’t want to drop the ball and pause for two years while we work on this.”
To ensure children still receive preschool instruction, each family who opted in this school year is receiving a 90-minute home visit once a week with one-on-one instruction. That began last week.
“It’s the best way forward right now,” Fedder said.
CSI plans to recruit children for Head Start during the summer. When a new school year starts in August, children will receive six-hour preschool classes — what they’re getting now — at the Twin Falls center, with all West End children in one classroom.
There’s always a waiting list for Head Start in Buhl, Fedder said. CSI even has an eye on writing a grant application seeking to offer Early Head Start in town.
“It’s important for us to continue to recruit,” he said, “and serve Buhl families.”
NAMPA — One of Idaho’s largest counties has seen the cost and caseload involving medical care for people without health insurance increase during the first few months of 2018.
Reports in Canyon County, the state’s second-most populous county, indicate the higher expenses are going to continue for counties statewide, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported .
Roger Christensen, who chairs the board for the Idaho indigent care program, told the state budget committee in February that his agency was predicting it would see around 790 cases in the fiscal year ending June 30.
The figure marks an increase from the 584 cases it saw in the previous fiscal year.
“They’ve gone up by quite a bit,” Christensen told the Press-Tribune. “We think one of the main reasons is we’re a payer of last resource. If there’s another resource, we don’t pay.”
For example, if someone has money in a bank account or a health insurance policy covering the type of care they received, then the indigent care program would not pay for it, the newspaper said.
If not, and if the patient qualifies for assistance from the county services program, then the county is legally obliged to cover up to $11,000 of the patient’s medical bills. All eligible costs above that are covered by the state, primarily through the general fund consisting of mostly income taxes.
The 202 medical applications Canyon County received in January, February and March exceeded the rate during the same time period last year by about 12 percent.
The average payment in January and February for each case exceeded $30,000.
The average medical case covered by Canyon County Indigent Services last year was $27,509. In October the average was nearly $45,000.
Joe Decker, public information officer for Canyon County, said rising medical costs is the main reason behind the increase.
“People that do have insurance will rely on their insurance to cover their costs,” Decker said, acknowledging the majority of the medical applications are from people who don’t have insurance.
“I think a lot of people think, ‘I’ve been healthy my whole life,” he added. “I would rather pay the penalty than pay for service.’ And then they find themselves in a real difficult place and they make a (medical) application to the indigent fund.”
TWIN FALLS — A survey of attorneys across the state by the Idaho State Bar favored water adjudication officer Theodore Booth for the contested Fifth Judicial District judge seat.
Respondents rated Booth, magistrate judge Roger Harris, public defense attorney Samuel Beus and civil attorney David Gadd on four categories: integrity and independence, knowledge and understanding of the law, judicial temperament and demeanor, and legal ability and experience.
Booth, Harris, Beus and Gadd are running for an open district judge seat in Twin Falls County left vacant by the death of District Judge Randy Stoker in January.
The State Bar survey was sent to 5,273 bar members in all judicial districts, but they were asked to only score candidates they had professional or personal experience with.
On a scale of 1-4 across the four categories — 1 meaning “does not meet expectations” and 4 meaning “exceeds expectations” — Booth earned an overall average score of 3.16, with the highest average scores in each individual category.
Harris came in second with a 3.03, and Beus and Gadd earned scores of 2.99 and 2.98, respectively. Each candidate had between 150 and 175 bar members rate them on each category.
TWIN FALLS — A Twin Falls lawmaker, the president of a far-right think tank and the governor’s wife exchanged sharp words on a Facebook post over the weekend.
A public post by Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, in which he criticized the Idaho Freedom Foundation and accused the group of supporting “druggie candidates,” ignited heated discussion in the comments section.
The post also prompted a video response from candidate Rocky Ferrenburg, who is running for Hartgen’s District 24 House seat against Hartgen’s wife, Linda Wright Hartgen, and has openly discussed his prior drug convictions throughout his campaign.
In his original post Friday, Hartgen noted that Idaho had jumped to No. 2 in the country for future economic outlook in a survey by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“Makes you wonder, with performance like this, why some on the right like the secretive so called Freedom Foundation want to add right-wing laws to the state, such as drug legalization and dismanteling (sic) the states well regarded pension plan,” Hartgen wrote.
“Alt-right IFF Breitbart candidates are preaching a drain the swamp platform for Boise, but really, its just an effort to gain power and push Idaho into the fringe-right camp,” he continued.
The post attracted comments from accounts linked to Wayne Hoffman, president of the IFF, Jay S. Waters III, a candidate for the Senate seat in District 24, and Lori Otter, wife of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.
“[T]he only reason Idaho jumped to No. 2 is that the governor and the Legislature finally listened to our advice to dramatically cut taxes,” the Hoffman account wrote in response to the post. “You’re welcome. Damn good thing Idaho Freedom Foundation is around to make it happen.”
A Facebook account for Idaho’s first lady replied to the comment from the Hoffman account, writing: “Oh brother Wayne.”
“[A]ren’t you a non profit that is not allowed to lobby policy?” Otter wrote, adding: “trust me Wayne—there are a lot people looking into your nonprofit designation.”
In response to Hoffman’s comment, Hartgen asked Hoffman when the IFF would “tell folks who your secret financial backers are.” He went on to ask Hoffman why the Foundation supports “druggie candidates.”
Ferrenburg, a self-described former drug addict who has since earned several college degrees, has publicly talked about his experience in the criminal justice system. He responded to the comment Monday afternoon in a video posted to his campaign page on Facebook.
“I don’t know why we have to resort to that type of behavior,” Ferrenburg said in the video. “I have an extensive track record that shows that’s not the same person I am today.”
In an interview with the Times-News, Ferrenburg called the comment a “total downplaying of the struggle of any person who’s ever had to overcome drug addiction.”
“One of the problems we have with the criminal justice system is we have these types of people in office who view drug addicts this way,” Ferrenburg said. “It’s okay for these people to flip your hamburgers...but once they actually integrate back into the community and they try to enter politics in this way and make a difference, all of a sudden they’re druggies again.”
Hartgen declined to comment when reached by the Times-News, but Wright Hartgen noted in an email that her husband had not specifically mentioned Ferrenburg in the Facebook thread.
“I respect anyone who works on their issues and give them the credit that is due,” Wright Hartgen, who previously served as trial court administrator for the 5th Judicial District, said in the email. “I worked too long in creating programs to help people with issues to say any different.”
This isn’t the first time Hartgen has taken to Facebook to criticize the Idaho Freedom Foundation. In a separate post on Apr. 21, Hartgen referred to the group as the “Idaho Slavery Foundation,” writing that the Freedom Foundation “would put Idaho under the thumb of out of state, shadowy groups who want to legalize drugs and slash and burn down state government entites (sic).”
Ferrenburg pointed out in an email to the Times-News that he had not been formally endorsed by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.