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When every second counts: Air St. Luke’s has new helicopters to transport critically-ill patients

TWIN FALLS — In a medical emergency, every second counts.

Air St. Luke’s started using two new Bell 429 twin-engine helicopters in August meaning improved safety and a faster flight for critically-ill patients, more advanced technology, a further range and better likelihood a patient’s loved one can ride along.

One helicopter is based at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center and the other in Boise.

“They’re the premiere EMS helicopters in the country,” said Blaine Patterson, director of emergency medical services for St. Luke’s Magic Valley.

The new helicopters — which each cost between $7 million and $8 million — are owned by Idaho Helicopters Inc., and St. Luke’s leases them.

Air St. Luke’s — which has been flying since 1989 and under its agreement with Idaho Helicopters since 2002 — logs about 500 flights each year from its Twin Falls base. Its service area includes southern Idaho, eastern Oregon and northern Nevada.

A Magic Valley-based critical care crew includes four pilots and 12 paramedics and nurses. They care for patients in situations such as those with a traumatic injury, stroke and heart attack patients, and pregnant women and babies.

The new helicopter for the Twin Falls base was up-and-running just in time to use in the Wood River Valley for the total solar eclipse in late August.

KEVIN BRADSHAW FOR THE TIMES-NEWS 

Air St. Luke's new Bell-429 takes off Monday for a call 25 miles away. They average around 500 flights a year.

It has excellent avionics, including night vision capabilities, Patterson said, and features such recessed lighting and tinted windows so it doesn’t get as hot. It’s also about 200 pounds lighter than the previous helicopter.

“It’s increased our range quite a bit,” Patterson said.

It means, for example, crews can pick up a patient at the scene of an accident in a rural area outside of Twin Falls and fly them non-stop to the University of Utah’s Burn Center. That’s a scenario that happened twice this fall. With the older helicopter, the patient would have likely come to Twin Falls for treatment first, said Dr. Kevin Kraal, medical director for emergency medical services.

Plus, the speed and power of the helicopter has a significant impact and allows for transporting patients faster, Patterson said, such as those who’ve had a stroke or heart attack and are being taken to Boise.

And there are more times when there’s enough weight capacity to allow a loved one to ride along. That happened frequently before the upgrade, but occasionally, it wasn’t possible.

Having a family member in the helicopter is provides peace of mind for the patient, Patterson said.

And for the relative who rides along, they’re not in panic while driving long distances to another hospital.


Govt-and-politics
AP NewsBreak: Ex-wife says Idaho lawmaker molested 2 girls

BOISE — The former wife of an Idaho Republican state lawmaker who shot and killed himself this week says he was under investigation for molesting two girls, including a young female relative who was abused for more than 10 years.

Brandon Hixon, 36, was found dead in his home in southwestern Idaho on Tuesday from a single gunshot wound, the Canyon County Coroner’s office said.

Former colleagues at the Idaho Statehouse have offered kind words about Hixon, but his ex-wife Danielle Eirvin Hixon said the suicide robbed her family’s hopes of finding justice and closure though the legal system.

She told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that she told police about the abuse and that her husband raped and inappropriately touched one of the alleged female victims for about 11 years.

“Brandon made people believe that he was a stand-up, morally correct person,” said Hixon, who was married to the former lawmaker for 10 years until their divorce in 2016. “But behind the house walls, he would cheat on me and molested children.”

Scott Graf, spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said Wasden’s office had no comment on the investigation.

Hixon — a three-term Republican from Caldwell — had resigned from the state legislature in October after news emerged that he was the subject of a criminal investigation involving possible sexual abuse, though no details were made public.

His ex-wife said she had been told by investigators not to disclose details about the case until charges were filed against her ex-husband, but that the reason to keep the information confidential ended with his suicide. She said she and two other people had been scheduled to testify before a grand jury on Wednesday.

Graf declined comment on whether a grand jury had been scheduled. The attorney general’s office took over the investigation after Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor asked Wasden made that request because of an undisclosed conflict of interest.

“I had no idea it was happening,” Danielle Eirvin Hixon said of the alleged abuse, adding that the girl who told her “kept it quiet for so long.”

The second alleged victim was not related to the lawmaker, she said, adding that she learned about that girl from the girl’s mother.

The AP generally does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Records also show that the former lawmaker was previously the focus of a separate police investigation in 2014 after he was accused of inappropriate touching. He denied the accusations and told police he was worried they would harm his political career. It’s unknown if the new investigation, ongoing since Oct. 5, was connected to the earlier case.

Danielle Eirvin Hixon said comments by lawmakers praising her ex-husband’s character prompted her to speak up about the abuse allegations. She said she wanted people to know her side of the story.

“I say he was a coward by taking the easy way out,” she said of his suicide.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican, has said the chamber is planning on offering some sort of financial support to the ex-lawmaker’s family.


Mini-cassia
'This ordinance should scare everyone' — Burley Planning and Zoning denies recommendation on eminent domain change

BURLEY — The Burley Planning and Zoning Commission turned down a city request Jan. 10 for a recommendation to rewrite language in an ordinance that would have smoothed the way for the city’s use of eminent domain laws.

After a nearly two-hour meeting in a packed City Council chambers, commissioners Scott Hansen, Trevor Reno and Jorge Rodriquez voted to deny a recommendation to approve the changes to the City Council.

Commissioners Mike Atchley and Richard Randklev voted against it. Commissioner Dennis Dexter abstained.

“The way this is written, no one is safe,” Burley resident Carrie Harwood said. “This ordinance should scare everyone.”

Sam Diddle, an attorney for Franklin Building Supply, spoke in opposition of the proposed amendments saying an eminent domain lawsuit against the company filed by the city was dismissed immediately after the company’s attorney requested a copy of the city ordinances.

He said the amendments would pave the wave for the city’s use of eminent domain laws to take property from the company for a road on the east side of its building that would connect the Walmart parking lot with Third Street North where a stop light exist on Overland Avenue.

“The city found out that Franklin Building Supply would fight them taking the road,” Diddle said.

Two days later, the city dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice so they could clean up the city ordinance before refiling it, he said.

City Engineer Bryan Reiter said Franklin originally wanted the road, too, in the early planning stages and produced an email verifying his statement.

Diddle said the company was being “blind-sided” with the old email and said it was written by a former manager who did not have authority with the company to make the statement.

While City Attorney David Shirley outlined the ordinance changes, no one spoke in favor of the project. Several people spoke neutrally and several spoke in opposition, including local residents.

Shirley said the amendments to the ordinance were not specific to the Franklin road.

Many people expressed concern that while the city said the road would be built to increase safety, that it would actually make the area unsafe with a narrow road, blind corners and a residential area that would encounter more traffic on Third Street North.

Burley resident Wes Patterson, who lives in the neighborhood behind Walmart, said the city was trying to circumvent the planning and zoning commission’s power with the proposal.

Harwood said the ordinance was a broad brush stroke that covered the city’s back in case anything written in the city ordinance would cause a stumbling block during an eminent domain lawsuit.

Burley resident Logan Harris said he’s in the construction business, and he worried how the new road would affect his access to Franklin Building Supply. Others at the meeting agreed.

Burley resident Tom Tolness, along with other residents, suggested changing traffic patterns coming out of Walmart on Overland Avenue to allow only right turns.

But Reiter said only the Idaho Transportation Department could make those changes.

Commissioner Randklev said he did not believe the city’s intentions were solely to smooth the way for the Franklin road, but the changes would clarify the ordinance and help the city in other ways as it continues to grow.

Commissioner Atchley said he was not opposed to the language changes but thought the Planning and Zoning Commission could recommend the city commission more studies on the safety of the road.

The commission did not agree to provide the study recommendation to the City Council.


TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO  

Nicole Loveland knocks ice off her car while filling her gas tank at the Maverik station on 6th Avenue in Twin Falls in 2013.


KAREN BOSSICK FOR THE TIMES-NEWS 

This winter’s low snowpack is actually a bonanza for bird watchers as many birds that would’ve gone south have stayed in the Sun Valley area.


Local
New Twin Falls flight to SLC will help you make more connections, airport says

TWIN FALLS — Travelers to and from Twin Falls will soon have another flight option to give them easy access to more connecting flights.

The city announced Wednesday that the Joslin Field — Magic Valley Regional Airport will have a fourth weekday and a third Saturday Delta Connection flight from Twin Falls to Salt Lake City beginning March 1.

The new schedule will have flights to SLC departing at 6:30 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 3:05 p.m. and 6:20 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday flights will depart 6:30 a.m., 12:20 p.m. and 3:05 p.m.

Each flight should arrive in Salt Lake City roughly an hour after departure, Airport Manager Bill Carberry said. The new 3:05 p.m. flight will help travelers catch about 35 connections that leave SLC around 5 p.m., he said.

“The additional flights add more convenience by giving passengers — specifically business travelers and families — greater flexibility with connecting flights,” Carberry said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate SkyWest’s commitment to our region and the expanded service to our growing market.”

SkyWest Airlines operates flights from Twin Falls. The expanded flight times can be booked beginning Sunday at delta.com.

The new schedule also means an additional returning flight to Twin Falls from Monday through Saturday. And it brings more capacity to Twin Falls — and, community leaders hope, more economic vitality to the aviation-supported businesses.

“Flights have been averaging about 75-80 percent full,” Carberry said. “Particularly the morning flights are very heavy.”

Most Twin Falls travelers continue their travel beyond SLC, he said.

“With small markets like ours, it’s very difficult and very competitive to get more service,” he said.

SkyWest will continue to use a 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet to transport passengers.