BURLEY — Three men have been arrested after police said they beat up a teen in the Sublett area, stole his rifle and threatened to kill and bury him.
Jeff Owen Smith, 48, of Eagle, Grant Edward Horne, 42, of Bellevue and Rodger V. Powell, 48, of Sandy, Utah, are each charged with felony counts of aggravated battery, injury to a child, burglary and grand theft. They have not entered a plea.
A 16-year-old boy and his parents told Cassia County Sheriff deputies he was hunting Wednesday at 3175 E. 500 S. in Cassia County. As he stopped to spot deer, three men approached in an all-terrain vehicle. The larger man, later identified as Powell, approached and grabbed the boy by the throat and began punching him, police said.
The teen told police he stayed down and pretended he was unconscious after the men beat him and searched his pickup. He also said men started calling him a “stupid poacher” and said the deer were theirs.
Police say they took the boy’s .308 caliber Remington rifle, and Powell told the boy they were going to shoot him with his own gun, kill him and bury him.
The men offered a different story to police. They said they spotted the teen’s pickup where they were hunting and the boy was in a field shooting at three bucks. The boy was “stumbling and mumbling” and was asking what he did wrong. Powell told police he called the poacher’s hotline and said he had a picture of the boy and his truck.
Police recovered the boy’s rifle leaning against a tree, where Powell said they could find it.
Preliminary hearings are set for all three men Friday in Cassia County Magistrate Court. If convicted, they face maximum penalties of 15 years in prison for aggravated battery, 10 years for injury to a child, 10 years for grand theft and one year for burglary.
They are being held at the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center on $250,000 bonds with special conditions that they turn over all firearms to a third party while the case is pending.
TWIN FALLS — Prosecutors on Friday charged a second married couple suspected of taking part in a burglary spree that targeted businesses from Rogerson to Ketchum.
Spencer Willson Wells, 22, and his wife, Alishia Elaine Bullock, 21, both of Twin Falls, were each arraigned Friday in Twin Falls County Magistrate Court on four felony counts of burglary.
Police believe the couple was part of a four-person ring, along with Wells’ sister and her husband, that burglarized at least 18 businesses in Twin Falls, Declo, Hansen, Shoshone, Wendell, Hagerman, Castleford, Rogerson and Ketchum.
On Thursday, prosecutors charged Wells’ sister, 38-year-old Brezzy Ray Lemons, and her husband, 34-year-old James Howard Arthurs Jr. They were each arraigned on two felony counts.
Twin Falls police caught up to the group Wednesday when officers responding to a service call spotted Arthurs, whose tattoos and bandanna matched those of a suspect from a Sept. 4 burglary at Dairy Queen on Addison Avenue West.
In an interview with police, Arthurs told officers he cut the power to the Dairy Queen and other businesses he burglarized and used a pry bar to open the back doors, court records said. He told police he usually also disabled the surveillance systems inside the businesses but missed the one at Dairy Queen.
Arthurs told police his partner in the Dairy Queen burglary and other break-ins was a man named Danny Eggleston, but Arthurs’ wife, Lemons, admitted that the other man was her brother, Wells. She told police that Wells’ wife, Bullock, was also part of the group.
On Thursday, police arrested Wells and Bullock at a home in the 400 block of Harrison Street, court documents said. In separate interviews at the police station, the couple confessed to the burglaries and told police similar stories to those that Arthurs and Lemons told on Wednesday.
All four people admitted Bullock drove the group to each of the burglaries in her 2014 Nissan Versa, court documents said. At each location, the two men cut the power to the businesses, then used knives, crow bars, screwdrivers or other tools to pry open the doors. Once inside, they would disable the surveillance system and steal cash, cigarettes, energy drinks, candy and other items.
Wells and Bullock were formally charged with committing the following burglaries, the descriptions of which come from statements made by police and the suspects in court documents:
Aug. 13 at Session Star Shop on Highway 93 in Twin Falls County. An alarm went off about 2:06 a.m. at the store south of Hollister when Wells and Arthurs used a pry bar to open a door. Wells went back to the car when the alarm went off, but Arthurs went inside and stole several cartons of cigarettes.
Aug. 20 at 1,000 Springs Resort in Twin Falls County. Before entering the resort sometime in the early morning, Wells turned off power to the building and forced entry using a crow bar. Once inside, Arthurs cut a cable to the surveillance system and stole “an undetermined amount of cash,” while Wells made off with energy drinks and candy.
Between Aug. 20 and Aug. 22 at Main Street Mocha in Castleford. Wells and Arthur forced entry into the coffee shop and stole $200 cash from a drawer and tip jar and a non-functioning notebook tablet electronic device.
Aug. 22 at King of Hearts Bar in Castleford. Wells and Arthurs used a pry bar to get inside, where they pulled a cable from a surveillance camera and removed a surveillance recording device from the basement. They made off with more than $1,000 taken from a drawer under the cash register and a jukebox.
Arthurs is charged in the Dairy Queen burglary and another attempted burglary Aug. 28 at The Hideout, a Twin Falls bar. His wife, Lemons, is charged with drug possession and aiding and abetting the attempted burglary at The Hideout. Arthurs also said he believes the group broke into a Mexican restaurant in Ketchum and told police he and Lemons used money from the burglaries to buy methamphetamine.
Both couples are being held in the Twin Falls County Jail, Arthurs and Lemons each in lieu of $250,000 bond. Wells is being held on $25,000 bond and Bullock on $10,000 bond.
FILER — Police say a criminal investigation “is still technically open” into allegations of misconduct by three Filer School District employees, but unless someone comes forward with concrete evidence, the investigation will focus instead on trying to identify the sender of an anonymous letter that accused the employees of sex crimes.
“If someone wants to come forward with information or evidence against the employees, we’d be more than happy to investigate,” Filer Police Chief Tim Reeves said Wednesday. “But we haven’t found anything in our investigation.”
The Filer School District received the anonymous letter Aug. 29 alleging inappropriate conduct by three of its employees. The district placed those employees on leave, notified police and opened its own investigation into the allegations.
The Times-News also received a copy of the letter but did not report on the nature of the allegations or name those accused because the claims could not be verified.
The anonymous letter writer did not send a copy to police.
“The school district turned over the letter to us,” Reeves said. “It was never reported to us by an anonymous source. We did not receive a letter from anybody but the school district.”
The district’s statement said Filer Police would investigate the anonymous source of the claims. Reeves confirmed that his office is working with the Idaho State Police crime lab to figure out what the process would be to trace the letter back to its sender.
“We’re going to see if we can get fingerprints … we’re working with the state lab right now,” Reeves said.
The Filer police chief said it’s important to find the sender to help “determine whether or not the allegations are founded.”
He could not say if there would be criminal charges for the letter writer if it was a hoax.
The Twin Falls County prosecutor’s office was never involved in the investigation, Prosecutor Grant Loebs said.
Speaking generally and not specifically about this case, Loebs said a misdemeanor charge of providing false information to an officer is likely the most serious crime someone could face for making false allegations.
“But if it was done just for malice, there are potentially civil cases that can be filed,” Loebs said.
But a person likely wouldn’t face charges, the prosecutor said, if they made the accusations “in good faith with reason to believe a crime was committed.”
TWIN FALLS — Forty-two years ago this month, Robert “Evel” Knievel Sr. famously failed to launch himself over the Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket.
On Friday, Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun fulfilled Knievel’s dream by propelling himself over the canyon in a replica of Knievel’s X-2 Skycycle, built by Scott Truax, the son of Knievel’s rocket designer, Robert Truax.
In the decades since Knievel’s failed attempt in 1974, numerous daredevils — including Knievel’s son Robbie — talked about recreating the jump.
Several years ago, as the clock ticked close to the 40th anniversary of Knievel’s jump, a handful of rocketeers vied for the opportunity to use Knievel’s dirt ramp, still piled on city-owned property on the canyon rim, to do what Knievel couldn’t.
But only one team, called Return to the Snake River, ever came close to pointing a rocket over the canyon.
That rocket, the Evel Spirit, stood Friday afternoon with its nose to the sky, waiting for commands from inside the “supervan” where the team prepared for the stunt of Braun’s lifetime — flying three-quarters of a mile through the air at 430 mph.
“Mad Mike” Hughes, who calls himself the “King of the Daredevils” and had pitched his own jump of the canyon to the Twin Falls City Council, doubted Braun would succeed.
“I wish him the best, but this is beyond scary,” Hughes said Friday morning. “I wouldn’t blame the guy if he walks away before the jump.”
Hughes launched a similar rocket — the X-3 Skylimo — 1,374 feet in January, 2014, near Winkelman, Ariz. Braun needed to fly 1,600 feet to cross the Snake River Canyon safely.
Texas daredevil “Big Ed” Beckley, whose unfulfilled plan to jump the canyon from Knievel’s dirt ramp cost him $1.7 million, still harbors feelings of resentment toward Twin Falls and the Idaho Department of Lands, but had kind words for Braun Friday morning.
“I pray that Eddie will be successful and healthy,” Beckley said.
Beckley obtained a landing site by paying nearly $1 million to the state for a two-year lease along the canyon rim in Jerome County. The lease, he said, was contingent on his receiving the required permits from all other agencies, including the city of Twin Falls. Twin Falls eventually pulled out of Beckley’s jump, which was scheduled for September 2014.
“Idaho needs to give me my money back,” Beckley said.
Where it all started
Evel Knievel made a living defying death. So does Eddie Braun.
But that’s where the similarities between the two men end.
Knievel, a motorcycle daredevil, was larger than life. And when he announced that he would attempt to jump the canyon in 1974, the quiet town of Twin Falls, at the time population 22,000, would never be the same.
“Bobby Knievel took our breath away. Our innocence soon followed.” Times-News columnist Steve Crump wrote on the jump’s 20-year anniversary.
Knievel wasn’t a newcomer to Twin Falls; he’d been hanging out with locals off and on for years. He had one eye on the Snake River Canyon long before he got the idea to jump the Grand Canyon, an idea that was quickly squelched by authorities.
Knievel lived in Boise in his early 20s and hung out with the biker crowd. Boise biker fan Alan McIntire gave him the nickname “Evel.”
Before his failed canyon jump, national reporter Geraldo Rivera declared Knievel “more popular than Ted Kennedy, David Cassidy or John Lennon.”
“Evel Knievel was the ultimate showman — a superhero, cape and all,” said the 54-year-old Braun, a 30-year veteran of film and television. “Knievel inspired a generation. I wanted to be him.”
But the town’s enthusiasm turned to shock when Knievel came to town, followed by some 25,000 — mostly unruly — fans.
Bikers hijacked a Twin Falls firetruck and took over the police station. Fans set afire 200 portable toilets and the cross at Shoshone Falls, tipped over a beer truck, and stole 2,600 cases of beer from the Jaycees.
An Akron, Ohio, man, in town to watch Knievel jump, made his own dive into the Snake River prior to Knievel’s fall into the canyon.
Tom Rauckhorst, 21, leaped from rocks 200 feet above the river, crushing three vertabrae when he hit the water. Rauckhorst swam to shore and climbed the canyon wall, where he found two campers who rushed him to the hospital on a motorcycle.
Many came to town to watch Knievel succeed or die. He did neither. The Skycycle’s chute deployed on the ramp and dragged Knievel into the canyon, disappointing fans and the 100,000 closed-circuit viewers who had paid to see it.
The stunt was “an exclamation without a point,” the Times-News editorialized.
When Knievel and the rocket disappeared into the canyon, about 1,500 bikers broke through the safety fence and rushed the canyon rim. One woman went over the edge but fell only 10 feet to a ledge below.
“Knievel’s jump was, quite simply, the damnedest thing Twin Falls had ever seen,” Crump wrote.
Evel’s daughter Alicia Knievel Vincent of Butte, Mont., saw the Snake River Canyon for the first time on Friday.
“I was just a twinkle in my dad’s eyes” in 1974, she said as she shared some of her family’s memories of the jump.
“Dad was terrified,” Vincent said. “He truly thought he was going to die, but he was too far into it and couldn’t back out.”
Braun, on the other hand, was calm and collected.
He and Scott Truax kept Friday’s launch under the radar to prevent a reccurence of the 1974 fiasco.
“Eddie’s heart’s in the right place,” said Chuck Coiner, who watched the jump from his nearby shop. “He didn’t want a spectacle.”
The Evel Spirit floated down on land Braun leased from Coiner, a former state senator, and Coiner’s sister, Karen Lindemer.
“It was a good event,” Coiner said Saturday, “something we can be proud of.”
Coiner and Lindemer donated much of Braun’s payment to the Hansen School District.
When the city of Twin Falls first backed Beckley’s jump over Braun’s, his team said, “Let’s go get our own land. That’s what Evel would do.” That’s when the Braun quietly secured land about 7 miles upstream from the Knievel’s ramp.
Many of Knievel’s cronies were part of Friday’s launch. Gary Davis, Knievel’s own stuntman, was the stunt coordinator. Stunt engineer Craig Adams was also part of the 1974 attempt. Knievel’s widow, Krystal Kennedy-Knievel, and many of the Knievel family came to support Braun.
Braun idolized Knievel when he was a young boy, and even broke his arm jumping his Schwinn bicycle over garbage cans imitating him. He met the daredevil when he was 12.
“I have the chance to fulfill the dream of my hero,” he said, holding back tears. “When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”
And do it, he did. The launch itself was flawless.
Knievel’s autograph with the message “Happy landings” went over the canyon with him. So did a vial containing the ashes of Todd Swayze, one of Knievel’s biggest fans.
Tamara Swayze, from Calgary, Alberta, said her husband met Braun at Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Mont., about 4 years ago, and they became fast friends. He was to help Braun with the launch, but Swayze died of cancer in February.
When Braun returned to the launch site after the jump, he was greeted by cheering friends and fans.
He told Knievel’s daughter-in-law Shelli Knievel that he blacked out from coming off the ramp, but he came to shortly seconds later.
“I realized I was still in the rocket,” Braun said. “At that point I told myself, ‘I got this.’”
“Were you scared?” asked one of Knievel’s young grandchildren.