TWIN FALLS — Prosecutors say the Twin Falls teacher charged with rape admitted to having sex with a 17-year-old student he had taught at Canyon Ridge High School.
Jason Benjamin, 39, was arraigned Friday and jailed on a $100,000 bond. Benjamin was most recently a math teacher at Robert Stuart Middle School, but had taught at Canyon Ridge from 2009 until 2017. The alleged victim was a student of Benjamin’s at Canyon Ridge during the 2016-17 school year, according to a police affidavit.
The pair reconnected this fall, when the former student added Benjamin on Facebook, according to the affidavit. After about one week of messaging back and forth, Benjamin invited the teenager to his home, she told police.
She allegedly visited his apartment several times in October to “make out” and watch movies. During one of the visits, they had sex, she said. The teen also told authorities that she had sent Benjamin unsolicited photos of herself in her underwear over Facebook messenger.
Benjamin admitted to police that he had sex with the girl one time. He said he was aware that she was 17 at the time, and that “he knew it was wrong but did not know how to make it stop,” according to the affidavit.
The teenager ended the relationship over Facebook messenger shortly after the encounter, both she and Benjamin said.
It’s unclear whether there are other victims, but Twin Falls prosecuting attorney Grant Loebs said he did not have reason to believe that there was more than one.
Benjamin has worked at Twin Falls schools for 12 years, according to the district. He began as a teacher at Robert Stuart Middle School in the 2005-06 school year. After one year at Robert Stuart, he moved to Twin Falls High School, where he taught from 2006 until 2009.
He returned to Robert Stuart as a math teacher this school year because he had had an affair with another teacher at Canyon Ridge and was trying to reconcile with his wife, Benjamin told police.
A search of Idaho court records turned up a pending divorce, filed by Benjamin’s wife in November, but no criminal history.
While teaching at Canyon Ridge, Benjamin also served as an assistant coach for the track and cross country teams. He had a contract to be assistant track coach again this year.
He has been placed on administrative leave by the Twin Falls School District, and is legally forbidden to have contact with any minors under the age of 18 who are not relatives.
BURLEY— A Burley man is charged with rape after Cassia County Sheriff detectives said he raped a mentally disabled girl multiple times.
Steven Ray Shaw Jr., 40, is charged with seven counts of felony rape of a person incapable of giving legal consent, felony counts of sexual battery of a child and battery with intent to commit a serious felony.
Investigators said in court records that he began having sexual contact with the girl starting on July 2, 2017, her 16th birthday.
Detectives said Shaw first had sex with the girl after he invited her and her little brother to go with him to Canada in his semi-truck.
Court documents say Shaw assaulted the girl 13 or 14 times.
A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Jan. 12 in Cassia County Magistrate Court.
TWIN FALLS — Salt Lake City-based Woodbury Corp. sees the value of the Twin Falls market.
In 2017 alone, the company announced half a dozen new businesses that planned to come to the city. A few of them have already opened — Eyemart Express, Charming Charlie and Blaze Pizza. But it won’t stop there. In 2018, Twin Falls can expect to see the arrival of The Habit Burger Grill, Sports Clips and HomeGoods.
Woodbury Corp. also owns and operates the Magic Valley Mall, and has big plans this year as the retail climate continues to change. The company learned in 2017 that Macy’s will be closing its doors at the end of March.
“We have to be quick and responsive,” said Trevor White, the property manager who also handles the mall’s marketing. “It hurts to go through change, but in the end I think it’s a lot better.”
Here are a few of the changes Magic Valley residents can expect to see in the business climate over the course of 2018.
1. Renovation at the mall
Just as downtown businesses were pleased to see Main Avenue’s rejuvenation, Woodbury Corp. also saw it as a positive sign.
“We’re all in the same town,” White said. “It’s great to see downtown Twin Falls thrive. It’s great for them and the community.”
And now, it’s the mall’s turn. The Magic Valley Mall, which opened in 1986, had been undergoing a renovation in 2017. It began with a remodel of the restrooms, addition of family restrooms and replacement of tile. In 2018, those efforts will continue with new seating, furnishings and light fixtures.
Regional Manager Brent White said malls of 30 years ago were designed to help customers move from store to store as they shopped intensely.
“The design today is to create comfort,” he said.
The remodel will include softly upholstered seating with all-new seats and tile in the food court.
Twin Falls’ mall could also have different tenants. After Macy’s announced its intended closure, Woodbury Corp. began searching for new opportunities.
“Space to us is really merchandise,” Brent White said. “Department stores have been a prominent part of what people have wanted for many years. But department stores are less interesting — especially to young people.”
So Woodbury Corp. is looking beyond department store offerings to see what other types of retail or entertainment could come in. There’s always interest in apparel, Brent White said, but there’s also a lot of those vendors in the market.
“Retail typically is one that they do love — it’s almost recreational,” Brent White said.
Macy’s decision, he said, was a reflection of its choice to focus more on large markets.
In place of Macy’s, what may come to Twin Falls — as early as 2018 — could include a department store or other retailer, or even cafes.
It all depends on what will best serve the market, Trevor White said.
“I think we’re excited for the opportunities that will come,” he said.
On top of those changes, Woodbury Corp. is also working with the city to update the document that governs the development. Around the U.S., Brent White said, shopping centers are adapting to allow for multiple uses. There’s less emphasis on apparel, and more centers are welcoming office spaces and even residential development.
“In some respects, it’s urbanization,” he said.
The new agreement, Brent White hopes, will allow the mall to adapt to current trends and the city’s comprehensive plan.
2. Restaurants on Cheney Drive West
Just south of Walmart, a new development broke ground in 2017 with plans to bring more restaurants and retail to Cheney Drive West. Burger King, the first building to be completed, had been scheduled to open Dec. 30.
Winter weather has delayed construction on two other buildings that will soon house a Kneaders Bakery and Beans & Brews Coffeehouse.
“Both those will open toward the end of March,” said Gary Moore, vice president of HB Boys.
A total of five buildings are planned to go into the development.
3. Chobani innovation center
In November, Chobani broke ground on a 70,000 square-foot innovation and community center just outside its Twin Falls plant. The building sends a message of transparency, with 30,000 square feet of glass and a lobby for visitors to learn about the company. You can even see a 3-D aerial video of the future center on YouTube.
The center was scheduled to open in summer 2018 as a place for Chobani to host its global research and development center. But CEO and founder Hamdi Ulukaya plans to also allow other food startups to begin research and development right inside.
4. Historic Elks Lodge upgrade
Summit Creek Capital, a Ketchum-based developer, has begun a $3.5 million project to remodel the Historic Elks Lodge at Shoshone Street North. The work is expected be complete in the spring or early summer.
The partners of Elevation 486 are using the building for their latest venture. A pub-style restaurant and brewery will take up portions of the first floor and basement, said Tyler Davis-Jeffers, managing director for Summit Creek Capital. Brewing equipment will be visible at both levels.
Cycle Therapy is no longer planning to move into the building, so a portion of the first floor is planned for another retail-type tenant. There’s additional space in the basement, and professional offices on the second floor.
The remodel will help bring the historic building back to what it originally looked like, with the original ceiling heights, Davis-Jeffers said.
5. Economic development in Jerome
Twin Falls isn’t the only Magic Valley city that’s expected to see big changes in 2018. The city of Jerome will likely some large economic development projects.
“I feel like 2018 is going to be a real banner year for us,” City Administrator Mike Williams said.
He’s expecting several industrial investments in Jerome in 2018. Commercial Creamery, for example, is planning a multimillion-dollar expansion across the street from its facility in downtown Jerome. The work will require the city to vacate a right-of-way on a road that it owned half of, and a sewer line will need to be moved.
“It’s exciting to see that type of investment in our downtown,” Williams said.
He also anticipates the completion of a truck stop just outside of town that will be “giving more people an excuse to jump off the interstate” and come downtown. Water and sewer expansions will also open up potential for three future developments.
Mr. Gas President Nick Lynch said the convenience store with 16 gas and diesel pumps is on schedule to open in mid-April. A restaurant, which has not been finalized, will likely open the following month.
It had been a rough day and she was tired. But after leaving the party just before 9 p.m., she stopped to see a friend and her baby before heading home to Jerome.
“That was the kind of person she was,” her brother Curt Prindle said. “She took herself out of the equation.”
Cartisser died in her sleep Dec. 19. She was 44 years old. She’s survived by her husband, Jim, and five children: Cody, Canyon, Cason, Cailey and Carli.
Hundreds of people — including family, friends, college employees, and past and current CSI volleyball athletes — attended the funeral Wednesday. A graveside service followed at Cloverdale Memorial Park in Boise.
Cartisser suffered for a long time with respiratory problems that led to heart problems, her family said during the funeral.
“It’s sad — she had the biggest, loving heart, but she was taken because of her heart,” Prindle told the crowd.
Her family members and church leaders remembered Cartisser as fiercely competitive yet humble, devoted to her family, a faithful church member, an excellent listener and someone who worked behind-the-scenes to help others.
Her sister, Kimra Combe, thanked funeral attendees for their outpouring of love and compassion. When she was asked to give Cartisser’s life sketch, she immediately said “yes.”
But later, she realized it would be a challenge. “How am I ever going to give a life sketch for someone so legendary?” she said.
Despite her accomplishments, Cartisser was incredibly humble, Combe said, and didn’t want to draw any attention to herself.
She was a head collegiate volleyball coach for 23 years, and she spent the past 12 years at CSI, where she had played as a student.
“CSI was more than Heidi’s alma mater,” Combe said. “It was her dream job.”
Cartisser had a 359-89 record and three National Junior College Athletic Association titles with the Golden Eagles. Beyond the evidence of success left in plaques and trophies, she left a mark on her players, Combe said.
Cartisser was a master at strengthening her players, Combe said, and she pushed them to do what they thought wasn’t possible on the court and in life.
She also had an amazing ability to listen to and read people, Prindle said. He said his sister listened and gathered information, which she’d use to figure out how to help others.
Prindle said there was “no fluff” with Cartisser and how she communicated. When she started losing weight, she asked her brother, “Why didn’t anyone tell me my butt looked so big?”
But she also had an emotional side. Prindle recalled her sister leading the music for their grandmother’s funeral. Cartisser couldn’t get through the songs or pretend to sing, and big tears rolled down her face.
The siblings also shared some common phrases Cartisser used to say, including “You know what?” and “Oh, that’s amazing.”
The overwhelming favorite, though, was “I love you more.”
A volleyball legacy
In eighth grade, Cartisser made the “C” team for volleyball. She told their mother: “This will never happen again.”
“Heidi was extremely competitive,” Combe said. She lettered in volleyball as a setter, and basketball and softball in high school.
She was a highly recruited student-athlete, and after graduating from Centennial High School in 1991, she played for CSI for two years.
Then, she attended Albertson College of Idaho on a scholarship, where she also played volleyball. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education.
Cartisser recruited her sister, Combe, to play volleyball on the team and treated her just like the other athletes. For the first two weeks of practices, one team member didn’t even know they were sisters.
Cartisser made her mark as a young coach. “Heidi completely turned that program around,” Combe said.
Cartisser met her husband, Jim, at a recruiting trip in Las Vegas in 1997. He sent her flowers every week after that. They got married in 1998, and their first son, Cody, was born later that year.
A new opportunity arose in 2000 for Cartisser to be head volleyball coach for a Division 1 school, Chicago State University. It meant moving the family across country and leaving behind their roots in Idaho.
Her second son, Canyon, was born there. Just two days later, Cartisser was on a road trip with her new team for their first tournament. And during her last year in Chicago, the team placed fourth in its conference.
In 2004, the family decided to move back to Idaho, and Cartisser was briefly a stay-at-home mother. But then, a job opened that was too good to pass up: head volleyball coach at CSI.
In addition to coaching, Cartisser was working on a master’s degree in athletic administration, which she had expected to finish in spring 2019.
CSI Athletic Director Joel Bate was one of the speakers at the funeral. He told coaches, athletic directors and referees in the crowd: “Heidi loved you guys.” He told current and past CSI volleyball players: “This is very special.”
The funeral service was streamed live online so other former volleyball players from all over the world could watch, Bate said.
After hearing the news of Cartisser’s death, “everyone had their world turned upside down,” he said. “She touched many.”
Bate received many phone calls and emails that day, including from the NJCAA and a nationwide volleyball association.
It was difficult to know what to say about the coach and friend at the funeral, Bate said, “especially when it’s difficult to accept the fact she’s gone.”
An image kept coming back into his mind: Cartisser as a coach on the sidelines pointing one finger in the air with confidence to signify her team was one point away from victory.
As a coach, Cartisser was tied to the process — not just the outcome, Bate said. She mastered a delicate balance, he added, between being a teacher and friend.
Cartisser — the first born of the family — was an obedient child, wanted to please others, was responsible and set high expectations. By age 8, she was babysitting her younger sister and brother.
Prindle and Combe shared stories about their sister, including from their childhood in the Treasure Valley. They talked about family camping trips, singing in the car to stay awake on the way back from a volleyball tournament, getting bunnies from their parents as a Christmas gift, going off campus in high school for lunch, and how Cartisser enjoyed fashion.
Prindle said he was really embarrassed Cartisser was stronger. Once when he was in ninth grade, his sister proved that at their grandparents’ house.
“She could take me,” he said. “She whooped me in front of my grandpa.”
Cartisser was also masterful with words, Prindle said. “Whenever we got into an argument, she would win.”
She displayed her competitiveness when the family played games, including in later years when they stayed up until 5 a.m. playing Settlers of Catan.
As children, Cartisser and Combe were often playing volleyball inside the house. Their mother would say, “Take it outside, girls,” Combe said.
Prindle doesn’t know if volleyball is played in heaven. But if so, he said, God has a coach who’ll take the angels to a celestial championship.
He wrapped up his speech by saying, “Heidi, I love you more.”
As the pallbearers — including Cartisser’s three sons — carried the flower-draped casket draped out of the gym, the crowd held up a finger, just like Cartisser did so many times on that very court.
RUPERT — A Paul man serving a life sentence for kidnapping and raping a bar-owner’s wife in 1984 wants a Minidoka County court to let him out of prison, saying he’s done his time.
Melvin Dean Hanks, 74, filed a post-conviction relief proceeding in 2016 with Minidoka County District Court. He was brought to the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center in mid-December so he can attend the court hearings in the case. Now he claims his sentencing judge said he’d get out after 30 years.
A Minidoka County jury convicted Hanks after a five-day trial on charges of first-degree kidnapping, attempted rape, aggravated battery and two counts of a charge called crime against nature for oral and anal rape, court records say.
He was sentenced in October 1984.
Hanks petitioned the court in 1985 for a reduction of his sentence because his life sentence precluded him getting treatment in prison. The request was denied in 1986 by Judge Ronald Bruce, the same judge who sentenced him.
His current request before the court says his sentencing document has a typed note that says the judge said in court that he would serve a fixed-life sentence not to exceed 30 years.
Hanks said he was told the same by his attorney, who said “he’d get out then.”
The sentences on the other charges — 15 years each for rape and aggravated battery and 5 years for each crime against nature — were to run concurrent with the life sentence.
Hanks said in hand-written court documents that the Idaho Department of Correction interprets a fixed life sentence as the natural life of the prisoner.
He wrote on the form that he wants to be let out of prison “immediately, if not sooner.”
Hanks’s public defender wrote that his case is “unusual, but not frivolous.”
According to the 1984 case file, the woman’s husband, who owned a bar in Minidoka County, told police that Hanks had been drunk in the bar that night and made a sexually suggestive comment toward his wife as she left the bar.
The husband said Hanks left immediately after his wife did.
Later, the bar owner found his wife’s car in the road with its lights on and the engine running.
Police stopped Hanks for a traffic violation and questioned the victim, who was still in the car with blood on her clothing and had been obviously beaten.
The woman told police Hanks was flashing his headlights at her as he followed her in his car after she left the bar. She stopped her car thinking it must be her husband, and he yanked her out of her car and forced her into his. In his car he held her down and struck her multiple times.
She said he took her to his home, put duct tape on her eyes and sexually assaulted her.
The woman said he threatened to kill her, and he agreed to drop her off in town if she was nice to him.
He didn’t take the tape off until he forced her back into his car.
At the time of the 1984 crimes, Hanks had two previous felonies, one for forcible rape in 1966 and fourth-degree arson in 1979.
A court trial in the post-conviction relief case is scheduled for March 22 in Minidoka County District Court in front of Judge Jonathan Brody.