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A sign announces the closure of an elementary school April 16 in Helena, Mont.


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Survivors of fatal collision reunite with rescuers 33 years later

SHOSHONE — Shelley Rowlan Engle has no memory of the 1987 collision that nearly killed her — the collision that took the life of the driver of the car she was riding in.

“I’ve had to rely on stories of others that were there that day, to put the pieces together in what would become a story I would tell for the next 33 years,” Engle told a large group of first responders who reunited Friday in Shoshone.

“Over the span of those years, I’ve always wondered about the people that came to our rescue that day — and I made several attempts to locate them,” she said. “I wanted to thank them for their acts of bravery and courage, and thank them for saving my life.”

On the morning of Aug. 4, 1987, four teenage girls from Shoshone “piled into a little Dodge Colt and headed to Twin Falls for some shopping and lunch,” Engle said. The girls had promised Linda Hall’s mother, Joyce, that they would be back before she needed her car for work early that afternoon.

Having gotten a late start back to Shoshone, “we began traveling at a high rate of speed to make up some time,” Engle said. “We were reportedly going 75-80 mph, passing several cars as we sped along.”

The 19-year-old driver, Linda Hall, drove north past the blinking light on U.S. Highway 93 near Jerome. Two miles later, she pulled up on a slow-moving road grader and attempted to pass.

LeRoy Lewis, the driver of the road grader, caught a glimpse of the approaching car in his mirrors as he started to turn left onto 200 North. At the same moment, Linda Hall realized Lewis was turning. Both tried to avoid the collision by swerving to the right.

The car hit the left rear tire of the road grader and went airborne nose first, Engle said. The car flipped onto the cab of the grader, then “landed on its roof in a crumpled heap and burst into flames.”

Lewis grabbed the fire extinguisher off the grader and ran toward the car, Engle said. As she told the story through her tears, surviving passengers Marla VanTassell and Janis Astle stood beside her, hanging their heads as their memories of that day embraced them.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS 

The news article of a collision that resulted in the death of Linda Hall sits on display Friday along with photos of the survivors during a memorial reunion at Mary L. Gooding Park in Shoshone. The crash occurred 33 years ago. Survivors of the crash organized the event to thank the first responders who saved their lives.

Their friend Linda Hall died in the wreck.

“Her beautiful soul slipped away from us on that hot highway before first responders could even arrive,” Engle said. “She was laid to rest in Shoshone on August 9, 1987. She left behind a myriad of unfulfilled dreams and a family who loved her dearly.”

‘Heroes began to emerge’

“Once the fire was out, LeRoy knelt down and cradled Marla’s head in his hands until someone came along with a blanket to support it,” Engle said. “He then ran back to his grader to radio for help.

“He saved our lives that day by putting out the fire,” she said. “This is when the heroes began to emerge.”

They rolled in, Engle said, as if in a parade.

It just so happened that Jerome County was putting on a parade that day in 1987 and many of the law enforcement officers and emergency responders were lined up in their vehicles, waiting for their turn in the parade, when Lewis’ call came in.

“While their minds processed the horrific chaos they’d just encountered, policemen, firemen, and EMTs all began working frantically to save us,” Engle said. Exploding into action, and assuming the roles they’d been trained for, these men and women began working together to process the scene, gain entry to the vehicle, and untangle us one from the other in order to remove us from the wreckage.

“First Janis, and then Marla,” she said. “They were stabilized and put into ambulances that transported them to the Jerome hospital, where they received immediate care. Next, it was my turn. Firemen used their Jaws of Life equipment to free my arm from under the vehicle, and within an hour, I, too, was en route to the hospital.”

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS 

LeRoy Lewis, center, speaks Friday with first responders who arrived at the scene of a fatal collision 33 years ago on U.S. Highway 93 north of Jerome. Lewis was the driver of the road grader that was hit by a speeding car. Lewis' quick reaction — putting out flames and calling for help — saved the lives of three out of four Shoshone teenagers in the car.

Over the years since the collision, Engle had toyed with the idea of holding a reunion with the first responders to thank them for saving her life. But each time, she hit a dead end.

Then late last year, her luck changed. With renewed resolve, she tracked down Jerome Rural Fire Chief Joe Robinette.

Engle, who now lives in Spokane, Washington, asked Robinette if he knew anything about the accident or anyone who might have responded that day.

“Indeed, he did know,” she said.

Robinette, who was with the Jerome City Fire Department at the time, said he knew the names of the others — and they “wanted to speak with me,” she said. “That’s when I began to cry.”

One by one, Engle introduced the first responders who reunited Friday — about two dozen in total — to her family and the other survivors’ families. She introduced their spouses, children and grandchildren, and told of their accomplishments.

“None of what I just shared would have happened without you,” she told the first responders on Friday. “Not only did you rescue us that day, but you gave us the gift of time. Time to finish growing up, to go to school, to get married and have babies, and eventually, to become grandmothers.

“When I called each of you and told you we wanted to meet you, one of you asked me, ‘Why now? What made you decide to do this after all this time?’

“My response was, ‘To you, it’s just now, but for me, it’s always been there — a story I’ve repeated many times over — and one you’ve been a hero in for the past 33 years.’”

PHOTOS: Crash survivors reunite to thank first responders who saved their lives

National
AP
Justices strike down abortion law

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that a law that requires doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

The outcome is far from the last word on the decades-long fight over abortion with dozens of state-imposed restrictions winding their way through the courts. But the decision was a surprising defeat for abortion opponents, who thought that a new conservative majority with two of President Donald Trump’s appointees on board would start chipping away at abortion access.

The key vote belonged to Roberts, who always voted against abortion rights before, including in a 2016 case in which the court struck down a Texas law that was virtually identical to the one in Louisiana. The chief justice explained that he continues to think the Texas case was wrongly decided, but believes it’s important for the court to stand by its prior decisions.

“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote. He did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals in Monday’s decision.

The case was t he third in two weeks in which Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, joined the court’s liberals in the majority. One of the earlier decisions preserved the legal protections and work authorization for 650,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The other extended federal employment-discrimination protections to LGBT Americans, a decision that Justice Neil Gorsuch also joined and wrote.

Trump’s two high-court picks, Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what had fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.

The Trump administration sided with Louisiana in urging the court to uphold the law. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany criticized the decision. “In an unfortunate ruling today, the Supreme Court devalued both the health of mothers and the lives of unborn children by gutting Louisiana’s policy that required all abortion procedures be performed by individuals with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital,” McEnany said.

On the other side, support for the decision mixed with a wariness that the future of abortion rights appears to rest with Roberts.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Monday’s decision by no means ends the struggle over abortion rights in legislatures and the courts.

“We’re relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we’re concerned about tomorrow. With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state. But the Court’s decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected,” Northup said.

In other rulings Monday:

  • The court refused to block the execution of four federal prison inmates who are scheduled to be put to death in July and August. The executions would mark the first use of the death penalty on the federal level since 2003. The court’s action leaves no obstacles standing in the way of the executions, the first of which is scheduled for July 13.
  • Justices made it easier for the president to fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The court’s five conservative justices agreed that restrictions Congress imposed on when the president can fire the agency’s director violated the Constitution. The decision doesn’t have a big impact on the current head of the agency. Kathy Kraninger, who was nominated to her post by the president in 2018, said she believed the president could fire her at any time.
  • The court left in place a decision that rejected environmental groups’ challenge to sections of wall the Trump administration is building along the U.S. border with Mexico. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Southwest Environmental Center challenged a federal law that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to waive any laws necessary to allow the quick construction of border fencing. The groups argued that violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. But a lower court dismissed the case and justices agreed.
  • The Supreme Court upheld a provision of federal law that requires foreign affiliates of U.S.-based health organizations to denounce prostitution as a condition of receiving taxpayer money to fight AIDS around the world. Kavanaugh wrote for the court’s conservatives that “plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates are foreign organizations, and foreign organizations operating abroad possess no rights under the U. S. Constitution.”

Crime-and-courts
breaking
Twin Falls County man must pay nearly $320K in restitution for altered environmental tests

TWIN FALLS — A man who owned a soil and water remediation consulting firm has been sentenced to pay $318,985 in restitution to former clients for doctoring environmental tests.

Saiid S. Dabestani, 73, was charged with counts of forgery, offering false or forged instrument for record, computer crime and an environmental quality violation. All but the environmental quality violation are felonies. He pleaded guilty in October.

District Judge Roger Harris sentenced Dabestani on Monday to two to 10 years in prison for the forgery charge but suspended the sentence and put Dabestani on eight years of probation. If Dabestani commits no other crimes, Harris could grant him a withheld judgment for all but the forgery count, meaning the charges would not stay on his record.

The restitution payments for seven former clients of Enviro-Mont Consulting range from $3,881 to $176,037. The restitution amounts reflect the fees landowners paid Dabestani.

An investigation revealed he forged several lab reports by changing project names and testing results to facilitate his clients’ receipt of “Certificates of Completion” and/or “Site Closure Letters” from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

In at least one instance, Dabestani sent soil and water samples to a third party lab for testing. When he received the results, he altered them by reducing the concentration levels of multiple contaminants to ensure that they fell within DEQ’s acceptable screening levels, the Attorney General’s office said.

Deputy Attorney General David Morse in the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Unit prosecuted the case.


A gardener waters the plants alongside a statue of former Wimbledon Champion Fred Perry at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon in London, Monday.


News
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New Minidoka County magistrate judge takes oath

RUPERT — In the midst of a pandemic, Douglas G. Abenroth was sworn in June 29 at Rupert’s Historic Wilson Theatre where dignitaries, his family, friends and sitting judges present all donned face masks.

A judge’s swearing-in ceremony is not usually held in such a “swank venue,” but he joked, Abenroth had assured him that “he was worth it,” Fifth District Judge Eric Wildman said.

Abenroth, 43, of Burley, started practicing law in 2005 as a deputy prosecutor for Cassia County. He was appointed in 2014 as the county’s prosecutor and he was elected to the position in 2016.

Laurie Welch /   

Abenroth

He received a bachelor’s of science degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2000 and his juris doctorate degree from the Willamette University College of Law, in Salem, Oregon, in 2005.

Attorney Kerry McMurray introduced Abenroth likening him to Abraham Lincoln in his “steadiness and integrity” and said he’s not afraid to do what’s right regardless of how popular the action may be.

McMurray said Abenroth also has a good foundation of family heritage and that it is now time for him to do hard things — like his ancestors once did.

Abenroth’s leadership in Cassia County will be “greatly missed,” he said, but now that leadership will transfer to Minidoka County.

Abenroth slipped off his own mask to take his oath of office from Minidoka County District Judge Jonathan Brody and then his wife, Cortney Abenroth, helped him slip on his judge’s robe for the first time in the dimly lit theater.

Like one of his childhood idols, Superman, he said, he believes in truth, justice and the American way.

He thanked friends and family along with all of his colleagues, schoolmates and teachers who helped shape his career and knowledge over the years.

Certain lawyers believing in him along his career path put him where he is today, he said.

But most of all, he said, he thanks his wife, who remains beside him personally and professionally.

In parting, Wildman told Abenroth that even though he’s sat in a courtroom day after day, the minute he sits on the bench, everything will look different.

Don’t hesitate to call any of the judges, he said, they are a valuable resource.

And, he said, don’t be intimidated by the case files piling up on the bench, (metaphorically because they are all digital now,) due to the pandemic.