John Miller

John Miller

Every year is eventful. As we come to a close with the year 2019 and look ahead to 2020, some reflection is in order.

What were some of the bigger stories from 2019 in Bingham County that come to mind? What were some of the items that left an impression on most people’s minds?

In no particular order of impact ...

SANTOS-QUINTERO STAYS IN THE NEWS

From one of the bigger stories in the county from 2018 with the standoff in Firth involving Juan Santos-Quintero came some closure in 2019.

In late April, the bench trial for the Idaho Falls resident for shooting Bingham County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Todd Howell and firing on other law enforcement officers in the Sept. 21, 2018, standoff ended with guilty verdicts on all counts.

The trial lasted two full days at the Bingham County Courthouse.

Santos-Quintero showed no emotion when Judge Darren Simpson pronounced him guilty of aggravated battery for the wounding of Howell, guilty of two counts of aggravated assault for firing upon Sheriff’s Deputies Jake Van Orden and Brock Katseanes, guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, grand theft by possession of a stolen firearm, and guilty of the enhancement charge of being a persistent violator.

He was sentenced to 20 years fixed plus indeterminate life for wounding Howell, seven years fixed and 20 years indeterminate in each case for firing on VanOrden and Katseanes; five years fixed and 20 indeterminate for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, five years fixed and 20 years indeterminate for grand theft, and five years fixed and 20 indeterminate on the enhancement charge of being a persistent violator.

In October, Santos-Quintero refused for a second time to admit that he was responsible for damages resulting from the standoff at a restitution hearing before Simpson. County Prosecutor Paul Rogers presented a bill of $20,000 from the Idaho State Insurance Fund for reimbursement of its payment of medical bills for Howell, and other bills relating to the standoff. They included one for gunshot damage from the owner of the house where it took place.

BINGHAM ACADEMY VS. CITY

The debate between the Bingham Academy charter school and Blackfoot’s Planning and Zoning Commission over applying for a conditional use permit to remain in the Riverside Plaza was contentious and it received a lot of print and air time in the news.

After negotiation with Bingham Academy (BA) in the last hour of an at times contentious and emotional 3 1/2-hour meeting of the Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commission in October, the commissioners voted 4-0 to grant the charter high school its CUP on very similar terms to those given to the Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center.

Blackfoot City Hall wasn’t big enough to hold a public hearing on the issue with the size of the crowd, so subsequent hearings were held in the Nuart Theater and the Blackfoot Performing Arts Center.

GWSD VS. CITY

Simpson handed down a judgment just before Christmas week in a lawsuit between the Groveland Water and Sewer District and the City of Blackfoot, ruling against the city in a case dating back to early October.

GWSD sued for damages including loss of connection fees, loss of capital funds for improvement to GWSD’s infrastructure, and the uncertainty of GWSD to be able to provide sewer service to its customers.

Judge Simpson’s ruling last Friday afternoon stated that the city’s requirement that potential patrons of GWSD execute a petition for annexation violates Idaho Code; the city “anticipatorily breached” its agreement with GWSD by requiring potential patrons of GWSD to execute a petition for annexation in violation of Idaho Code; the city is barred from requiring a petition for annexation to be signed by potential patrons of GWSD as part of its contractual approval of connections to GWSD’s sewer system.

“We are, of course, very surprised and disappointed in the judge’s decision. The City is currently evaluating its options,” Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carroll said in an email.

BLACKFOOT POOL ISSUE

A proposal to create a recreation district inside the boundaries of the Blackfoot, Snake River, and Firth school districts in an attempt to give new life to the closed Blackfoot swimming pool was defeated in the November elections.

The levy vote needed a simple majority to pass, but it only got 45 percent voting in favor. One of the strongest arguments against the issue was not wanting to create another taxing entity in the county. The district would have added a permanent .04 percent levy to the property taxes of those within the district, or $40 per year for properties valued at $100,000.

BASIC AMERICAN DECISION

In August, Basic American Foods (BAF) announced its intention to phase out its manufacturing operations at its Shelley facility and its ingredients facility in Blackfoot.

In Shelley — where a potato processing plant has been located since the 1950s in one form or another in the area of S. Emerson and W. Fir St. between the R.T. French Co., then Pillsbury, before going to Basic American — city leaders and members of the potato industry expressed shock, optimism, resignation, and sadness.

Shelley Mayor Stacy Pascoe said there had been talk for several years about BAF combining operations in Rexburg, but nothing was official until the announcement.

Pascoe seemed resigned to the situation and stayed optimistic about the news.

SAYING FAREWELL

Bingham County lost some prominent names in 2019.

In early April, Dr. Gary Haddock passed away at his home. He was remembered fondly in the community for his tireless efforts in practicing medicine and for his work in helping to guide education in Blackfoot.

In early June, longtime Blackfoot educator, coach, high school athletic director and outspoken political scientist LaMar Hagar passed away from complications related to pneumonia at Portneuf Regional Medical Center after a short battle with the illness.

In early September, Firth Mayor Vincent Winn Larson was taken from the Basalt Ward chapel to the Shelley-Hillcrest Cemetery in a way that represented his years of service to the community.

The City of Firth owns a 1937 fire truck, and at the request of Larson’s family, that truck was polished up so it could serve as a hearse.

Larson had served as mayor of Firth for the past 13 years. He passed away at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls after a battle with cancer, battling T-cell lymphoma starting at the end of December 2018. He was 70 years old. Brandon Jolley was chosen as the new Firth mayor.

In Fort Hall, rallies were held to bring attention to the missing and murdered in Native American country. In mid-September, it was reported that the remains of 23-year-old Austin Forrest Pevo may have been located on the Fort Hall Reservation.

ATHLETIC SUCCESS

Prep football fans and pro rodeo fans were captivated by the success of local teams and athletes. In football, four of the six high school teams in the county made it to the state playoffs. Blackfoot made it all the way to the 4A state championship game against Kuna and lost a 49-35 heartbreaker in a hard-fought, high-scoring game between the top two finishers in the final prep poll.

In the pro rodeo arena, Blackfoot cowboy Stetson Jorgensen made a big splash in steer wrestling, finishing third at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas with local fans keeping track of his every move.

Now, the only thing left to ponder is what lies ahead in 2020.

Happy New Year from the staff of the Bingham County Chronicle!

John Miller is editor of the Bingham County Chronicle.