By RENEE WELLS
MINI-CASSIA – The past year has been fraught with bad news, with a few good things scattered among serious and sorrowful incidents during the year.
In January, Troy and Heather Mortensen, owners of the Albion Café, faced a crisis after a post-holiday cold snap froze the pipes in their restaurant when it was closed, and flooded the entire café, causing extensive, and expensive, damage. The restaurant was closed for several months for renovation, but has since reopened.
Cassia County Sheriff’s officials nabbed two men who were making a dishonest living stealing copper wire. They did so by planting a GPS device in a roll of copper wire that was left in plain sight and picked up by the pair. The officers then tracked the thieves with the GPS device and made the arrests.
Sheriff Randy Kidd said although the devices were spendy, they are a valuable tool to use in this kind of situation. It is something the department will continue to use in efforts to stop a growing number of wire thefts.
In February, Damon W. Azure, of Rupert, was arrested and charged with the murder of his brother, Seanachan J. Azure, who was found lying in the road at the top of the Twin Falls grade four miles east of the city.
Officials were called to the scene and found Seanachan Azure, lying dead in the roadway with gunshot wounds. His brother was sitting nearby in a car, with weapons. He resisted arrest and was noncompliant for days following the incident. He was later charged with the murder.
In March, Minidoka County School District named the county’s Speech Language Pathologist Lisa Cole as the district’s Teacher of the Year. She was awarded a stipend and went on to represent the county at the state level.
Sheriff Kevin Halverson also announced his candidacy for a third term as the Minidoka County Sheriff. He was successful in that bid and will be sworn in again next week.
In April, the Mini-Cassia community was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Army Spc. Chris Workman, who died in a Blackhawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan, on Friday, April 20th. The community turned out in enormous support as he was brought home and honored with a local funeral and laid to rest in the Rupert Cemetery.
Three former local residents were sentenced to 10-14 years in a Wyoming prison for drug trafficking after they were arrested in a routine traffic stop on Nov. 7, 2010 and found to be in possession of a large amount of methamphetamines.
In May, Burley reeled at the grisly murder of Russ Taft, manager of the Alpine Gardens Motel. Taft’s body was found stuffed in the floorboards of a closet in the motel, after he was reported missing nearly two weeks previous by friends and associates. An acquaintance, Duane Ambrose, was sought in connection with the murder and was later charged with the offense. He was arrested in November in connection with the murder, but has yet to be extradited to Idaho because he also faces numerous charges in Las Vegas, where he was apprehended in November.
In June, Fifth District Magistrate Rick Bollar was named to replace Judge Larry Duff, Rupert, who handled all the local juvenile cases. Cassia County Deputy Prosecutor Blaine Cannon was named magistrate to take Bollar’s position on the local bench.
Cassia and Minidoka counties learned that they would be combined to make up District 25 in the state legislative redistricting efforts. This decision prompted the retirement of both Minidoka County Representative John “Bert” Stevenson and Cassia County Senator Denton Darrington, who chose to step down in deference to their colleagues Sen. Dean Cameron and Reps. Scott Bedke and Fred Wood, rather than face each other in the 2012 election, forcing someone out of office.
In July and August, local residents watched as forest and range fires lapped away at much of the federal lands, and many private acres as well. The Cave Canyon Fire on the South Mountains devoured nearly 100,000 acres of timber and range land. The Hotwell fires burned a large amount of the Cotterell Range and many other smaller fires kept the BLM Fire Protection teams busy throughout the summer, fighting both lightning and man-caused blazes.
In August, Cassia County Fairboard member and Albion rancher Jeff Chatburn was critically injured when he fell off a cliff in the Cotterell range while helping fire crews fight the Hotwell Fires. He was life-flighted to Pocatello, where he was treated and remarkably made a fast and complete recovery, in time to make an appearance at the Cassia County Fair and Rodeo.
In Sept. Murtaugh area rancher Joe Tugaw died in a plane crash while he was flying out over his ranch holdings looking at the fire damage from the Cave Canyon fire.
The city of Burley also said farewell to a pillar of its society with the death of Jim Roper, who had been a key political and community figure for decades. Roper died at his home at the age of 89, as a result of pulmonary heart disease.
In October, the wife of Idaho State Representative Fred Wood, was burned when the gun room in their basement exploded after some cleaning equipment ignited from what fire officials believe was spontaneous combustion. The couple miraculously were able to get out of the home safely because the special door on the room held when the ammunition and supplies within ignited and exploded.
Also in October, investigators found the remains of a woman that disappeared near Christmas in 1988. Norine Boyd’s remains were discovered by hikers and detectives recovered them and sent them to a forensic lab to be identified, stating the discovery was a major breakthrough in a Minidoka County “Cold” case.
In November, retirement parties were held for Sen. Denton Darrington and Rep. Bert Stevenson, following the elections.
Duane Ambrose was arrested by a team of Las Vegas investigators after receiving a tip from a viewer of “America’s Most Wanted.” He remains in a Las Vegas jail where he is facing numerous local charges before extradition to Idaho to face the murder of Russ Taft.
November brought glory, laud and honor to the Declo Hornets, as they won their first-ever state football title, defeating the Firth Cougars, 22-12 in the 2A Milk Bowl game at Holt Arena.
People turned out in support of both the Minidoka Memorial Hospital’s Caring and Sharing Christmas, as well as the Cassia Health Care Foundation’s Festival of Trees.
December became a month of philanthropic events as a record number of toys were donated to the Mini-Cassia Christmas Council, who in turn assisted a record number of families in need at Christmas. School classes got into the action of helping others, as classes raised money to send to the Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. A small service project became an event its organizers hope to make an annual effort, as “Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” organizers Luke and Heidi Mickelsen of Kimberly, provided bunk beds for 11 families at Christmas, including one Mini-Cassia area mom and her three children.
Burley High School Assistant Principal Tara Bagley was arrested in St. George, Utah, on charges that she sexually abused at least two students over a period of 17 months. She faces extradition to Cassia County to face the charges.
A Burley family was involved in a tragic accident near Bliss that took the life of Ryan Bowen, 23, of Burley, and Chelsea Sorensen, 22, of Nampa and Twin Falls. Three other members of the Bowen family were critically injured and were taken by Life Flight Air Ambulance to Boise, where they are recovering.
As 2012 closed, Minidoka County law enforcement officers were still seeking a man who went on a joy ride in a stolen pickup and caused major damage to Heyburn’s Police car fleet and sent one officer to the hospital. On New Year’s Eve, the sheriff announced that the suspect vehicle had been located but they were still looking for the driver.