Friday, August 26, 2005

Police remove body from Woodside hilltop

County jailer allegedly killed by self-inflicted gunshot

Express Staff Writer

At 8:18 a.m. Thursday morning, a helicopter landed on a hill above the Water Gulch Ranch by Hailey's Woodside industrial park and shut down. Men could be seen loading a body into the chopper, which flew to Friedman Memorial Airport 18 minutes later.

Moments later, Sheriff's Lt. Greg Sage, head of Blaine County Search and Rescue, arrived at a warehouse on Glenbrook Drive where the county's incident command recreational vehicle was parked. Seven sheriff's vehicles were also parked there. Sheriff Walt Femling was talking in one of them.

When asked about the incident, Femling said he could not release any information about what was happening. He later called the Idaho Mountain Express and confirmed that a Blaine County sheriff's deputy, Mike Lance, 47, who lived on Glenbrook Drive, had committed suicide. Blaine County Coroner Russ Mikel said Lance died of a gunshot wound, but that Femling had requested an autopsy.

Lance worked as a jailer in the Blaine County Jail in Hailey.

"It's an unfortunate situation. He worked in the jail, so it's especially tough on everybody," Femling said. Lance worked for the Sheriff's Department for 10 years. "That is all I am going to release right now."

Femling declined to make any further comment on the case, noting that it is still under investigation. However, he said his office did not learn about the alleged suicide through a 911 call.

Lance's wife, Teresa Lance, said in a telephone interview that she called 911 at 12:10 a.m. to report that her husband was missing.

Teresa Lance said the last time she saw her husband was after he returned home Wednesday from five hours of interrogation by police. She said Lance was "extremely upset" after being questioned in connection with allegations that he may have been connected to an alleged rape of a jail inmate some time last spring.

Lance said that after her husband came home Wednesday she went to Twin Falls to shop for school supplies for her children and found a suicide note when she returned late that night. After calling 911, she said Search and Rescue came with a search dog and found her husband on the hill at about 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

"They won't let me see my husband. They have his driver's license and they won't let me have that," she said, expressing frustration at how the situation was being handled by the Sheriff's Department.

However, she was reluctant to speak freely about events that may have led to her husband's death. "My problem right now is that I want to file suit against the Blaine County Sheriff's Department. They're yelling at me because you have a copy of the (suicide) letter."

Lance sent to the Mountain Express a copy of her husband's letter, which he allegedly wrote and signed shortly before his death. The letter expresses a sense of betrayal, desperation and sorrow and offered apologies to the family he left behind.

Lance said her husband had not been arrested on any charges, but that he had been interrogated three times in the past two weeks as a suspect.

"This has been going on for two weeks. No one from the Sheriff's Office ever came by to see how he was doing," Lance said. "I just want people to understand he needed help and he didn't get it. Now my children don't have a father. I am homeless and I have no money to bury my husband. He does not belong dead. The Sheriff's (Department) could have done something."

Femling did not return numerous calls to his office to confirm or deny any of the allegations made by Lance.

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