A tearful JoLeta Jenks, the mother of a child who died from hypothermia on Christmas Day, testified in court that she was elated when she heard that her daughter had been found. Later, her joy turned to anguish when she learned that 11-year-old Sage Aragon had been pronounced dead.
Jenks said she learned the tragic news from her 12-year-old son Bear Aragon, who was at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center along with his father, Robert Aragon.
"We just lost her," Jenks said she was told by Bear.
Jenks' testified Friday in Lincoln County Magistrate Court in preliminary hearings for Robert Aragon and his cousin, Kenneth Quintana.
Early in the proceedings, charges of involuntary manslaughter and felony injury to a child were dismissed against 29-year-old Quintana. Judge Mark Ingram, however, determined that enough evidence was provided against Aragon, 55, to have him bound over to 5th District Court for further prosecution of the same charges.
Dismissal of the Quintana charges followed a motion filed by Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson, who argued that his client had no custodial or legal authority over the children. Nelson said the charges against Quintana require that a "custodial or caregiver responsibility" exist, when in fact none did.
"You'll see that the state has mixed apples and oranges," Nelson said. "This jurisdictional flaw is fatal to the complaint."
Ingram agreed with Nelson's arguments.
"Mr. Quintana, you are discharged from this complaint," the judge said.
The court proceedings against the two men were emotional and tearful. Both men cried at times or rested their heads on the defendant's table.
Both men are no longer in custody. Quintana was released after the complaint was dismissed. First, though, he needed to post bond on possession of controlled substance and drug paraphernalia charges. He allegedly possessed the materials when he was arrested at his home by Jerome police.
Ingram, over the objection of Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney E. Scott Paul, reduced bond for Aragon from $500,000 to $25,000. It was posted later that day. Also over Paul's objection, Ingram declined to issue a no-contact order that would have prohibited Aragon from being with his son.
Aragon's arraignment in 5th District Court is scheduled for Feb. 17 before Judge John Butler.
The case against Aragon and Quintana started on Christmas Day when the men were taking Sage and Bear to visit their mother, who was house sitting in the West Magic Reservoir area in south Blaine County. Their vehicle became stuck in snow on West Magic Road and the children were allegedly allowed to walk some nine miles toward where Jenks was staying.
A storm set in and the children never made it to their mother. A search was later organized by Blaine County Search and Rescue. Bear was found, cold but alive, later that evening sheltering in a bathroom along the road.
Sage was found about 2 a.m. the following day. She had no vital signs, but was taken to St. Luke's were resuscitation was attempted. It was unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at about 4 a.m.
Bear Aragon testified that it was his idea to attempt the walk to his mother.
"I told my sister that it was up to her if she wanted to go with me," he said.
An interview with Robert Aragon, conducted by Lincoln County Sheriff's investigators prior to Aragon's arrest, was played during the court proceedings.
"It wasn't really windy," Robert Aragon said. "It was bright, and after that the storm just came in. I said OK, if you guys want to go, just go. If you want to stay here, stay here. Be careful and stick together.
"She (Jenks) was supposed to be down to pick them up. I just thought their mom was coming after them."
After getting the car out of the snow, Aragon said he drove back to his home in Jerome. He only learned later that afternoon, when Jenks called him, that the children hadn't arrived.
"I argued with her when she asked where the kids were," Aragon said. "I just hung up."
Aragon said he picked up Quintana, drove to the area and started searching for the children.
Bear further testified that he and Sage had spoken with their mother that morning and made arrangements for the visit. He said no arrangements were made for their mother to meet them along the road, however.
"No, she didn't know we were out there," Bear said.
Bear seemed pleased to see his father. He smiled and said, "Hi dad" when he noticed his father at the defendant's table.
A mother's testimony
Jenks, who said she now lives in Jerome, testified that she had no way to pick up the children, nor had arrangements been made for her to do so.
"I was wondering where they were and when they were going to show up," she said. "He knew I didn't have a way to get out. I just felt like I was helpless, like I couldn't do anything."
Jenks said she started searching herself for the children but was unable to get very far in the windy, snowy conditions.
She praised Aragon, who had custody of the children, as a good father.
"He never laid a hand on them," she said. "He was a good father. I just wish this didn't have to happen. I'm not sure what his thinking was at that time."
Terry Smith: email@example.com