Friday, February 13, 2009

Dorm death the second within five months

Sun Valley Co. employee died in September of overdose

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Co.’s Oregon dormitory, the scene of a fight that allegedly led to an employee’s death last week. Photo by David N. Seelig

The death last week of a Sun Valley Co. employee, following a fight at an employee dormitory, was the second death at the dorms in less than five months. Last September, a dormitory resident died from what appeared to be an overdose of prescription painkillers and alcohol.

Blaine County Coroner Russell Mikel confirmed Wednesday that an overdose was indeed the cause.

Illegal drugs and alcohol are prohibited at the dorms.

Sun Valley police reported that Corey D. Drehmel, 19, another company employee, who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, reeked of alcohol after a fight at the Oregon dormitory on Feb. 6 that allegedly led to the death of 49-year-old Jerome James.

The cause of that death has not been determined. Drehmel remains incarcerated on $100,000 bail in the Blaine County jail, awaiting a preliminary hearing set for Feb. 18.

Drehmel and James were both cooks, as was Jacob Keating, the man who overdosed in September. Keating, a 26-year-old from Kenmore, Wash., died Sept. 13 at the Moritz dormitory.

"He just died in his sleep and the coroner will have to come up with a finding," Sun Valley Police Chief Cameron Daggett said then. "It appears to be an alcohol, possibly a prescription drugs combination overdose, but we don't know that for sure until we get the toxicology report back."

Keating's death was followed by another dorm incident on Sept. 23, when a 44-year-old worker was arrested on a charge of battery for allegedly slamming his roommate into a wall. Police identified the suspect as Albert N. Wawock, whose previous address was listed as a Boise homeless shelter.

It's not clear what kind of background checks Sun Valley Co. runs on its employees. Company representatives did not return telephone calls by press deadline Thursday.

Drehmel has pending misdemeanor drug charges against him in Boise and a DUI charge pending in Sun Valley. According to Ada County court records, he had several misdemeanor convictions as a juvenile, including minor consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, petit theft, carrying a concealed weapon and probation violation.

Crimes by seasonal workers living in the dorms were a problem for law enforcement authorities in the early to mid-1990s, said Hailey City Councilor Fritz Haemmerle, an attorney who was Blaine County prosecuting attorney at that time.

"I can definitely say there were a lot of problems with Sun Valley Co. employees committing felonies," Haemmerle said Wednesday. "They were a panoply of felonies."

Sun Valley Co. spokesman Jack Sibbach said Monday that the company provides affordable housing for some 500 workers. Some live in larger condominiums in Sun Valley and Elkhorn, but most live in the dorms, where they have anywhere from one to three roommates.

"Some of these are very comfortable, and some of them are cramped," Sibbach said.

The Idaho Mountain Express reported in its Aug. 22 edition that Sun Valley Co. would be able to import fewer foreign workers this season because of a nationwide cap on work visas.

Personnel Manager Matt Parke said then that during peak winter season, the company in the past has had about 400 foreign workers on its payroll. Because of the cap on work visas, Parke said, the company would lose about 100 of those workers this season.

"We're just focused a little more on domestic hiring," Parke said. "We've tried to attend more universities in the springtime. We've looked at areas where unemployment might be a little high and drag from those regions."

Sun Valley Co. has an entire workforce of about 1,700. Currently the company is advertising on its Web site for hairdressers, wait staff, dishwashers and cooks.

Terry Smith:

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