Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Police arrest teens in squad-car arson

Suspects also accused of witness intimidation


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

A police task force arrested two Wood River High School students Friday in connection with the attempted torching of two police vehicles late last year in Hailey.

Police declined to release the names of the suspects, since both are 17 and have juvenile status. One of them lives in Sun Valley and the other in Hailey. They were taken into custody Friday morning at the high school and made initial court appearances later that day in Blaine County Juvenile Court.

The task force, involving the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and the Hailey and Ketchum police departments, investigated the case for 10 months before the arrests were made Friday morning at the high school.

Information on the case was released Monday at a press briefing attended by Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter, Ketchum Police Chief Steve Harkins and Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey.

They said both of the youths have been charged with two felonies—conspiracy to commit second-degree arson and intimidation of a witness.

"There's a lot of officers working on this and more arrests are expected," Harkins said.

The investigation, which also involved the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was started after two police vehicles were lit on fire while parked at officers' homes in Hailey in late December.

The first incident occurred the evening of Dec. 27 when petroleum was used to ignite the rear end of a Sheriff's Office 2008 Dodge Durango parked on Aspen Valley Drive in southeast Hailey.

The second occurred the following evening when two Molotov cocktails were thrown at a Ketchum police 2007 Chevrolet Suburban parked on Third Street.

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The Durango sustained a burnt rear bumper and the Suburban a broken window, but both fires were quickly extinguished and neither vehicle sustained serious damage. However, the arsons were of grave concern to area police officers, who speculated then that someone seemed to have a vendetta against police.

At Monday's press briefing, Ramsey, Harkins and Gunter declined to discuss possible motives in the attacks. However, Blaine County court records show that both juveniles have had prior brushes with the law in Blaine County.

Gunter said the task force spent "hundreds of hours" investigating the crimes.

"We all had one common interest in bringing the individuals who did this heinous act to arrest," Gunter said.

Police declined to discuss specifics leading to the arrests of the two juveniles.

"I'm not going to get into what led to it," Harkins said. "It was a lot of police work on this case, following a lot of leads and working as a team."

Harkins acknowledged that at least one witness came forward with information, a witness who, police allege, was threatened by the two suspects.

He said both juveniles have been released to the custody of their parents.

"This was a large, complex investigation that we're still working on," Harkins said. "This is what we're doing, and this is what we have so far."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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