Headlines Wednesday, May 15, 2013
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Vehicle fires have police searching for suspects
State officials have been called in to investigate suspected arsons in Tremonton, Garland area
By Valerie Munt
Tremonton and Garland Police are investigating a series of vandalisms and vehicle fires—which officials are calling arson—in the Tremonton and Garland areas surrounding Bear River High School, where the first case originated, and are asking residents to remain vigilant against suspicious activities.
The crimes have occurred between the hours of 5 and 6 a.m. and began in the early morning hours of April 20 in the Bear River High School parking lot. Windows in a number of drivers education cars were broken and the exterior of the vehicles were scratched.
Ten days later, on April 30, about 5 a.m., a storage shed, also at Bear River High School, was found on fire by patrol officers in the area. This fire is also suspected to be arson.
The State Fire Marshal, Coy Porter, has been called into the area to investigate three automobile fires which are also being called arson.
On the morning of Tuesday, May 7, also at about 5 a.m., a Chevrolet pick-up truck was found on fire in the Holmgren Estates subdivision in Tremonton. Although the truck was a total loss for Jonathon and Ashley Bailey, investigators were able to find an accelerant on the seat where the fire began.
Two days later another vehicle, Joe Rudd’s 1988 Jeep Wrangler was found burned out behind Rudd Funeral Home in Garland, again with an accelerant found on the passenger seat.
Rudd said his Jeep was parked only four feet from his garage and, had the wind not been blowing in the opposite direction, could have sparked a disastrous fire there.
The following day, May 10, a neighbor, Jeremy Thompson, spotted the trailer belonging to David and Janelle Pollock engulfed in flames. The trailer was parked only 3 or 4 feet away from the Pollock’s home. Thompson saw the flames, called for the fire department and pounded loudly on the door of the home to wake the family, including three children, up.
Pollock grabbed his garden hose and turned it on the fire in an effort to contain the spread while firefighters were en route. Upon arrival, the fire department extinguished the flames and sent their firefighting dog in to sniff for gas. When the dog was unable to detect gasoline, the fire chief suspected that maybe someone used alcohol as an accelerant, lighting the mattress on fire.
Tremonton Police Chief David Nance is asking for help in solving these crimes and asks anyone with any information to call the Tremonton Police Department at 435-257-9554.
Triple murder investigation moving forward Idaho police say
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office remains optimistic about their investigation of a triple homicide at a home in Holbrook, Idaho a month ago—with leads in Box Elder County—and has confirmed that there was a relationship between the victims and the perpetrator of the crime and that the homicides were not random acts of violence.
“Even though we cannot release specifics about the investigation, I assure the community that it is moving in a positive direction,” said Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad.
Three bodies were found at the Christensen home in Holbrook, Idaho—10 miles north of Snowville—on Friday, April 5, and were identified as Brent L. Christensen, 61, Trent J. Christensen, 32, and Yavette C. Carter, 27.
Trent Christensen and his fiancé, Yavette Carter’s two young daughters were found at the scene, a 2-year-old child and a 2-month-old infant. The infant was found under the arm of her mother, who, police say, was protecting her baby.
According to Semrad, the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Bingham County (Idaho) Sheriff’s Office and Blackfoot (Idaho) Police Department, have assisted a great deal in the investigation. Investigators have spent much of their time in Northern Utah following up with information obtained by Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office.
A search warrant was served last month at a home in Garland where a cellular phone was seized. Semrad said the search did not result in any information which could have led investigators to issue other search warrants.
“All other search warrants have been sealed and no information will be released at this time,” said Semrad.
No arrests were made and investigators did not release any information that might have confirmed or denied whether evidence was collected during the search. A suspect has not yet been named.
Investigators and media outlets have speculated that illicit drugs and dogfighting—evidence of both were found at the home—played a part in the trios fate.
Police found a marijuana grow operation in the basement of the home and placed the value of the plants at $95,000. Additionally, nearly 70 pit bulls were found at the home and evidence of a dog fighting ring was clear. The dogs, many of which had been trained to fight, were rescued by the Idaho Humane Society.
The elder Christensen was reportedly boarding the dogs for individuals from throughout Southeastern Idaho and Northern Utah.
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office has not released information from the autopsies nor have they indicated the type of weapon used by the perpetrator to shoot the three to death or the types of specific injuries inflicted on the victims.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office at 208-766-2251 or text-a-tip to 208-815-0120.
“No information is insignificant,” said Semrad.
Local cock-fighters defend their activities in light of
legislation, public opposition
Spangled and grey roosters belonging to an owner in Box Elder County have been raised specifically to fight.
By Mike Nelson
The first rule about fight club: don’t talk about fight club.
Second rule about fight club: don’t talk about fight club.
But in the case of cock-fighting, a bill initiated by Senator Gene Davis (D-District 3) earlier this year sought to do more than talk about it. Through SB52, Davis hoped to make participation in the secretive, yet surprisingly popular sport a felony.
With that kind of heat, local cock-fighting aficionados are careful who they talk to about their rooster-fighting activities for obvious reasons. Even though cock-fighting is not a felony in Utah—as it is in 40 other states in the union—it is still illegal and a class B misdemeanor for both fighters and spectators.
“It’s legal for a resident of Utah to go outside, in their backyard, and destroy their chickens with a baseball bat, or however they see fit, but it is illegal for me to pit my bird against another,” said a local cock-fighter Bill Blake (name changed to protect identity).
Blake cited a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (Denver) case which ruled it was legal for an animal owner to harvest or otherwise dispatch their animals however they saw fit.
However, it is legal in Utah to possess, raise and sell fighting birds as well as to possess implements used for fighting, such as long and short knives and gaffs. These implements are attached to the rooster’s lower legs and mimic the natural spurs of the bird but, in essence, arm the birds with deadlier weapons against their opponents.
Long knives are implements favored by Pacific Islanders who engage in this popular sport while short knives are used by Hispanics. The blades of a long knife are roughly 2 ½ inches long while the blades of a short knife are only just larger than one inch in length. Both blades are honed to a sharp edge and make for a very quick fight.
Brazilians, on the other hand, fix two short knives to the legs of their birds before the fight.
“Gaffs are the preferred weapon of ‘gringos,’” said Blake.
A gaff is roughly the size of a ten penny nail—or 2 1/2 inches long—the tip of which is sharpened to a point and a pair of the devices are fixed to the rooster’s leg by a leather strap.
Cock-fighters buy into a fight, as an example, $300 enters five birds into the fight. The roosters are weighed-in and fight other birds within two ounces of their weight class. A typical pot in Box Elder County would garner the winner an estimated $3,000, while friendly wagers between bird owners in the neighborhood of $20 per bout are not uncommon.
The Senate Bill failed in the House in March by a vote of 28-39 amid concerns that it would unnecessarily fill up prisons and would prevent people from being gun owners.
“We’re going to take someone’s life away from them for a year if they get into this ridiculous arena of cock-fighting?” asked Representative Dan McCay (R-District 41), rhetorically.
To some local participants in the sport, this was the furthest from their concerns. They believe that being able to raise a rooster—birds, they say, born for the fight—is a constitutional right not to be infringed upon.
Animal rights activists urged lawmakers to pass the bill, arguing that “A strong majority of Utah voters want tougher penalties for cock-fighting,” claiming that as much as 70 percent favored making the act a crime with only 15 percent opposed, based on a survey conducted earlier this year.
“The animal rights people always lump bird and dog fighting together,” said Blake. “The defining difference here, for me, is we don’t eat 14 billion dogs a year and chickens don’t sleep in the house.”
Lawmakers and activists who favored such a law also contended that activities known to accompany cock-fights such as gambling, drugs and other illegal activities were the ultimate root of the problem and sought to stamp them out.
“The current laws in Utah have made the state a magnet for this illegal activity, which brings along with it the elements of gambling and violence with weapons,” said Human Society of Utah director Gene Baierschmidt.
Cock-fighters, at least in Box Elder County, disagree and say that illegal gun running and drug dealing has no place at their cock-fighting derbies. Blake said, in his 20 years of cock-fighting, that there is no bookmaking—bets made against odds—nor has he ever seen any drugs, violence among participants or prostitution at a “rumble.”
“The chicken fighters are not low-life scum,” said Blake. “We are tax-paying citizens, small business owners, bishops, teachers and established people in the community.”
Blake said roosters have been bred for fighting for more than 4,000 years, no differently than horses who are raised for racing, or the dogs who lead hunters to their quarry.
“We, as a society, don’t want to know where our food really comes from. We don’t want to know that from the day a chicken is hatched, to the day we find it in our bucket from Colonel Sanders is only 52 days,” said Blake who went on to describe the difference between how his chickens are raised and the conditions in which chickens for general consumption are held.
His chickens, he said, receive nothing but the best. His hens roam free while his roosters never spend more than a week in their pens. They are fed human quality whole grain—the bill of which is $300 a month—and are watered three times a day.
One of Blake’s oldest roosters, a prized brood cock, was 19-years-old and had won 11 fights before his hip went out and had to be put down.
“We’re rooster fighters and proud of it,” said Blake.
“In a rural community like this, I’m sure that cock-fights go on,” said Box Elder County Sheriff Chief Deputy Kevin Potter.
According to Potter, he could think of only one incident in the last decade where an individual received a citation for cock-fighting, and that man turned himself in.