Headlines Reveal Tragedy, Disaster ...And Strange Behavior

House fire in Deer Creek.

House fire in Deer Creek. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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House fire in Deer Creek.

Rim Country suffered its fair share of death, disaster and fear last year, with forest fires, murders, strange crimes and tragic accidents. Here is a partial list of some of the top stories from the year:

March

Ban on synthetic drugs

The Payson Town Council banned the sale of synthetic drugs including bath salts and pot-pourri, which were flying off the shelves in both Payson and Pine. The cleverly engineered compounds were legal, but potentially dangerous packets of designer drugs. Police had reports of Rim Country teens and adults suffering serious reactions to the then-legal, synthetic drugs. Town Attorney Tim Wright and Police Chief Don Engler drafted an ordinance to prevent shop owners from selling any “product” used to get high if it’s packaged in a misleading way.

Prominent Payson Attorney Disbarred

Allegations once-prominent Payson attorney Harlan Green took financial advantage of a mentally disabled woman, mishandled a trust account and neglected his duties prompted the Arizona Supreme Court to disbar, who never never filed an answer to the Bar’s complaint or otherwise defended himself.

Man Who Scammed Vet Shelter Arrested

Deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in Florida captured James Reardon, 42, on warrants of grand theft auto and larceny after reportedly stealing from the local veterans shelter. Reardon reportedly stole thousands and a car from Veterans Helping Veterans before fleeing the area. One of the shelters volunteers helped police nab Reardon.

April

Driver Dies outside Gisela

After leaving his Gisela home for a job in Winslow, Douglas Glorfield experienced a medical emergency, driving into oncoming traffic and nine feet up an embankment. His trailer landed on its side and Glorfield later died at a hospital.

May

Sexting, Sex Spurs Cop’s Firing

Payson Police Officer Josh LaManna, 34, lost his job after admitting that while on duty he sent lewd text messages to two other women and had sex with one after entering her home reportedly without permission. LaManna, 34, resigned in lieu of termination after Police Chief Don Engler discovered LaManna was sending and receiving sexually explicit pictures with two women. LaManna, an eight-year veteran, admitted he slept with one of the women while on duty.

June

Governor Denies Flibotte’s Appeal

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer rejected a former local real-estate agent’s request for a reduction in his 90-year sentence for possession of child pornography. The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency in February 2012 recommended the governor commute Robert Thomas Flibotte’s sentence to five years in jail with lifetime probation, but the governor denied the appeal, offering no comment.

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A black bear killed after attacking campers at the Ponderosa Campgrounds, just off Hwy 260 northeast of Payosn.

Bears attack campers, construction worker

Bear attacks in June sent two campers and a construction worker to the hospital for injuries. Several bears were killed following the attacks east of town, but officials concluded they were the wrong bears. The string of three attacks started on May 31 when a bear ripped open a tent in the Ponderosa Campground and clawed a woman on the head. On June 21, a bear entered an unfinished house in Thompson Draw about a mile from the campground and nipped a sleeping construction worker on the leg. The most serious attack came on June 24 when a bear tore open a tent and started to drag a Tempe man off into the woods. Other campers scared off the bear. The man survived.

July

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Sunflower Fire

Man Charged With Starting $6 Million Sunflower Fire

A Mesa man was charged with starting the Sunflower Fire south of Payson inadvertently during a bachelor party. An explosive shotgun shell Steven Craig Shiflet, 23, reportedly shot caught the brush on fire despite he and his friends’ efforts to squelch the flames.

August

Child Dies In Tragic Crash

A 7-year-old Payson girl died at the end of a tragic chain of events that started with her father fleeing police and rolling his vehicle south of town on Highway 87, just north of Corvair Curve. Gasoa Balas, 36, was charged with second-degree murder charges, plus a slew of additional counts that include attempting to run over two officers and DUI for the Aug. 1 rollover that claimed Calandra Balas’ life.

Man Admits Killing Infant, Abusing Girl

Six years after shaking his baby to death, a Payson man pleaded guilty to manslaughter faced with new accusations he had abused another child. Justin Phillip Valencia, 24, not only confessed to striking his 22-month-old daughter in July, but violently shaking his 5-week-old son in 2006, which ultimately killed him. Valencia said he never intended to kill his son; he was just irritated when the baby would not stop crying.

Murder Suspect flees to Lake Roosevelt

A White Mountain man wanted in connection with a murder led police on a high-speed chase from Globe to Lake Roosevelt, shooting at multiple officers and eventually fleeing into the forest. After five days in the woods, Gabriel Ross Jaramillo, 57, was arrested after a boater spotted him near the lake.

7.5 Pounds Of Meth Nets Decade In Jail

A 52-year-old New Mexico man will spend nine years in jail after a jury found him guilty of moving $52,500 worth of methamphetamine through Payson. After a three-day trial ending Aug. 31, a jury found Sammy Lee Mitchell guilty of five felony counts, including transporting drugs and possessing drug paraphernalia. Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Mitchell Oct. 5 in a Globe courtroom to nine years, with credit for 220 days.

September

Woman forges checks to pay restitution

A 38-year-old woman who wrote forged checks in a desperate effort to make a down payment on court-ordered restitution from a previous fraud case was ordered to spend years in jail for forgery. A jury found Sherri Lynn Dashney guilty of theft and forgery after she wrote two bad checks totaling $5,000 to the Gila County Clerk of the Court in February of 2011. Dashney owed the court more than $30,000 in restitution for four previous felony fraud cases. She was already on probation in those cases. With four more felony convictions on her record, Dashney was ordered to serve 19 years in prison.

Officer Reprimanded For Not Revealing He’d Been Drinking

A Gila County sheriff’s sergeant involved in a shoot-out got a slap on the wrist for failing to tell his supervisor he had been drinking before being called out from home to help look for a wanted fugitive at Roosevelt Lake. Sgt. John France signed a “memorandum of concern” that said he should have told his supervisors he’d been drinking at home before answering a call to chase a murder suspect. However, the internal investigation concluded France did nothing wrong in the course of the chase and shoot-out with the suspect, who escaped into the desert.

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A truck transporting liquid asphalt spills its contents on Hwy 87, south of Payson.

October

Fire Beneath Rim Contained

The Big Canyon fire near Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery burned thorugh 110 acres before fire crews wrangled it under control. The lightning caused near the Tonto Fish Hatchery cost roughly $730,000.

November

Woman Guilty Of Child Abuse And Neglect

After a four-day trial, a jury found a Payson woman guilty of burning her child with cigarettes. The jury found Sarah Michelle Ryan, 31, of Payson, guilty of child abuse and neglect after deliberating for only 3.5 hours. On a fourth charge of influencing a witness, for reportedly telling her daughter to lie to officers, the jury returned a not guilty verdict. Payson detectives uncovered Ryan had burned her daughter with cigarettes in 2011 after officials at the girl’s school came forward. The jury heard that Ryan burned her 6-year-old daughter on the palms with cigarettes, causing second-degree burns. A few days after the burning, the child told her teacher that mommy burned her with cigarettes and used her as an ashtray. When Payson Police Det. Mike Varga asked the girl how she got her “owies,” she replied, “Mommy burns me.”

December

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Murder victim location, Phoenix St. in Payson.

Murder-Suicide Shocks Neighbors

Neighbors watched in horror as Thomas Easley, 70, shot his wife in the driveway of a quiet Payson neighborhood then turned the gun on himself. Easley died later at a Phoenix trauma center, but Payson Realtor Marjeane Easley died instantly in the garage of a house on Phoenix Street, where she had gone to stay in the midst of a bitter divorce from Easley, her husband of 15 years.

Woman Gets Prison Sentence after injecting friend with Percocet

A woman who nearly killed her 16-year-old friend by injecting her with opioids was ordred to serve six years in prison. Superior Court judge Peter Cahill sentenced Jordan Irene Fowler, 22, to an aggravated term after Fowler admitted her actions had caused her friend substantial physical and emotional harm. The teen’s mother, Melissa Cochran, told the Roundup that her daughter nearly died from the injections. Cochran found her daughter slumped on their bathroom floor, unresponsive and blue. Fowler had injected the teen with a near lethal combination of Dilaudid and Percocet, court records show.

Several Evacuated By Helicopter

One person was killed and several others evacuated by medical helicopters in a three-vehicle accident on Hwy. 260 west of Christopher Creek near the Boy Scout Ranch on a stretch of the highway still limited to two lanes. The nightmarish crash scene with multiple people trapped in crushed vehicles and an army of paramedics, police, fire crews, ambulances and medical helicopters was one of the worst pile ups in recent years. “It was as bad as I’ve seen here,” said Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch.

Group survives choppers crash in Lake Roosevelt

Three people remarkably survived after their sightseeing helicopter crashed in Lake Roosevelt. A number of boaters pulled the group from the wreckage just moments after it crashed. Months later, a company would recover pieces of the copter from the bottom of the lake.

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