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Parks truck makes a splash landing

A parks maintenance worker was shaken, but uninjured Sunday morning after a town truck rolled into Green Valley Lake.

The man had stopped to empty a trashcan near the southwest parking lot around 8:20 a.m., said Nelson Beck, Payson parks supervisor.

When the man got out of the truck he forgot to set the parking brake.

“Consequently, when he stepped out and began changing the trash liner, the small truck rolled down the hill and into the lake,” Beck said.

“Once he realized what had happened, it was too late to catch the vehicle and its entry into the lake was unavoidable.”

The man called Beck and they put together recovery operations.

Donning a life vest, Beck was able to get most everything out of the truck while it was still in the water.

A town backhoe was then used to hoist the truck out of the lake.

“The vehicle was out of the water by approximately 10 a.m. and fortunately no detectable fuel, or oil residues were released into the water during the incident. As well, we believe all the contents of the vehicle were able to be recovered and retrieved, leaving little more than a slightly embarrassing memory behind.”

Beck had the truck towed to the parks maintenance yard.

“The driver was understandably shaken by the incident, but not injured or hurt. The truck will go into the shop on Monday to assess, and most likely repair, the damages,” Beck said.

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Two-alarm house fire injuries two firefighters

Firefighters battled flames and high temperatures during a house fire Saturday afternoon in west Payson that left two firefighters with heat-related injuries.

It appears a fire started on the deck of a large, two-story home in the 300 block of North Antelope Point around noon, according to a Payson Fire Department battalion chief.

The occupant of the home reported hearing a noise on the back porch and when he went outside saw flames. He called 911 and safely got out of the home, the official said.

An off-duty Payson firefighter in the area heard the first alarm tone on his pager and got to the home first. Additional firefighters arrived, but the fire was already well established, working its way quickly up to the attic, the official said. A second alarm was called and firefighters began to attack the fire from the outside since it was too dangerous to go inside the burning structure.

Four years ago, the town sold its only ladder truck to another community and has yet to replace it. Payson firefighters had no way to reach the upper level and attack the flames and had to wait for the Hellsgate Fire Department from Star Valley to arrive with its ladder truck to reach the upper level.

Besides the size of the home, the high temperatures made it difficult for firefighters. It was 96 degrees in the shade, one official said. Two firefighters were treated on scene for heat-related injuries.

Crews eventually got the fire knocked down. It did not spread to the vegetation or nearby homes.

The occupant later told officials he had been staining the porch and left a pile of bunched up rags on the porch.

A fire official said while the cause is still under instigation the fire likely started when the oily rags heated up and there was spontaneous combustion.

Payson teachers, staff thrilled to begin another school year

Few people eagerly await the start of school like Linda Scoville.

The Julia Randall Elementary principal doesn’t take summers off like most teachers and students. No, she spends most of June and July in a relatively empty school building.

So she was thrilled on Monday to see the school come back to life with close to 600 third- through fifth-graders and preschoolers filling 18 classrooms to start a new school year.

“I want children to fill our school,” she said. “Once you get kids coming in the energy level rises. It just makes me happy. It’s one of the most fabulous things. I feel as long as we have kids in our school, life is good.”

Scoville, who is beginning her fifth year as JRE’s principal, said she misses the interactions with teachers and students during the summer.

“I think relationships with the staff and with the kids and their families is really what it is,” she said. “You don’t get that when you’re here by yourself.”

Connie Miller began her 33rd year in education working at JRE’s front desk. She’s filled many roles in her more than three decades in education from working in the cafeteria to preschool to the office and more.

“She does everything,” Scoville said of Miller. “She takes care of me, she takes care of children and she takes care of teachers.”

Miller has seen families grow up before her eyes.

“I had my preschoolers and their parents and now I have their kids,” Miller said with a laugh.

Gina Brooks began her 14th year as a teacher by welcoming 28 students to her fourth-grade class at JRE. She said she is looking forward to her ninth year at JRE after a summer vacation that included trips to New York City and Colorado with her family.

“It’s always exciting,” she said. “Summer’s nice. I’m not going to lie, that’s fun, but I always get real excited this time of year because it’s fresh kids, it’s just very new and I love that.”

She had some time to prepare for school to begin.

“I spent the last couple of weeks modifying things in the classroom to make it work a little more smoothly,” she said. “You can always tweak and modify and change to make it work better for kids.”

For example, she turned the desks around last year to prevent students from using the shelves beneath to store pencils, paper and things like rocks and other items. Now she has one container sitting in the middle of each group of six desks so pencils and paper are easy to find, and other item holders next to the desks.

She got the idea from the social media site, Pinterest.

“They’re like little squirrels,” Brooks said with a laugh. “They like to stash stuff.

“’Where is my pencil?’ is the question I hear most. So we have it set up for organization and we try to teach them those skills but they’re fourth-graders so they need to be taught. It just takes constant reinforcement.”

Man airlifted after bicycle accident on Thursday

A man was airlifted to the Valley following a bicycle accident on July 26.

Eyewitnesses reported the man was cycling west down on East Bonita Street and attempted to turn left onto South Ponderosa Street when he crashed.

There were conflicting reports at the scene from witnesses. Some said that the man was hit by a red car, which fled the scene. Others stated the car did not hit the man and he crashed on his own for unknown reasons.

An official report of the incident has not yet been released.

The man was stabilized at the scene by EMTs and taken by ambulance to Banner Payson Medical Center to be airlifted. He was later released from a Valley hospital.

His bicycle, together with other items at the scene were taken by police as they cleared the street.

An eyewitness who was first on the scene said the man was incoherent and tangled up in his bicycle. The eyewitness said he saw the man’s head was injured.

Officials on the scene declined to comment pending an investigation.

Payson Police Department reportedly located the driver of the red car at their home after the accident.

Council suspends recycling program due to misuse

After years in recycling hospice, Payson pulled the plug on its long-suffering recycling program — at least for now.

The council on July 25 suspended “town-sponsored recycling bins” pending a better option from Gila County, Waste Management or another partner.

Councilor Steve Smith said he wants to leave recycling to private companies.

“This is an opportunity for a private business. I don’t think that the government should be sticking its tax dollars into this private business,” he said.

So far, efforts to recycle have mostly just made trash service for the town more expensive.

Assistant Town Manager Sheila DeSchaaf said, “The cost for regular trash collection at all municipal facilities, including off-site facilities and the parks, is $17,308 per year — excluding special events and other miscellaneous needs.”

In comparison, “The cost for the two 30-yard recycling bins that are currently being emptied twice a week is $19,200.”

And it really is trash service.

Piles of trash left next to recycling bins at Green Valley Park have spurred resident complaints for months.

Worse yet — the recycling materials inside the bins often ends up in the landfill because they get “contaminated,” and crews bring everything to the dump instead, said DeSchaaf.

“If you’re recycling pizza boxes with other boxes, they are contaminating everything. The sauce or cheese gets in the bin and it (the recycling) is contaminated. Then it all ends up in the landfill,” she said.

DeSchaaf is looking for solutions.

“The county has a new sanitation director along with a new director for the Buckhead landfill,” she said. “They are willing partners (in recycling).”

Just before the meeting, DeSchaaf had a call from “a company out of Utah” who told her “Payson is their ideal market” for curbside recycling service.

DeSchaaf said in Pinetop employees man a recycle drop-off location so trash is not thrown in as well.

“That is one idea,” she said.

Besides residents throwing garbage in recycling bins, another problem with the recycling program is that recycling products no longer have much value — to either a public or private entity because China has stopped buying our trash.

Why? Because curbside recycle programs didn’t require people to sort their recyclables. This throw-everything-in-one-recycle-bin philosophy contributed to contamination.

China bought U.S. recyclables for years — despite the contamination problem. Finally, China concluded it couldn’t keep dumping U.S. trash in its landfills.

Today, DeSchaaf said the two recyclables “still with value are paper (excluding cardboard) and plastic bottles.”

So just like communities across the nation, Payson is shutting down its recycling program.

“We don’t have a recycling problem, we have a trash problem,” said Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian.

The average American produces about 1,600 pounds of trash every year. Even at the height of recycling, only about a third of recyclable waste actually ended up recycled — mostly at the end of that around-the-world ride on a ship.

Drug grant
Police still battling drug wars

Gila County last year got $318,000 from a state/federal grant program to strengthen its investigations of drugs and gangs.

It spent most of the money arresting street-level drug users.

But then, so did most of the counties that divided up millions in state and federal grants — with most of the money come the seizures of cars, cash, guns and even houses of people convicted of drug offenses.

Interestingly, Gila County got far more per-capita than neighboring, rural counties — and spent a much larger share on arrests for possession rather than sale and transportation of illegal drugs.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission’s Byrne Grant knits together every county and police forces in the state in an effort to cope with an international drug trafficking network with huge effects in every community in the nation.

Most of the money goes to pay for prosecutors and police officers, with some funding for things like lab testing and a national fingerprint database. The program focused on breaking up drug sales and distribution rings, but in practice about 82 percent of the resulting arrests were for simple possession.

In 2018, some $318,000 went to Gila County, $225,000 to Apache County and $234,000 to Navajo County. So Gila County got far more money, although it has less than half the population of either of the other two rural counties.

The report revealed dramatic differences between counties when it comes to both how much money they received through the state and federal grant program, as well as the results.

For instance, the county-by-county reports showed that about 80 percent of the drug arrests in Gila County were for possession — compared just 29 percent in Navajo County. So Gila County’s spending a lot more money per capita than either Navajo or Apache — but most of the money has gone into arresting street-level users rather than the networks that distribute and sell the drugs. Perhaps that accounts for Navajo County seizing $2,500 in drugs for each dollar received through the grants while neighboring Gila County seized just $51 per dollar spent — at least in 2018.

Each county in the 2018 summary also provided a narrative of a couple of big cases. Those summaries suggest that many of the cases result from random traffic stops rather than from elaborate investigations. However, the grants that knit together every county and city with state and federal law enforcement foster cooperation.

Since 1988, the program has handed out a total of $367 million in grants and helped account for 129,000 arrests, according to the 2018 summary prepared by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

The reports showed marijuana still accounts for many of the arrests and most of the value of the drugs seized in most counties, despite the widespread availability of medical marijuana and the legalization of all uses of the drug in Colorado and California. Marijuana-based arrests and seizures have been declining, while arrests for meth and heroin have been on the rise. This reflects the nation’s latest drug epidemic, which started with prescription drug abuse and has now morphed into a big rise in the use of heroin. Rural areas like Navajo, Apache and Gila counties have been especially hard hit.

The nation has invested heavily in trying to stamp out the use and sale of psychoactive drugs in the past 30 years, with decidedly mixed results.

The nation spends an estimated $51 billion annually on investigations, arrests and incarcerations for drug use, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. The so-called “war on drugs” in the U.S. has produced the world’s highest incarceration rate. The U.S. locks up 714 out of every 100,000 residents and Arizona locks up almost 1,200 of every 100,000 residents. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population and 22 percent of its prisoners. The incarceration rate has increased five-fold in the past 40 years. People arrested for drug crimes account for about 21 percent of state prisoners and 55 percent of federal prisoners.

Roughly 1.5 million Americans are arrested each year for drug offenses, with big differences in incarceration rates for blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics when compared to whites. For instance, African Americans account for 35 percent of drug arrests but 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for drug possession.

Various studies have found little long-term effect on the availability or use of illegal drugs as enforcement efforts have waxed and waned — or targeted one drug or another.

Gila County 2018 highlights:

• In April of 2018, an investigation on the Tonto Apache Reservation at the Mazatzal Casino resulted in the seizure of 21 pounds of meth, 29 grams of high-grade marijuana and half a gram of heroin, through an investigation that involved the Gila County Drug, Gang, and Violent Crimes Task Force, in a collaboration with the Tonto Apache Reservation Police Department, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the FBI, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs Drug Enforcement Division. Officers said they saw suspicious activity and called in drug-sniffing dogs. The drugs were valued at $1.1 million.

• In October of 2017 a traffic stop on Highway 70 in southern Gila County led to the seizure of 302 grams of meth, 8 grams of hydroponic marijuana, $12,533.00 in U.S. currency, 131 items of drug paraphernalia, one semi-automatic handgun, eight other weapons, and 618 rounds of ammunition. That arrest led to the later arrest of a suspected supplier for the Globe and Miami area as well as the San Carlos Apache Reservation

• In August of 2017, the investigation of an armed robbery on the White Mountain Apache Reservation led to a follow-up investigation at the home of two suspects in Globe. A warrant and drug-sniffing dogs led to the discovery of 8.2 grams of meth, 7.9 grams of heroin, two prescription pain pills and 30 drug paraphernalia items, along with a firearm that matched the weapon used in the armed robbery. Five suspects were arrested for various drug charges including distribution of narcotic and dangerous drugs. The methamphetamine seized had a street value of $8,200 and the heroin seized had a street value of $7,900.