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Payson's suicide rate three times state average

In just the past two years, 16 people have taken their own lives in Payson — a rate more than three times Arizona’s already high average.

Payson’s age-adjusted, 2017 suicide rate of 58.9 per 100,000 people compares to the state rate of 17.6 and a national rate of 13.4 per 100,000 people.

Could any of them have been prevented? It is something friends and family grapple with every day.

We are covering this topic in the hopes of saving just one life. Rim Country’s tragically high rate underscores the need to raise awareness about the issue and available services.

Suicide is preventable and treatable, experts agree.

Nationally, the suicide rate has risen 25 percent from 1999 to 2016, especially in the 45-to-64 age group, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Suicide now ranks as one of the top 10 killers of Americans.

Many factors contribute to suicides, including relationship issues, financial difficulties, substance abuse, health problems and legal or housing stressors, according to the CDC.

Payson had nine reported suicides in 2017 and seven so far in 2018.

Men accounted for all but one of those deaths — or 94 percent.

Nationally, men account for 78 percent of suicides.

In 2017, the average suicide age in Payson was 63, including seven people over the age of 70. One teenager committed suicide.

A review of the police reports of all 16 deaths revealed many factors, all connected by signs of depression or withdrawal.

Many had suffered a traumatic event or personal crisis within weeks of their death.

But researchers say people who commit suicide often have no previous history of depression or mental illness.

“In fact, what emerges from the report is a picture of suicide as a complicated human riddle combining everything from age to genes to midlife stressors and, sometimes, the unfortunate consequence of emotion and impulse combined with the availability of a firearm. Guns were, according to the agency, the method most often used by those without known mental health conditions and the method used most overall,” according to AARP.

In Payson, guns were used in all but six of the 16 suicides.

Preventing suicide will take everyone in the community. Everyone can learn the signs of suicide, how to respond and where to access help.

Several of the Payson cases involved people who had recently been evicted.

The community could offer temporary housing to help ease unemployment and housing stressors and expand options for assistance for those struggling to make ends meet.

Several of the cases involved older people dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

We need to strengthen access to and delivery of care. We need to make sure affordable and effective mental and physical health care is available. Train providers to recognize patients at risk.

Several of the cases were people estranged from their families and living alone.

We need to offer programs and events to increase a sense of belonging among residents.

One involved a teen.

Schools can teach students skills to manage challenges like relationship and school problems.

And at work, employers can promote health and well-being, support employees at risk, and have plans in place to respond to people showing warning signs. When they do, encourage employees to seek help, and provide referrals to mental health or financial counseling services.

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Changing of the guard at Payson Town Hall

A crowd showed up to witness the changing of the guard in Payson’s Town Hall on Dec. 13 as Craig Swartwood and Fred Carpenter stepped down so newcomers Tom Morrissey, Jim Ferris and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian could step up and take over immediately.

Chris Higgins, re-elected to a second term, will serve for another four years.

The new council unanimously elected Janell Sterner as vice mayor.

Judge Tim Wright, the former Payson town attorney and now the presiding justice of the Gila County Superior Court, swore in the new mayor and council members after Swartwood and Carpenter, both longtime residents and council officials said their goodbyes.

Carpenter served as Payson’s town manager in the early 2000s. He then ran for the council in 2010 and served two terms.

He praised the town staff and fellow council members. Then he shared what he had heard about the incoming council, which elicited some chuckles from the audience.

“I’ve ... heard that one of the people coming up here to replace me is going to take my role of asking questions even if they know the answer already so the public can learn more,” he said. “So Suzy, I heard that is you.”

Swartwood, who served as mayor in the early 1990s overseeing the development of Green Valley Park, gave some advice to the incoming council.

“It’s a very rewarding job and in some ways it’s a thankless job,” he said. “As long as you do your homework and vote your conscience, you’ll be just fine.”

He also praised the town staff, suggesting to the new council they come into their positions without preconceived notions.

“One thing I can say for certain, we have a wonderful town staff,” said Swartwood. “I came in with a few misconceptions and I found out very early on that what I thought coming in and — I wasn’t very well informed — wasn’t true.”

When Morrissey took the podium for his introductory remarks, he reiterated his campaign promise of transparency during his tenure.

“As your elected representatives, we are here to carry out your will, not our will,” he said. “Demand that we hear you and act accordingly.”

He then spelled out what he hopes to accomplish:

1. Pay Payson’s first responders more fairly.

2. Educate the community on how to Firewise — “without violating our constitutionally guaranteed rights.”

3. Help the homeless in the community.

4. Bring redundant internet connection to Rim Country.

“Does this sound ambitious? ... It does, but not only is it ambitious, it is doable,” he said.

The council then voted unanimously on every motion put before it in the remainder of the agenda, including about $176,000 for Phase 6 of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery Wells project, part of the C.C. Cragin pipeline project.

Terrible times For a lucky man

He never knew what hit him.

One minute, he’s lining up with the 36th Texas Division getting ready to cross the Rapido River. Next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a hospital bed — half blind, all bandaged and no clear idea how he got there.

But you know, Ray Kinsman’s lucky in his disasters. Kind of the story of his life. He’s 94 now, living in Payson, still dancing — but not doing those Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hikes anymore. He’s outlived nearly everyone, including some fine wives — some not so fine. But he’s married to a great gal now, still squinting out of the bad eye and still here, even after everything.

He’s got two Purple Hearts and a bunch of combat ribbons. He slogged through some of the most messed up battles in World War II and lived to tell the tale. An abused foster child who never knew his parents, he survived fierce battles, grievous wounds, starvation and a stint as a prisoner of war.

But when you look into the details of a life filled with hardship and triumph, you gotta figure: That Ray Kinsman’s one lucky fellow.

“Let me tell you, the Lord’s been good to me,” he says in the midst of war stories seldom told. “He gave me a business, and me with a ninth-grade education. But I knew how to treat people. That’s how I built that business up. I moved to Payson because a friend here had a place to put a motor home. I love this place, because of the hiking. We hiked the mountain above Flagstaff. Lightning came right down between us. We came off that mountain fast.”

See. Lucky.

For instance, whatever the heck knocked him over on the way to the Rapido River back in late 1943 in Italy probably did him a favor.

The British prime minister had pushed hard for the invasion of Italy to relieve pressure on the Russians and prevent the Germans from building up defenses in France before D-Day. But in Italy, the Allies hit the formidable German defenses called the Winter Line. Seeking a way north, Lt. General Mark Clark’s 5th Army faced the swollen Rapido River.

The first troops across the river were almost wiped out by the German counter-attack. The Americans tried again the next day, with the same result. The American casualties included 1,330 killed and 770 captured — to a loss of 64 killed on the German side.

Kinsman missed it all, waking up in the hospital.

Tough life from the start

But he wasn’t one to dog it just because he could hardly see out of one eye. Kinsman had already had more than his share of hard knocks. He grew up in foster care in Boston. He’s vague on the details, except for the foster mother that beat him after accusing him of stealing something her “real” son had actually borrowed.

“She was never a mother to me,” he said. “I just wanted to leave once she beat me.”

So he wound up on a turkey and chicken farm for four years, plucking poultry.

In ninth grade, he aged out of the child welfare system — so they sent him to work at a dairy farm, where he lived in a little room with another guy.

When World War II came along, he just shrugged when they drafted him.

“I hadn’t been paying any attention to the war. Didn’t know anything about it. It didn’t seem like something good, but it was something new to do.”

After basic training, they shipped his Texas division to Italy in a Liberty ship.

His first Purple Heart came quickly, approaching the Rapido River.

AWOL to find his unit

When he heard they planned to put him in a pool of soldiers to feed into random units, he slipped away from the hospital and set out to find his unit.

“I said, ‘You’re not going to do that to me’ and I started hitchhiking. I wanted to find my 36th Texas. I made it back and they were glad to get me back.”

He rejoined his unit just in time for another major screw up by the generals — the battle of Monte Cassino, another attempt to break through the Winter Line. The battle centered on a mountain topped by a monastery built in AD 529.

The Americans mistakenly believed German troops had occupied the monastery. In fact, they were dug into the hillside below. American bombers reduced the monastery to rubble with 1,400 tons of bombs. The Germans quickly moved into the even more secure positions in the ruins.

The Allies spent the next five months trying to get past the entrenched defenders. Although the Allies had four times as many troops, they made little headway.

“That was a mountain,” Kinsman recalls. “The Germans had a post up on top. We couldn’t take it. Indian Gurkhas came in — they couldn’t take it. I sat four ridges over, watching the planes come over and drop bombs. Dirt would rise up this much. You could see the dive bombers. The only way you had anything to eat, any ammunition, was they had to put it on mules to bring it up to us.”

In the end, the attack by 240,000 men on a 20-mile front cost the Allies 55,000 casualties to roughly 20,000 for the Germans.

But Kinsman didn’t see the end of that fight.

Instead, he got pulled and sent to another debacle — the battle of Anzio.

Anzio: Another debacle

Churchill had convinced the reluctant Americans to make an effort to outflank the Winter Line and trap the Germans dug in at Cassino. The bold plan involved a landing at Anzio then a drive inland to splinter the German forces.

General Clark gave command to Major General John Lucas. They both feared they didn’t have enough troops to survive a German counterattack.

The troops landed against surprisingly light resistance. The initial landing force totaled perhaps 36,000, against maybe 20,000 defending Germans. The Allies also had overwhelming air superiority. But instead of taking advantage of the situation, Lucas dug in.

The Germans reacted quickly and soon had the landing force bottled up, under constant bombardment by artillery posted on the surrounding hills.

Kinsman endured weeks of pounding by the Germans.

“We came in by ship the next day after they took Anzio. The (German artillery) 88s were shooting straight down on us. You couldn’t stand up. You can tell by the sound, bad, bad,” said Kinsman.

Blundering by the generals

Clark ultimately replaced Lucas with Major General Lucian Truscott and ordered him to get inland. But that didn’t happen until May, with Allied forces built up to perhaps 150,000. Many units suffered casualty rates above 50 percent during the breakout. Anzio cost 43,000 Allied lives, including 7,000 killed and 36,000 missing. The Germans had 5,000 killed, 30,000 wounded and missing and 4,500 prisoners

But the generals squandered the costly victory. Instead of cutting off the retreating German Army, Gen. Clark ordered Truscott to take Rome before the British could reach the city, in a move military historians have debated ever since. The Germans escaped to the north to continue their stubborn and costly resistance.

But Kinsman’s war was about to take another lurch.

Before his unit could enter Rome, word came of the Normandy invasions. Soon, he found himself on a ship bound for southern France.

Invading Germany

The war comes to him now in fragments. He got shot in Germany, but doesn’t remember many of the details.

“Certain situations I remember — other stuff I don’t. The landscape. A little town with a church steeple. Wagon trail went up this way. Thank God it was muddy. We went in those slit trenches. All of a sudden I remember ... bing, bing, bing, bing — the mortars came on us. One of the guys got hit in the legs. He said, ‘What do I do now?’ I said, ‘You help me get him on this blanket — put him in that wagon trail where the horse walks — nice and soft with the mud. We’re going to drag him down to headquarters’ — which we did.”

But the young solider who helped him haul the wounded man to headquarters balked.

“The kid would not come back with me. He said he wasn’t coming back. And the lieutenant pulled his pistol out and said, ‘I’m going to shoot you if you don’t come back.’ I said, ‘He’s not going to be any good to me,’ and I walked off. What can you do? You have to go on. I can’t do anything for him.”

Hürtgen Forest

In Germany, Kinsman found himself in yet another mess made by generals — the terrible, three-month Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, the prelude to the much more famous Battle of the Bulge on the border of Germany and France. In a thick forest, 120,000 Allied troops fought a bloody, inconclusive probably needless battle with 80,000 Germans. The fighting caused between 33,000 and 55,000 Allied casualties and perhaps 28,000 German, according to a Wikipedia summary.

The troops battled through a maze of pillboxes, minefields, tank traps, fortified towns and thick forest, where artillery shells turned trees into lethal splinters. The fighting distracted the Allies from the German preparations for the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s final, futile gamble.

Kinsman didn’t see the end of that battle either

One night when the unit took shelter in an empty little town, he and a buddy found a barn with some soft hay to sleep on. They woke up the next morning to find their unit gone.

“We woke up and started looking around. Where is everybody? We looked down the street. He said, ‘That looks like a German. What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘We can’t move along in the daylight. Let’s go hide in the hay for a day.’ But the Germans took over this house and this barn. They found us.”

A prisoner of war

After questioning them, the Germans gave them each a bowl of stew. I ate mine. The guy I was with was too scared. So I ate his too. And that was the last real meal I had for four months.”

The Germans put them to work on starvation rations. “The Germans didn’t have any food either,” he explained.

Kinsman ended up putting bricks up around an oil refinery tank. “We would build them up around the tanks and then an American bomber would come and knock them down again.”

One morning, they awoke to find the guards had disappeared. So the half-starved band of 30 prisoners shuffled down the road to a nearby village.

End of the war

“And there’s the Americans, aiming their guns at us as we came down the road. They put me to a hospital. I was just skin and bones. I had all the milkshakes I could drink. And that was the end of the war,” said Kinsman.

He made it home, got a job in San Diego fixing heaters and eventually launched his own business. He got married, had kids, had his heart broke, got divorced. Got married, watched his wife die. Got married again. She died too.

And somehow he wound up in Payson, because a friend had a spot for his trailer.

He hiked everywhere, donated $200,000 to an assortment of Payson charities, danced all night, climbed every mountain he could find — a long life, a good life, full of hard times and good luck.

“That war made a man of me,” he says. “I think I was almost a man, the way I was raised on the turkey farm, on the dairy farm. We had work to do.”

He said he’s learned, “Good road, bad road. You got to choose one.”

He says he’s never talked much about the war — it was just something that happened, like turkey farms and foster families and losing a wife.

You don’t talk about it

“You don’t remember everything through the years. You don’t talk about it. I never talked about a lot of it to anybody but you,” he says, his voice choked, tears glistening. “That’s how I was brought up. How the Army was. And I was taught that as a kid. You don’t cry. You may get beaten up, you don’t cry. When that woman was beating me, I did not cry.”

He pauses, irritated at the break in his voice. “I’ve done more crying ...”

It’s funny though, how it all works out.

He still can’t read out of that left eye. But then, taking that wound meant he didn’t have to cross the Rapido River Maybe that saved his life and gifted him with all the years since.

Good road. Bad road.

You make your choices.

You take the blows.

But you’re still alive.

And that’s lucky.

Advocates fear death blow for forest restoration

The Arizona Corporation Commission this week could gut rules on burning forest biomass, which would deal a near death blow to efforts to restore the forest and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, say advocates.

Supporters of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) panicked last week when they got a look at a long-awaited commission staff report on generating power from biomass — the millions of tons of branches, small trees and slash generated by efforts to thin 2 million acres of northern Arizona forests.

Forest restoration backers want the commission to boost the amount of biomass utilities now use from 28 megawatts to 90 megawatts. That would provide a market for enough biomass to thin 50,000 acres of ponderosa pine forest annually.

Instead, the staff report provided a rationale for eliminating even the current 28 megawatt requirement — which has sustained the single, biomass power plant in the state.

Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin wrote in an email to forest restoration advocates that “If the ACC chooses to NOT mandate a total of 90 megs of biomass power, the entire 4FRI, and any other forest restoration efforts WILL go away in four years at the end of the current APS/SRP contract with NOVO Power.

“The ONLY market-based solution to the ‘biomass bottleneck’ is electricity generation — staff of ACC and APS (Arizona Public Service) are disingenuously spreading that it can be converted into bio diesels — bio jet fuel — bio char — etc etc .... uh huh — just as soon as these things leave the labs that they’ve been in for maybe the last 20 years.”

Pascal Berlioux, executive director of the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization, wrote, “Arizona forest restoration is at stake. I cannot emphasize enough the gravity of the situation. This time, folks, we are playing for keeps.”

The staff report essentially recommended the Corporation Commission keep the existing rules in place — and consider removing the 28 megawatt requirement at some point. The staff report suggested since burning biomass would cost three to four times as much as adding solar-powered generating capacity, the commission would end up forcing power companies to pass along extra costs to consumers to create other benefits for the forest and communities in those forests.

The advocates flooded the ACC with appeals to expand the market for biomass power and consider the full costs of alternative power sources as well as the full benefits of saving forest restoration efforts from the economic bottleneck that has stymied large-scale thinning for the past decade.

Martin wrote, “Yes, it’s more expensive — as was solar to start with. But it’s less than maybe 1 percent of their portfolio and there is a formula to share equitably.”

The Corporation Commission asked APS to do a study of generating power from biomass. APS concluded that hauling wood to one to three biomass power plants throughout the state would cost more than adding natural gas or solar power plants. The company estimated the extra cost would add between $1 and $4 a month to the average homeowner’s power bill.

The director of the Arizona Department of Forestry wrote to the commission, “I need to be able to continue to rely in the next 20 years on bio electricity in order to execute the mission of the department and absorb 1.25 million green tons of biomass annually.”

Many of the advocates for forest restoration note that APS has questioned a biomass mandate. They also note the parent company of APS has spent millions to support the election of all of the current commissioners on the ACC.

The U.S. Forest Service is now on its third contractor, in an effort to spur large-scale thinning of the forest. In the past century, tree densities in northern Arizona have grown from about 50 per acre to closer to 1,000 per acre, largely as a result of grazing, logging and fire suppression. The number of damaging megafires has exploded in the past 20 years, thanks to the tree thickets that carry crown fires through drought-plagued, unhealthy forests. One such fire recently consumed the town of Paradise in California, killing 85 people and destroying 15,000 structures.

The contractors for 4FRI have each failed to come anywhere close to the 50,000 acre-per-year volume promised — mostly for lack of mills to process the logs and any market for the biomass, which could amount to about 1.5 million tons annually for 50,000 acres.

“Their collective, conscious decision to not pursue the 90 megawatts we need to handle the 50,000 ‘restored’ acres per year that 4FRI calls for guarantees restoration efforts will shut down. That will mean the next big fire is just a matter of time.”

She said Novo Power invested $500,000 in preparing a bid to build in capacity to handle enough biomass to support restoration efforts in the White Mountains - only to have APS withdraw its request for proposals, with Novo Power having prepared the only bid.

Jason Whiting, spokesman for the stakeholders group, noted that the staff report put the 2002-2017 cost of Arizona wildfires on taxpayers and ratepayers at $162 million.

“This is ridiculous,” he said, noting that costs totaled $1.5 billion, including $308 million for the Rodeo-Chediski, $308 million for the Bear Wallow, $109 million for fire suppression and rehabilitation, $40 million for the Schultz Fire and $662 million for the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The staff report concluded “the status quo appears to be more cost-effective for ratepayers, even when the public benefits of forest thinning are considered.”

However, Whiting responded this “flies in the face of 15 years of nationwide analysis and painful human experience.” He noted the California Camp Fire alone has cost $9 billion and claimed 86 lives.


Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service  

The key to the success of forest restoration efforts relies on finding an economic use for millions of small-diameter logs like these.