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Helicopter crashes near Polles Fire burn area

GILA COUNTY — A helicopter working on the Polles Fire reportedly crashed in the forest Tuesday afternoon, killing the pilot.

In a press conference held by Tonto National Forests officials, the pilot was identified as Bryan Boatman, 37, with Airwest Aviation out of Glendale. He leaves behind a wife and 8-year-old child.

Photo by Alexis Bechman, Editor Payson Roundup 

Emergency crews standing by at the Payson Airport Tuesday afternoon after a helicopter reportedly crashed in the forest near the Polles Fire.

The helicopter, which only Boatman on board, crashed north of the burn area around 12:20 p.m., said Sgt. Dennis Newman with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.

Photo courtesy of  

Gila County Sheriff J. Adam Shepard (left) spoke during the US Forest Service - Tonto National Forest press conference on Tuesday, July 7 at 7:30 p.m. The  regarding the fatal helicopter crash that killed pilot Bryan Boatman. The press conference can be seen on:

“His family has already arrived in Payson. S.O. (sheriff’s office) and the Department of Public Safety is helping in the measures of retrieving him from the scene. He was not local. He does come from a family of firefighters, his father is retired from a Valley dept.,” according to a post on Facebook from Stacy Figueroa with the PFSD.

“The tragic incident is currently under investigation and additional information will be released as it becomes available,” according to a release from the Forest Service.

When dispatchers initially toned out that a helicopter had crashed there was confusion on where the accident had occurred. Payson fire, police and paramedics converged on the airport only to find the crash was in the forest.

Fire Chief David Staub said they were standing by to provide medical, but the incident was being handled by the Forest Service.

Resources on the 580 acre Polles Fire include approximately 360 personnel, including nine crews, 14 engines, three dozers, two masticators and five helicopters, according to a fire update posted July 7.

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Navajo County health director pleads with people to wear masks in public

NAVAJO COUNTY — Navajo County Health Director Jeff Lee this week implored people to stay home if they feel sick, avoid crowds and wear masks in public.

He said Navajo County had 1,800 new cases in June — roughly equal to the number of cases confirmed in March, April and May.

The county has so far confirmed more than 4,000 cases. Studies suggest only about 10% of people infected ever get tested and 30 to 40% of people will never have noticeable symptoms, although they can still spread the virus.

“I don’t have any positive news to report,” said Jeff Lee at Tuesdays’ Navajo County Board of Supervisors meeting. “Our numbers continue to rise. We are trending in the wrong direction. As of this morning, the state reported 117 new deaths. We have to treat this virus like it is everywhere we go. The virus is in every one of our neighborhoods, our back yards, our streets — unfortunately, our behaviors are just helping to spread the virus. We all need to really do our part to slow the spread. There isn’t currently a way to prevent it or stop it completely, but we have tools we can use in our daily lives to reduce the risk and slow the spread.”

He urged residents to stay home if they feel sick — or even a little off.

“Many of our cases have linked back to a workplace exposure. Please, if you feel sick – contact your employer and stay home,” he said.

He also urged people to wear masks in public in any setting they can’t guarantee keeping at least six feet away from other people.

“It prevents us from passing it on to others who might have a pretty severe reaction. Let’s do this for each other. Let’s add these recommendations into our daily lives and do our part to slow the spread,” said Lee.

The number of confirmed infections has exploded since Arizona Doug Ducey lifted the stay-at-home order on May 15.

Statewide, the number of confirmed cases has risen from about 500 per day to about 4,500 per day — an eightfold increase. The number of tests done has doubled — from about 10,000 to 20,000, do increased testing accounts for only a portion of the rise in new cases.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms has risen from about 800 to about 3,400 — a four-fold increase.

Fortunately, deaths have only risen from about 15 or 20 per day to about 30 or 40 per day in the past week or two. This could reflect the month-long lag between when someone gets infected and when they get sick enough to die. It could reflect the much faster infection rate among younger people, who are less likely to die. It could also mean we’re in for a surge of deaths in mid to late July. As a worrisome portent, on Tuesday the state reported 117 new deaths – about three times the previous one-day record. Those deaths may not have all occurred on the same day, since there’s a lag in reporting deaths on the state health department website.

In Navajo County, the number of confirmed cases has risen from about 45 per day when the governor lifted the stay-at-home order to about 100 per day – bringing the three-month total to about 4,000. The number of tests per day has actually declined in Navajo County – from about 500 per day to about 150 per day. The 50 percent decline in daily tests stands in stark contrast to the state, where the number of tests done daily has roughly doubled.

In Apache County, the daily case average has actually declined, from about 50 per day to about 40, although testing has roughly doubled – rising from about 100 per day to about 200 per day.

Another worrisome sign — the percentage of tests coming back positive continues to rise — suggesting we’re still not doing enough tests to have a grip on how widespread the virus has become. Statewide, 13% of the tests are coming back positive — about twice the percentage as during the stay-at-home order. In Navajo County, 15% of the swab tests to detect an active infection are positive and in Apache County about 12%.

Navajo County has an infection rate of 3,559 per 100,000 and a death rate of 119 per 100,000 – one of the highest in the country. Apache County has an infection rate of 3,441 per 100,000 and a death rate of 138 per 100,000 – the worst rates in the state.

Statewide, Arizona has 1,443 deaths and 26 deaths per 100,000.

The Navajo County supervisors bombarded the health director with questions, many centered on the shift on the advice of the experts since the onset of the pandemic in February.

“I try to tell my constituents to wear face masks” when out in public in places they can’t be sure of remaining at least six feet away from other people, said Supervisor Lee Jack, Sr. whose district includes the hard-hit Navajo Reservation. “But I guess what I don’t understand is that way back in February when this all started, there was talk that when it warms up, things will probably slow down. But it seems like just the opposite.”

Jeff Lee said that health experts hoped the COVID-19 virus would mimic the flu virus, which flares in the winter and subsides in the winter. Unfortunately, the virus has not slowed down at all as the summer set in. Now, the experts expect COVID-19 will still be widespread in the winter, when the return of the flu will compound the problem.

“One of the difficult things about this virus is we’re learning as we go,” said Jeff Lee. “We don’t have years of research like we do with other virus. So things have changed and a lot will continue to change based on the research and data we get.”

Supervisor Jason Whiting asked a series of questions about masks and the increasingly urgent recommendation that people wear masks anytime they’re out in public.

“What I see happening is that the public’s demanding answers that just aren’t there,” said Whiting. “Those who are the ‘experts’ are trying to provide data, but they’re always prefacing that by saying, ‘we don’t know what this is going to do.’ Early on, they talked about masks not being the best solution. But it sounds like that’s changing today. Do you mind explaining that?”

The U.S. Surgeon General in February said people did not need to wear masks to protect themselves, which was later explained as an effort to prevent a run on surgical masks already in short supply for doctors and nurses. Since April 3, the federal Centers for Disease Control has recommended wearing masks in public whenever you’re unable to maintain social distancing.

The recommendation has grown increasingly emphatic as research has shown 30 to 40% of infected people never develop symptoms, but can still spread the virus. Other studies suggest even people who later develop symptoms may be most infectious several days before symptoms develop. Research shows the virus mostly spreads in large droplets produced when someone coughs, sneezes, shouts, sings or talks loudly. However, the virus can also spread easily in microscopic droplets produced by simply breathing. Most of the large droplets drift to the ground within six feet, but the smaller droplets can easily travel 30 feet and linger on the air for hours. On the other hand, researchers have found relatively few cases in which the virus was transmitted by touching an infected surface.

All those discoveries have convinced doctors that both social distancing and the use of masks in public represent the two best way reduce the spread of the virus, said Lee.

“This virus is different from any other virus that we’ve dealt with in recent history,” said Jeff Lee. “As we learned more, we learned that the virus really likes the closed, close-contact setting. We see that it thrives in that scenario — so adding another barrier in the form of a mask helps slow the spread. It doesn’t fix it. But it adds another barrier.”

Whiting said he’s heard mask wearing must become widespread before it significantly slows the spread of the virus. If one person in a room with 10 people wears a mask, it doesn’t have a big impact on the odds everyone will get infected. But if eight of those people wear a mask, at dramatically slows the spread.

“That’s right,” said Jeff Lee. “By wearing a mask, you are protecting others. In a group, masks are only effective if the vast majority are wearing those masks and keeping their droplets to themselves. The number of asymptomatic people testing positive without even knowing they’re sick is rising. So waiting until you’re sick to put on a mask is ineffective.”

Supervisor Whiting appealed to people to stop making mask-wearing a political issue. “The mask is something that’s so controversial. To me, that’s a little sad that we care that much about whether we wear a mask. I understand government overreach is sometimes concerning, but we’ve got to be better citizens and slow this thing down. I’m hearing physicians talking about running out of bed space, talking about having to make decisions about who gets health care and who doesn’t That’s not good.”

Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger, whose district includes the White Mountain Apache Reservation, took advantage of the session to thank the public for an outpouring of support and donations after a COVID-19 cluster developed on the reservation.

“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the abundance of people who have donated. When one part of our community is hurting, it seems that other communities are willing to help each other out. I’m so grateful to be able to witness that,” Whitesinger said.

Supervisor Jesse Thompson thanks the frontline workers, especially doctors and nurses.

“They’re out there ever week trying to prevent the spread of this very, very, very weird virus. I know they can’t predict how it’s all going to work and where it’s all going to go, all we can do is try our best and hope it goes away one of these days,” he said.

Taylor Business Park suit heats up

TAYLOR — The Town of Taylor has found itself a defendant in a lawsuit over the so-called Taylor Business Park, conceived in 2003, but as yet, not even started.

File photo  

The unimproved dirt road named Airport Loop Road runs north-south through the 147-acre Taylor Business Park. The ‘park’ is essentially raw land and does not contain improved roads, water lines or any buildings.

The park was to have developed about 150 acres around the Taylor airport. Plaintiff property owners, tax payers and residents sued the town in May, 2020, alleging improper shenanigans by the town council including open meeting law violations, conflicts of interest and sweetheart deals benefitting Hatch Development, LLC, (“Hatch”) the purported developer of the park and its principal, Jason Hatch. The plaintiffs say that these allegedly nefarious actions make null and void any of the recent actions the town has taken with regard to the park. Plaintiffs are Aaron and Gary Solomon, Marion Hatch and Richard and Alice Franco, represented by the Radix Law firm of Scottsdale.

The Town of Taylor has responded. It filed an answer with a blanket denial of the claims; the town has retained The Doyle Firm P.C. of Phoenix and Hatch has appeared as an intervenor on the town’s side, represented by Copper Canyon Law of Mesa. When the case started in May, the plaintiffs asked for and received a temporary injunction — contingent upon the plaintiffs posting a $12,000 bond — which would enjoin the town from taking an upcoming vote to finalize the remaining land purchase for the park. The purchase is in two parts; the town bought Parcel A from Hatch in November, 2018; Parcel B is next. The parties agreed that the council would not take the vote on Parcel B until the court had a chance to rule on the various disputes about it. The trial is set to start July 20.

On June 17, defendant town and “Intervenor Hatch” penned a motion seeking to have the whole thing thrown out without a trial, arguing that there are no facts in dispute to be sorted out at trial, that Taylor and Hatch should win outright, as a matter of law, they write. Under the rules of court, the time it will take for the motion to be briefed and argued will probably push the trial date further out, if indeed a trial is still needed after the dust settles from this latest motion.

In that motion, Taylor and Hatch urge a number of points; namely that plaintiffs themselves don’t have standing to bring the suit and waited too long to do it, that their claims in the May, 2020, suit are barred by the one-year written statute of limitations and also by an unwritten common law doctrine called “laches.” Defendant’s motion is peppered with snarky language such as plaintiffs’ “glaringly deficient” complaint being “a mockery of (court rules)...rife with opinion, innuendo...factual error and pure chaff.”

It is apparent by the tone that the some of the parties involved in this case have tangled before and have a rancorous history. In fact, the town claims in its motion that “Plaintiff Gary Solomon lost two cases against Intervenor Jason Hatch and now owes Hatch or his entities over $500,000 for two judgments,” Solomon’s appeals of which were not successful, they say.

The standing issue

Regarding standing to sue, defendant says that just because persons reside in a town, or own property there, and pay taxes there, does not mean that they have “automatic standing” to sue the town.

That notion goes back to the idea that political differences are better resolved at the ballot box than in the halls of courts. In order to sue, defendant says, plaintiffs must have an interest under the contract complained about or can show an “effect on his rights, status or legal relations,” citing a 1980 case against the City of Phoenix over a water contract with a developer.

Plaintiffs have no such interest here, the town says. It is unknown how plaintiffs intend to respond, but Plaintiff Richard Franco in an e-mail to The Independent disclosed that seven other persons want to join the suit as plaintiffs.

The one-year statute

of limitations

The statute of limitation issue affects nearly all of plaintiffs’ claims. They sued because, among other things, plaintiffs say the defendant town didn’t wait the required 30 days from its approval on Nov. 20, 2018 of the purchase of Parcel A to close on it. In fact, plaintiffs say the town forked over $292,000 to Hatch the very next day. Any deal executed in violation of state law is null and void, say plaintiffs.

In response, the town argues that the statute of limitations to bring such a claim is one year from when the deed was done, in November, 2018, and plaintiffs missed that one-year deadline. Likewise, with regard to alleged open meeting law violations in October and November, 2018 and January 2019, defendant also points out that those meetings happened over a year before plaintiffs sued and are therefore barred.

That leaves the April 2, 2020 meeting which did happened within one year of the May 2020 suit. In that meeting the purchase of the second parcel of land from Hatch, Parcel B, was to be decided — during the pandemic. Plaintiffs say that the town didn’t tell the public about the meeting within 24 hours as the law requires, and any action taken in violation of the open meeting law is null and void. The town denies that and submitted to the court a record of the town posting a notice of the meeting on March 31.

But plaintiffs have another beef about the April 2, meeting. They claim that the town allowed attendance by Facebook, but not everyone has Facebook. They also say, the town did invite the public to appear by phone, but waited until only 17 minutes before the meeting started before telling some of the plaintiffs that they had to do so by calling a special number, not published beforehand.

Conflict of interest

and gifts

Regarding sweetheart deals, technically characterized as transactions in violation of the Arizona constitution’s anti-gift clause, and conflict of interest statutes, plaintiffs say that Hatch gave a one-third acre portion of Parcel A to Mayor David Smith’s daughter and son in law. Defendant Taylor and Hatch deny that, and claim that the one-third acre in question that was given to the couple came from the mayor’s mother-in-law who bought it from Hatch for $2,500 in 2018; that the one-third acre was never actually a part of Parcel A to begin with, and any confusion about that was due to a mix-up in its legal description. In any event, it’s simply too late now for plaintiffs to sue on that, they say.

Noticeably absent in defendant’s motion is any argument about a one-acre plus portion of Parcel A which the plaintiffs claim was supposed to go to the town, but which Hatch sold to Kay Supply for $18,000, thus allegedly providing a windfall to Hatch at the town’s expense. Defendant town denied wrongdoing in that regard in its answer, but neither the town nor intervenor Hatch argued it in this most recent motion.

Whether the court will rule that the statute of limitations sink plaintiffs’ case is yet to be seen. However, the law favors resolution of disputes on the merits of the dispute, not on technicalities. Plaintiff Richard Franco in an email to The Independent also says that the plaintiffs haven’t missed the deadline to file their claims, because the wrongdoing by the town hasn’t even ended yet; that the November 20, 2018 purchase of Parcel A from Hatch was only one part of the larger deal, a “down payment” he says, and the whole transaction has to be seen as one wrongful act that is still happening.

Meantime, plaintiffs have filed their own motion for summary judgment, to win the case without a trail. Once each side responds to each other’s filings, the Navajo County Superior Court will set a time to hear arguments.

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WMAT Awarded $3 million from HUD for quarantine housing

WHITERIVER – Good news came to The White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Housing Authority last week when they were awarded $3 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to construct eight transitional housing units for COVID-19 patients and their families.

Barbara Bruce / Barbara Bruce/The Independent  

Testing positive for the coronavirus with no quarantine housing available, the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s empty Hon-Dah Resort Casino & Conference Center is now the quarantine site for tribal members. $3 million awarded in HUD funds will help build tribal quarantine needs

According to a July 2 press release from HUD, the White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT) was one of sixteen tribes across the nation who were awarded a total of $15 million out of $100 million allocated for tribes through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Monies distributed are specifically to be used by the tribes to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.

Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 on the reservation, and no quarantine housing available for tribal members, WMAT’s Housing Authority made a request on June 1 for federal funds to build quarantine housing. In the meantime, with the tribe’s Hon-Dah Resort Casino & Conference Center’s operations temporarily suspended, the hotel was designated as the isolation and quarantine site for tribal members who tested positive.

A news release by the tribe’s housing authority stated there would be eight total units constructed. Four units would be in McNary with the remainder in Cibecue on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Each unit will have three bedrooms, be built on raw land close to existing infrastructure and have a 6-foot chain link fence.

The news release also stated, “Once the threat of COVID-19 has passed, the homes will be used for temporary housing for low-income tribal members who are homeless, or who are otherwise in transition while their homes need substantial repairs.”

The building project was to begin this month and be completed by June 2021 but is now on hold due to tribal closure.

WMAT Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood issued a press release on June 22 announcing a 57-hour lockdown to begin on June 26 at 8 p.m. through June 29 at 5 a.m. Immediately following the lockdown a week of sheltering-in-place began with extended closure of all non essential tribal offices.

Extremely hard hit by the virus, as of July 8, the tribe confirmed 1,982 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths.

“From helping tribes build more affordable housing to building a place where families can go to quarantine, this funding will help Native Americans persevere during this unprecedented time,” said R. Hunter Kurtz, assistant secretary for public and Indian housing.

WMAT was the only Tribe in Arizona to receive quarantine funds.

Police release info on deputy involved shooting

WAGON WHEEL — A 48-year-old resident, who threatened a grandmother with a firearm, is in jail on a $5,000 bond after a Navajo County Sheriff’s Office deputy shot him June 25 around 7:30 in the evening.

Shane Michael Badding was arrested on four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and three counts of disorderly conduct with a weapon and booked into the Navajo County Jail in Holbrook.

He was taken to Summit Healthcare and then flown to Scottsdale-Osborn Hospital in Phoenix for a gunshot wound after being shot by an NCSO deputy.

As of June 26 he was listed in stable condition in the ICU at Scottsdale-Osborn.

An update on the deputy involved shooting stated that children were riding bicycles past Badding’s home in Wagon Wheel the evening of Thursday, June 25 when he allegedly unleashed what police said were “aggressive” dogs that started chasing the kids scaring them.

The children rode to their grandmother’s house and told her about the incident.

The grandmother reportedly went to Badding’s home to inquire about the incident.

Police said Badding came out of his house brandishing a firearm and allegedly pointed it at the woman while threatening her verbally.

The victim then went home and called the NCSO asking for deputies to respond and handle the situation.

“When the Deputies responded to the residence of the dog owner (Badding), the dogs were aggressive towards the deputies. The deputies attempted to communicate using the loudspeaker system on their vehicle, asking to speak with the owner of the dogs. The dog owner came outside armed with a firearm, yelling profanities and threatening the deputies,” a July 7 update from NCSO Public Information Officer Tori Gorman stated.

She said when Badding repeatedly ignored and refused to obey commands from deputies while also threatening them with a firearm, a deputy fired and hit the man causing a non-life threatening gunshot wound.

Gorman said deputies immediately rendered first aid until medical help arrived and took Badding to the hospital before he was sent to Scottsdale-Osborn.

Badding was charged on June 30 after a warrant was issued out of the Pinetop-Lakeside Justice Court.

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