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Communities mourn loss of two men in accident at mine

IMLAY — Wind might have snuffed out the candles lit in honor of Pete Kuhn at a candlelight vigil in Imlay Nov. 3 but it could not extinguish the love in the hearts of the Imlay Baptist Church congregation or mining community.

Kuhn and co-worker Omar Bernal were killed in an accident at the SSR Mining Marigold Mine in Valmy Oct. 31, and the mining community across the state continues to mourn their loss.

At the candlelight vigil, however, the participants celebrated Pete Kuhn’s life.

“My heart is full today to see you all represent his life,” wife Holly Kuhn told friends, his co-workers, mine industry representatives and supporters at the church where her husband had served as pastor for about two years.

Paraphrasing scripture, she reminded those in attendance that sorrow lasts for a night, but joy would come in the morning.

“Sometimes that morning takes a little longer than most, but that’d be OK,” Holly Kuhn said, demonstrating her faith. “Just remember Pete as the flame flickers.”

Also in attendance were son Alexander Kuhn and his wife, Jessica; daughter Amanda Briggs; and son Kyle Kuhn with children Molly, Maddie and Ethan.

Those who knew Pete Kuhn described him as a bear of a man with a wide grin. They said he was a role model as a man of God and in his job as a safety coordinator at the mine.

He also served on the mine rescue team as the coordinator. His teammates and church members said he was good at rescuing people, both the men on the team and those in need of spiritual help.

“Words can’t describe how bad we feel, and we’re sorry,” said Bob Starkley of the mine rescue team, addressing a church packed full and overflowing into the parking lot with people. “But from the turnout here, Pete was loved.”

At the words of congregant Victoria Martinne, the audience made it clear that their pastor is still loved.

“I know Pete is walking with Jesus now,” Martinne said, and the crowd applauded with hearty “amens.”

Kuhn and Bernal were killed when the van they were riding in was run over by a haul truck at the mine site.

A remembrance ceremony and moments of silence are among the additional ways that people have rallied to show their love, support and respect after the accident.

“A lot of us were very deeply touched by the accident,” said Dawn McClary, executive director of the Battle Mountain Chamber of Commerce. “Our community is hurting.”

About 85 miles away in Battle Mountain that same night, before the NIAA 2A Northern League Playoff at the Silver Standard Resources Sports Complex in Battle Mountain, the teams and spectators conducted a remembrance.

“We all have friends and family members that work there, so when something affects a major industry — which mining is in [neighboring] Lander County — many people are affected,” said David Marz, a Battle Mountain High School English teacher and soccer coach. “One person in mining is the entire family, so we were all affected.”

The ceremony before the football game included the BMHS Band playing Echo Taps and the national anthem. Marz made an announcement over the loudspeaker to audience members in the stands and players of the Battle Mountain and Yerington football teams.

“It is with heavy and humble hearts that we gather this evening at the Silver Standard Resources Sporting Complex and Tim Knight Field in remembrance of two members of our community,” Marz wrote in a prepared script. “The mining industry is vital to the Lander County Community and to the Lander County School District — in fact, this sporting complex is a result of the hard work and generosity of the mines in our community. Mining has been an integral part of our community for many, many decades and will continue to be so, for many more to come.”

SSR Mining released the following statement in thanks for the community support:

“All of us at SSR Mining are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Pete Kuhn and Omar Bernal. Pete and Omar were much-valued employees, colleagues and friends to many, whose loss will be felt by all those who knew them.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and thank all those who have reached out to us.”

Newmont Mining Corp. held a moment of silence out of respect. Barrick Gold Corp. reached out to offer its support. Mining companies everywhere shared the story with compassion in safety meetings, reminding everyone to be safe.

“Hug your children. Kiss your husbands,” McClary said.

Correction: This article has been changed to include the name of Kuhn's second son his children.


An equipment operator with Q&D Construction knocks down the building that was once home to the Elko Ward of the Mormon church and later the Elko Police Department.

Landmark comes down

ELKO – It took about five hours to bring down the building that once housed a Mormon church and police department.

Crews with Q&D Construction of Sparks began tearing down the 66-year-old structure at around 8 a.m. Friday morning, and it was reduced to rubble by 1 p.m.

The project includes clearing the debris, pulling out the foundations and backfilling the hole left by the building and is expected to take about two weeks, said Jeremy Draper, city development manager.

All the asbestos was cleared out prior to the demolition, Draper said.

“Right now, the city’s plans are to make it another greenspace to compliment the park,” Draper said. “We’ll open the parking lot area for overflow parking for events and VFW [parking].”

“We’ll maintain what we have there now,” Draper added. “[There are] no real plans at this point in the future, but we wanted to maintain it for some future use.”

Work by Q&D is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving, Draper said, explaining the city had a 30-day contract with Q&D at a cost of $173,695.

The demolition marked the removal of one of the structures built by White & Alter General Contractors, who constructed many schools, churches, offices and other buildings in the city, county and state during a span of four-decades.

Completed in 1951, the structure was built for the Elko Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1986, the city purchased the building for the Elko Police Department, which had outgrown its old building shared with the Elko Fire Department at 723 Railroad St.

A debate on whether to keep or remove of the building, considered historic by some longtime Elko residents, began when the police department moved into new facilities in 2016, with some hoping the structure could be saved rather than torn down.

Betty Fagoaga’s father, Claude White, was partners with James Alter, whose company constructed the LDS church in 1951. She said Friday was a very emotional day for her.

“I went by yesterday to take another look at it,” Fagoaga said. “It does touch me because of my father,” she said, explaining that her father died in 1956 when she was a teenager and the buildings White worked on were her “connection” to him.

Fagoaga said her father told her that any structure built with brick “is going to be a good solid building.” However, “in those days, it was hard to get materials [and] they did everything with asbestos.”

She remembered when the church’s gymnasium hosted dances for the community. “It had a big dance floor [and] it was very active in those days.”

Although Fagoaga said she would have liked to see the building remain and be used, she said she understood the asbestos was the reason why renovation would have been too costly for the city, and the need for additional parking.

The article was corrected to give the full name of the church. 

ACLU accuses Nevada of denying rural defendants due process
ACLU accuses Nevada of denying rural defendants due process

CARSON CITY (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union has accused Nevada of routinely violating the constitutional rights of criminal defendants in 11 rural counties by failing to provide them with adequate legal representation when they cannot afford their own lawyers.

“For too many defendants in rural Nevada, the phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’ doesn’t apply,” said Emma Andersson, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project.

The ACLU’s Nevada chapter filed a class-action suit in Carson District Court on Thursday naming the state and Gov. Brian Sandoval as defendants.

It alleges indigent defendants are being denied their right to due process under the state system that transfers the job of public defense to individual counties.

The suit says the state lacks adequate oversight of multiple rural counties and their system of contracting attorneys to represent the accused. Under that system, the contract lawyers receive de facto flat fees and have a financial incentive to provide as little legal assistance to their clients as possible, the ACLU said.

“Nevada is shirking its constitutional duty, leaving thousands of defendants at the mercy of failing county-run and county-funded systems,” said Franny Forsman, a private practice attorney in Las Vegas who served as a federal public defender in Nevada for more than 20 years.

Sandoval’s office will review the lawsuit but believes the state already has taken significant steps to try to improve the current system, his spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said Friday.

The ACLU has filed similar lawsuits in Idaho, Missouri, Utah, California, Washington, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

Nevada’s current system requires counties with populations above 100,000, such as Washoe and Clark, to have a county public defense office. The rural counties cited in the complaint are White Pine, Douglas, Mineral, Nye, Esmeralda, Churchill, Pershing, Eureka, Lander, Lincoln and Lyon.

Amy Rose, ACLU Nevada’s legal director, said many of the contracted attorneys have private practices, large caseloads and are more likely to devote time to cases that pay more money. She said they are also more likely to put pressure on public defendants to plead guilty.

Rose said the ACLU realized the scope of the problem in 2008 and since has advocated for a system overhaul.

“The state of Nevada has known for a decade that its rural public defense system doesn’t do its job, resulting in injustice after injustice. Yet the state has failed to fix it,” she said.

St. Martin said Sandoval has previously worked in collaboration with the Supreme Court, the Legislature “and other advocacy groups on this issue.”

Among other things, he signed into law this year a measure creating a rural judicial district, St. Martin said.

“This provides greater access to justice for many living in rural communities.” she said in an email.

Sandoval also signed a measure that allows rural defendants to transfer to urban jurisdictions the purposes of utilizing specialty courts, such as drug court or mental health court, and another which created an Indigent Defense Commission, St. Martin said.

“The commission will look at the caseload and workload of defense counsel, minimum standards for legal representation of indigent defendants, and how to fund a statewide indigent defense system,” she said.

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Wells teacher waives preliminary hearing

ELKO – A former Wells elementary teacher facing charges of sex with multiple high school students waived her preliminary hearing in justice court Nov. 1.

Tennille Whitaker was scheduled for a hearing Nov. 7 in Elko Justice Court on 12 counts of sexual contact between a school employee or volunteer and pupil, a category C felony. The charges are spread among four male Wells High School students between the ages of 16 and 18 years old.

Court documents stated the conduct took place on school property. Whitaker was an employee of the Elko County School District for 11 years and resigned in August.

By waiving the preliminary hearing, Whitaker is bound over to Elko District Court for arraignment at a later date which has not been set.

Whitaker was released from custody after posting bail the day after her arrest in June.