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Victims remembered one year after plane crash

ELKO—One year ago, four people lost their lives when an American Medflight plane crashed in the Barrick parking lot off Mountain City Highway.

Since then, the victims – patient Edward Clohesey, pilot Yuji Irie, paramedic Jake Shepherd and flight nurse Tiffany Urresti – have been memorialized and honored by their family, friends and colleagues.

The fence near the site of the crash has become a memorial to the victims, with flowers, crosses, teddy bears, t-shirts and banners from Barrick and the Carlin Volunteer Fire Department.

A candlelight vigil held in Angel Park three days later was attended by hundreds, with tributes to the victims continuing to pour in over the next several months.

Irie, Shepherd and Urresti were honored May 20 at the National EMS Memorial Service in Washington, D.C. The weekend included a memorial bike ride by the Muddy Angels where 28 cyclists wore dog tags bearing the name of the honoree. The three victims were honored again with two more EMS memorial rides in Colorado and from Reno to San Francisco.

Edward Clohesey

Edward Clohesey, 67, of Spring Creek was a heavy equipment operator for 11 years, working for Kinross Bald Mountain, and was preparing for his retirement at the time of his death.

Clohesey “was a dedicated and kind equipment operator in our mine operations department,” said Randy Burggraff, general manager. “Ed was known for sharing his positive and happy attitude with anyone he encountered.”

Born in Seattle, Clohesey was a U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany. He later lived and worked in Washington and Alaska and was an avid hunter.

Clohesey enjoyed riding motorcycles and was a member of the Wild Bunch Motorcycle Club, riding alongside Kevin Sur, club president. Sur said even a year since the crash Clohesey’s death was “a real shock.”

On Oct. 14, the Wild Bunch honored Clohesey and other late members at their 10th annual memorial poker run.

Yuji Irie

Capt.Yuji Irie, 63, was an immigrant from Japan based in Ely and was praised by John Burruel, American Medflight’s president and CEO, as having “the best work ethic I’ve ever seen.”

Local authorities said at the time, Irie’s actions in avoiding businesses and homes and crashing into the empty parking lot may have saved lives. No one on the ground was injured.

Irie held an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and a First Class Medical Certificate and was reported by Reno’s News4 to be someone who “was ready to go and save a life and always found a way to safely transport his patients and medical crew regardless of the challenges he faced.”

Noted for his skill and flight experience, Irie had flown for charter companies from Las Vegas to the Mariana Islands in the South Pacific.

His love of aviation was matched by his “[care] for people with endless energy and compassion,” Burruel said.

The aircraft Irie built to one day fly across the Pacific Ocean to Japan now sits in his son’s garage in Las Vegas.

Jacob Shepherd

Paramedic Jacob Shepherd, 24, lived in Logan, Utah, was married with three children and was based at the Mountain West Medical Center in Tooele County.

A friend said that he died “doing what he loved, being a flight paramedic for American Medflight.”

Shepherd was described by ambulance director Joe Carnell as having “a big heart” and “he was dedicated to his community, he was dedicated to the public.”

Carnell also remembered Shepherd had the ability to make “everyone smile [and] laugh. You’d show up on shift with him and you were laughing for the next two days.”

Shepherd’s family attended the May 20 National EMS Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Tiffany Urresti

Flight nurse Tiffany Urresti, 29, started working for American Medflight six weeks before the crash. An Elko native, she was a firefighter and earned two degrees in nursing from Great Basin College.

In the past year, Urresti has been remembered by the Elko Basque Club, GBC’s Student Nurses Organization, and through three scholarships.

“We’re very honored for the support that we’ve gotten. It has been very overwhelming,” said Debi Urresti, Tiffany’s mother, explaining that the past year has been difficult for all four of the families.

Her daughter’s future plans included furthering her education, possibly teaching in GBC’s nursing program, and marrying her fiancé, Jim Foster, said Debi Urresti.

“She was excited about getting married; marrying the love of her life,” Debi Urresti said, adding that the day of the National EMS Memorial would have been her wedding day with Foster. The memorial was attended by family, most of the wedding party and Foster, who accepted a flag in her honor.


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Flood Preparedness Week comes to Elko

ELKO – Representatives from several organizations presented the public information about flood awareness at Walmart for three hours Friday afternoon.

“We’ve done presentations like this in the past,” Larry Whitworth of the Division of Water Resources said. “Except now flooding is striking closer to home in people’s minds, especially due to the winter flooding. The rain we had and the ground water that freezes caused a combination of problems last winter. It’s not unprecedented, but it hit a lot of places in Elko and Elko County. It makes a difference to warn people and help people be prepared.”

The table to their left had coloring books, activity books, yo-yos, packets on flood preparedness and recovery, a USB video game where you could manage water levels, and even flood bags that are water proof.

“We’re out here for flood awareness week to help people recover from flood amnesia,” State Flood Plain Manager Bunny Bishop said. “It reminds people of Nevada that even though we haven’t had any big floods it can still happen in the high desert.”

Flood models showed the effects on natural wetlands and water basins from the use of pollutants to the effects of the construction of parking lots. The model usually is used for fifth-grade presentations at schools statewide to help kids and adults see the effects pollutants have on the wetlands and water sources in their community.

“We weren’t as prepared as we should have been last year as the flood was happening,” Adeline Thibault, environmental coordinator for the City of Elko, said. “We all need to learn more about it to be prepared. This is a great opportunity for that, and to share the knowledge of the experts that are here today. My enjoyment comes from the kids exploring how the models work and the light bulbs that start to go off in their heads as they learn about it.”

Other groups that were represented included Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials, Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Each department had several representatives and experts at their folded-out tables displaying the blue and white colors advertising the website www.Nevadafloods.org. Information on the Nevada Weather Service and Department of Water Resources in Elko gave people an opportunity to learn how to prepare for floods before they occur in their area, even during the winter months.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration display included a neatly organized board full of information about how they collect the weather information from balloons and space satellites to keep people safe.

NEMO and the NDEP also had a model to display how the building of towns and pollutants we produce — from tire rubber to cleaning paintbrushes — affect the water sources, watersheds, climate and air quality in the towns we inhabit. Several handouts about bioretention, septic systems, soil considerations, and nonpoint source pollution were available.

Several families stopped by the tables to learn more about Nevada flooding and water basins during the event. Residents who were not able to visit the event can learn more by visiting http://www.nevadafloods.org/.


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One year later: investigation continues into cause of medical flight crash

ELKO – In the year since an American Medflight plane crashed in the Barrick parking lot off Mountain City Highway and killed four people there is still no word from the National Transportation and Safety Board on how the accident occurred, but there has been scrutiny of Piper PA-31T planes by federal flight officials.

Within a nine-month period there were three fatal crashes of that make and model of plane — one in California on July 29, 2016; the one in Elko on Nov. 18, 2016; and one in Portugal on April 17, 2017. The accident in Portugal happened shortly after take-off, killing all on board and one person on the ground.

The Piper PA-31T was the subject of an urgent safety recommendation by the NTSB in January that asked the Federal Aviation Administration to issue an airworthiness directive to correct unsafe wiring found after the California crash, which also involved a medical transport plane.

In that recommendation, the NTSB referred to the preliminary report on the crash of Piper PA-31T that took off from Crescent City and went down near the Oregon border, killing four, including the pilot, patient, paramedic and flight nurse. Authorities said the pilot had reported smoke from the cockpit and decided to turn back.

The FAA issued the airworthiness directive Feb. 22, stating it was “to correct the unsafe conditions on these products” and “was prompted by a fatal accident where evidence of thermal damage in this area was found.”

“This condition, if not corrected, could lead to electrical arcing and a possible inflight fire in an area that is not accessible by the crew,” the FFA said.

Patient Edward Clohesey, pilot Yuji Irie, paramedic Jacob Shepherd and flight nurse Tiffany Urresti died Nov. 18 when their medical transport plane went down shortly after taking off from Elko Regional Airport.

A preliminary NTSB report filed Nov. 30, 2016 said a witness at the airport noticed that “[d]uring the initial climb … the airplane made an initial left turn about 30 degrees from the runway heading, then stopped climbing and made an abrupt left bank and descended out of his line of sight.”

The report noted that there were clear skies, a temperature of 33 degrees Fahrenheit and wind direction of 110 degrees at 7 knots.

“The crash is still undergoing investigation,” an NTSB spokesman said last week. On its website, the NTSB states “the cause may not be determined 12 to 18 months after the accident.”

After the accident, Capt. Irie was praised by Elko Police Lt. Rich Genseal for maneuvering the plane toward the parking lot and avoiding populated areas and businesses.

“The plane came down in a parking lot that’s probably only several hundred feet from the apartment complex, multiple dwellings,” Genseal said at the time.

City Manager Curtis Calder agreed that Irie’s actions prevented a greater tragedy that night.

“Although the City of Elko has not seen a final report from the NTSB, we believe the heroic actions of the pilot and crew members saved numerous lives on the ground,” Calder said this week.

He said the accident also highlighted the importance of emergency first responders and medical aviation services in the area.

“Emergency air medical transport services are not only an important part of our local healthcare system, but a critical aviation source,” Calder said. “As such our community was greatly impacted by last year’s American Medflight crash and the resulting loss of life.”

“We are grateful to our emergency first responders and federal officials who perform difficult work under adverse conditions,” he added.


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Elko Band Councilman Felix Ike arrested

ELKO – A tribal elder states he was wrongfully arrested Wednesday when he and another Elko Band Council member attempted to retrieve documents at the Elko Indian Colony.

Felix Ike, 72, an Elko Band councilman, said he was “illegally arrested by Western Shoshone Department of Public Safety Officers who assaulted and kidnapped” him.

Ike said he was confronted by authorities at the Te-Moak office the morning of Nov. 15 when he and Elko Band council member Penny Stevens arrived to retrieve documents and the officers told him they had orders to arrest him. Ike said he told the officers that if they interfered with the actions of the council they would be immediately terminated, which they did not accept.

Ike then said he was rushed by an officer and proceeded to have his hands cuffed behind his back.

“They couldn’t get my arms behind my back,” Ike said, explaining he has a disabled right arm. “I was pinned against the building. I couldn’t move.”

“They said ‘you better move your arm or we’ll sock you in the face,’” Ike said.

An Elko Daily Free Press message left with Te-Moak tribal law enforcement was not returned.

Ike said he was then put in the police car and first taken to Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital where he was given a blood pressure test and an EKG. He also requested x-rays of his elbow, shoulder and wrist.

Ike said he was driven to the detention center in Duck Valley where he was released shortly after arriving. He said he was not given a report on the charges he was held on, but was told by an officer it involved the TPO order for Te-Moak chairwoman Lydia Johnson, resisting arrest, abuse of power, and disturbing the peace.

An arrest warrant charging contempt was issued Nov. 6 by the Court of Indian Offenses for the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada naming Johnson as the defendant.

“The officers of the WSDPS, without authority and provocation, acted with disregard for the directives of their employer, the Te-Moak Tribe,” Ike said.

“Their actions will eventually be tried in a court of law, with competent jurisdiction and they will be held accountable individually for their breach of law under the color of office.”