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News / Northwest

Deaths of dog walker, 83, and resident of a remote cabin possibly tied to escaped Idaho inmate

By GENE JOHNSON and MARK THIESSEN, Associated Press
Published: March 22, 2024, 1:12pm

Authorities are investigating whether the deaths of an 83-year-old man who was walking his dogs and a 72-year-old man who lived in a remote cabin are connected to the escape of an Idaho white supremacist prison gang member and an accomplice after a Boise hospital ambush.

The escaped prisoner, Skylar Meade, and the accomplice, a recently released inmate named Nicholas Umphenour — both members of the Aryan Knights gang — were arrested in Twin Falls, Idaho, on Thursday afternoon. Their arrests came 36 hours after Umphenour shot two Idaho corrections officers who were preparing to return Meade to prison from a hospital, police said.

They made initial court appearances Friday, along with a woman who drove one of the two vehicles they were traveling in when they were arrested, a minivan and a pickup truck, said Twin Falls Police Lt. Terance Thueson. Meade and Umphenour were being held on $2 million bond.

The woman, identified as Tonia Huber, was charged with harboring a fugitive, eluding police and drug possession. Idaho Fifth Judicial District Judge Ben Harmer set her bail at $500,000 after a prosecutor said she had driven 100 mph (161 kmh) through Twin Falls neighborhoods as she tried to evade police Thursday.

None of the three entered pleas.

Investigators said Thursday that while on the run, Meade and Umphenour may have been responsible for the deaths of two men, one in Nez Perce County and the other in Clearwater County, both in northern Idaho, about seven hours away from where they were arrested.

Coroners on Friday identified the victim in Nez Perce County as James L. Mauney, 83, of Juliaetta. Mauney was reported missing on Wednesday when he left home in his silver Chrysler Pacifica minivan to take his two dogs — a white Jack Russell terrier and a brown Chesapeake Bay retriever — to a walking path. He never returned.

The other victim was identified as Gerald Don Henderson, 72, who was found dead outside his remote cabin near Orofino. Around 2013, Umphenour stayed at the cabin with Henderson — and about a month ago, Umphenour returned for an hourlong visit, Clearwater County Coroner Dennis Fuller said Friday.

When a friend heard Umphenour’s name mentioned by police in connection with Meade’s escape from the hospital — and failed to hear back from Henderson — the friend became concerned and requested a welfare check, Fuller said.

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Police found Henderson dead outside his home, where they also found shackles, Fuller said. Henderson was known to have tools which could have been used to remove Meade’s shackles, he said.

“My description of him, he’s a kindly old man who took in some ne’er-do-well guys and tried to help them,” Fuller said.

Meade, 31, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2017 for shooting at a sheriff’s sergeant during a high-speed chase. Umphenour was released from the same prison — the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Kuna, south of Boise — in January. The two had at times been housed together, were both members of the Aryan Knights prison gang, and had mutual friends in and out of prison, officials said.

No shots were fired during the arrest, police said.

The attack on the Idaho Department of Correction officers came just after 2 a.m. Wednesday in the ambulance bay of Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, as they were preparing to return Meade to the prison. He had been brought to the hospital earlier in the night because he injured himself, officials said.

After the ambush, one officer shot by Umphenour was in critical but stable condition, police said, while the second wounded officer had serious but non-life-threatening injuries. A third corrections officer also sustained non-life-threatening injuries when a responding police officer — mistakenly believing the shooter was still in the emergency room and seeing an armed person near the entrance — opened fire.

Correction Director Josh Tewalt said Thursday one guard had been released from the hospital, and the other two are stable and improving.

Meade had been escorted in the ambulance and at the hospital by a uniformed, unarmed officer wearing a ballistic vest, tailed by two armed officers, Correction officials said. Security for transporting Meade to the hospital from prison was enhanced because of his violent history, but the department will review their overall policies for transporting inmates to hospitals, Tewalt said.

The department is reviewing its policies and practices in light of the escape, he said. The attack came amid a wave of gun violence at hospitals and medical centers, which have struggled to adapt to the rise of threats.

“We’re channeling every resource we have to trying to understand exactly how they went about planning it,” Tewalt said.

Recently, Meade had been held in a type of solitary confinement called administrative segregation because officials deemed him a severe security risk, Tewalt said.

The Aryan Knights prison gang formed in the mid-1990s in Idaho. In court documents federal prosecutors described it as a “scourge” within the state’s prison system.

“The hate-fueled gang engages in many types of criminal activity and casts shadows of intimidation, addiction, and violence over prison life,” prosecutors wrote.

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