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News / Northwest

4th person charged in ambush that helped Idaho prison inmate escape from Boise hospital

By GENE JOHNSON and MARK THIESSEN, Associated Press
Published: March 28, 2024, 4:51pm

A fourth person has been charged in connection with an ambush that allowed a white supremacist Idaho prison gang member to escape as he was being discharged from a Boise hospital.

Tia J. Garcia, 27, of Twin Falls, owned the car that inmate Skylar Meade and his accomplice, Nicholas Umphenour, fled in after Umphenour shot and wounded two corrections officers who were preparing to bring Meade back to prison early on March 20, Shawn Kelley, of the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, told a judge Thursday.

She falsely reported the car stolen less than an hour after the ambush, Kelley said, and text messages from the day before showed that Umphenour had instructed her to do so.

Police tracked Meade and Umphenour down about 36 hours after their escape, but the pair is also suspected in the killings of two men while they were on the run. They have not been charged in the killings.

Here’s what to know about the case.

WHO IS THE LATEST PERSON ARRESTED?

Garcia is an acquaintance of Umphenour and Meade, Kelley said, and she picked up Umphenour from the airport when he arrived in Boise on March 17. It’s not clear where Umphenour had travelled from, but prosecutors have said he recently spent time in Florida and intended to return there. Umphenour and Garcia were seen in surveillance video from several places around Boise that day.

Garcia lives with her sister and is unemployed, according to a public defender who represented her during an initial court appearance Thursday. Her criminal record includes six felonies and four misdemeanors, including battery and drug charges as well as fleeing and eluding.

She is being held on $1 million bail on a charge of aiding and abetting escape. She did not enter a plea. The Ada County public defender’s office, which represents Meade, Umphenour and Garcia, declined to comment Thursday.

HOW WAS THE ESCAPE PLANNED?

Authorities are still looking into exactly how the ambush was planned and executed. Idaho Department of Correction officials have said that Meade and Umphenour were both members of the Aryan Knights white supremacist prison gang, which federal prosecutors have described as a “scourge” within the state’s prison system.

Meade, 31, was serving 20 years in prison for shooting at a sheriff’s sergeant during a chase. Umphenour was released from the same prison — the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Kuna, south of Boise — in January after serving time for theft and gun convictions.

The two had at times been housed together and had mutual friends in and out of prison, officials said. Meade had recently been held in solitary confinement because officials deemed him a security risk.

The attack on the corrections officers came just after 2 a.m. on March 20 in the ambulance bay of Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. Meade had been brought to the hospital earlier in the night because he injured himself, officials said. Kelley told the court on Thursday that Meade refused all treatment once he got to the hospital.

Two corrections officers were wounded by Umphenour and a third by responding police who mistook the officer for the gunman. All are expected to recover.

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WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE AMBUSH?

The Idaho State Police say that while on the run, Umphenour and Meade apparently killed two men in northern Idaho — Gerald Don Henderson, the 72-year-old resident of a remote cabin near Orofino who had taken Umphenour in about a decade ago, when Umphenour was in his late teens and having trouble at home; and James L. Mauney, 83, of Juliaetta, who was reported missing when he failed to return from walking his dogs.

Investigators found shackles at Henderson’s cabin. Mauney’s minivan was located about seven hours south, in Filer. As agents secured that area, Meade and Umphenour fled in separate cars but were apprehended, police said.

A woman identified as Tonia Huber was driving the truck Meade was in, according to investigators. She has been charged with harboring a fugitive, eluding police and drug possession. Huber’s attorney, Daniel Brown, said Thursday his client “is presumed to be innocent and we stand by that presumption.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Meade, Umphenour and Garcia face preliminary hearings before Ada County Magistrate Judge Abraham Wingrove on April 8. Huber, who is charged in Twin Falls County, faces a preliminary hearing April 5.

Correction Director Josh Tewalt has promised to review its policies and practices in light of the escape. 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 last week.

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