In retrospect, the second half of 2016 was beyond challenging for the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. While Sheriff Ben Wolfinger’s team has made arrests related to the murder of Bo Kirk, several other investigations into suspicious deaths are ongoing. Among them:
• The July 30 boating crash on Lake Coeur d’Alene that left all three people on one boat dead.
• The Oct. 9 accident in Hayden in which 38-year-old Amber E. Viuhkola was struck and killed by a sheriff’s deputy’s car at 1:35 a.m. as she attempted to cross U.S. 95 at Miles Avenue.
• The early November death of 25-year-old Misty Phelps and her two sons, ages 1 and 2. The bodies of Phelps and her children were found in a submerged car near a Fernan Lake boat launch.
Hardly a day goes by without readers calling The Press, angry that details on one or more of these cases have not been released to the public (or suggesting the newspaper has failed to follow up on these important stories). We understand their frustration. We also wish to share a little perspective.
What citizens demand from the world of law and order is justice. Rendering justice takes time under the very best of circumstances. There’s evidence to collect. Eyewitnesses to find. Interviews to conduct. Every step must be taken meticulously for justice to prevail — and that includes preparing for court cases where every possible flaw will be exposed not under microscopes, but on courtroom stages with spotlight beams blazing.
Our sheriff’s office, which also has been dealing with Bo Kirk’s murder, car thefts and countless other “regular” crimes, has been facing some of the worst circumstances imaginable: Multiple complex investigations over a short time with limited staff and budget considerations. While it’s true Idaho State Police are investigating the deputy-pedestrian fatality, that case is itself a dark cloud hanging over the entire department. We can’t imagine it’s a condition which boosts morale or inspires productivity.
Like you, we’re eager for information and ultimately, closure, on these high-profile cases. But we also think you want the cases to be closed with as much assurance as possible that they’ve been done right. And for that there’s no timetable, and no deadline.