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10 of the top KTVB crime stories this year

From a double murder to a prosecution for hemp, here are some of our top crime stories from around the region in 2019.
Credit: KTVB
Police investigating the scene in Ann Morrison Park in October 2019.

BOISE, Idaho — The crime rate for Idaho is pretty low, especially when compared to the rest of the nation. 

Still, the Treasure Valley has had its fair share of crimes that shocked the community and attracted attention across the region. 

Below are some of the top crime stories from 2019. 

'They were the sweetest girls ever': 3 young sisters die in DUI crash

Three little girls were headed home from a family trip to Hailey when the car they were riding in was struck from behind in the early morning hours of Aug. 10, 2019. 

Six-year-old Aneena Lurak and 5-year-old Kya Lurak died in the crash. The youngest child, 3-year-old Drayka Rayshell was rushed to a Boise hospital, where she died from her injuries as well.

The girls' father and his fiancee were also hurt in the crash. The other driver, Matthew Park of Fairfield, had a blood-alcohol content well above the legal limit and admitted to drinking heavily before the crash, according to investigators. 

Park faces manslaughter and DUI charges. His trial is set for February 2020. 

Man charged with murder in Ann Morrison Park slaying

A fight in Ann Morrison Park turned deadly in October. Prosecutors say 27-year-old Andrew Garcia had gotten into fights with several people on Oct. 16, before clashing with 43-year-old Roque Arellano, a tattoo artist in Boise. 

According to police, Garcia knocked the other man down and stomped on him, causing fatal injuries. Roque's body was found in Ann Morrison Park the next day, sparking a murder investigation that ultimately led to Garcia's arrest.

Prosecutors say the suspect confessed to attacking the other man and "admitted he went too far." Garcia was charged with first-degree murder, but ultimately found mentally unfit to stand trial. 

Eagle teacher, basketball coach admits to sex with student

A former teacher and boys basketball coach turned himself in to police earlier this year, telling them he had had an ongoing sexual relationship with an underage student. 

Jeff Ranstom and the 17-year-old girl had sexual contact in his classroom at Eagle High as well as Ranstrom's house and the home of the victim's parents, investigators say. Ranstom resigned from his job at the high school before his arrest. 

The former teacher pleaded guilty to sexual battery on a child, and is set for sentencing next year. 

Arrest made in Angie Dodge cold case

More than 20 years after the wrong man was convicted of stabbing a 18-year-old Angie Dodge to death in her Idaho Falls apartment, DNA led investigators to a new suspect.

Brian Dripps, Dodge's former neighbor, was arrested in May after police linked him to evidence left behind at the crime scene in 1996. 

Another man, Chris Tapp, had been accused and ultimately convicted of killing Dodge, despite arguing that detectives had coerced him into confessing to a murder he did not commit. Tapp was released from prison after spending 20 years behind bars, and ultimately exonerated of the murder after Dripps' arrest. 

Dripps has pleaded not guilty to the rape and murder charges. Trial is scheduled for June 2020.

Former Idaho governor candidate investigated in 1984 killing of Colorado girl

Investigators working to solve to cold-case murder of a 12-year-old girl in Colorado say they consider an Idaho man who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governer a "person of interest" in her death. 

Jonelle Matthews disappeared after a Christmas concert in Greeley, Colorado in 1984. Her remains were uncovered near an oil and gas site in July. 

Steve Pankey of Twin Falls, who lived in Greeley when the child went missing, told KTVB he is being investigated in her murder. Detectives served a search warrant on his apartment in September, hauling off bags of evidence. 

Pankey has denied any involvement in the murder, and has not been charged in the case.

Hemp-hauling trucker charged with drug trafficking

A truck driver hauling a load of hemp across Idaho was arrested in January in what Idaho State Police heralded as the agency's largest pot bust in history. 

Denis V. Palamarchuk of Portland was charged with highest level of marijuana trafficking, a felony that carries a mandatory prison sentence of at least five years. 

Hemp comes from the cannabis plant, but contains only a miniscule level of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high. Hemp's classification had been switched from a drug to an agricultural product on a federal level in 2018, but prosecutors argued that Idaho's drug statutes trumped the federal changes.

The case sparked a lawsuit and an outpouring of support for Palamarchuk. The trucker was ultimately allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor in the case, and was sentenced to probation. 

Gov. Brad Little signed an executive order in November allowing the transport of hemp through the state. 

Victim sought help from police before Meridian double-murder-suicide

A Meridian man shot and killed his ex-wife and her new husband in front of their children before turning the gun on himself in early 2019. 

Heidi and Joe DeLeon were murdered at their home just one day after the killer, Edward Epps Jr., was served with a protection order mandating that he stay away from the family.

Police say that Heidi DeLeon had reached out for help and repeatedly reported that Epps was threatening her and her children.

The couple left behind four daughters.

Credit: AP
File image of the James A. McClure Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Boise, Idaho.

Garden City man gets prison in extreme stalking case

A man who terrorized a family by mailing them obscene, threatening postcards for three years was sentenced to more than four years in prison.

Investigators say the stalking began after an argument over a parking spot. Frank Abbott Sweeney, 73, used the internet and a private investigator to gather details about the family, then sent out postcards designed to make them seem like pedophiles, criminals, and racists.

The terrifying mailings continued even after the family moved. It was not until Sweeney began harassing another couple in the same manner that investigators were able to identify him and bring him to justice. 

Eagle man charged after mother's plastic-wrapped body found in SUV

An Eagle man is facing felony charges after prosecutors say he hid the plastic-wrapped body of his elderly mother in his home for more than a year, while continuing to collect her pension and Social Security payments.

Willliam Rhoton was arrested in June after the remains of Barbara Rhoton were found stashed in an SUV, where she had allegedly been moved after investigators began looking into her whereabouts.

Barabara Rhoton's cause of death is undetermined, and officials say she may have died as early as 2016 - the last time anyone saw her alive or spoke to her on the phone.

Rhoton is charged with failing to report his mother's death, forgery, grand theft and destruction of evidence. A trial in the case is set for March.

Idaho woman is key witness Kelsey Berreth murder

An affair spiraled into murder in a dramatic case that swept up a woman from Twin Falls County. Krystal Lee took the stand in the murder trial of Patrick Frazee in November, detailing how she helped clean up and hide evidence after Frazee beat his fiance Kelsey Berreth to death with a baseball bat. 

Lee testified that she and Frazee were having an affair, and that he asked her to kill Berreth before carrying out the murder himself. 

As part of a plea deal, Lee agreed to testify against Frazee, who received a life sentence. Lee will face up to three years in prison at her own sentencing next year.