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Rancher shooting will haunt Council community for long time

Council is the county seat of Adams County.
Council is the county seat of Adams County. kmoeller@idahostatesman.com

Although U.S. 95 runs right through downtown Council, it is not a familiar place to many people in the Treasure Valley. And that’s OK with many of those who live here.

Council is nestled in between arms of the Payette National Forest, which surrounds the valley on three sides. It’s a very rural area, where many folks are conservative in their politics, independent in their lifestyles and don’t mind being left alone by a fast-paced outside world.

That very setting, on a major north-south travel route through the state — and through a national forest — spawned a chain of tragic events.

Every year, as autumn leaves begin to fall, cattle come streaming “home,” down from the grazing allotments that ranchers lease on the forest. Unfortunately, one of the travel routes they use is Idaho 95. Many of the cattle coming off the forest are black, and the combination of a black cow on the blacktop of a narrow, winding highway is a recipe for disaster. Nobody likes the situation, especially the ranchers who every year lose cattle that are hit by vehicles.

Just after dark on Nov. 1, a couple in a small car hit a large, black bull on the highway about 6 miles north of Council. The car was flattened like a tin can; the occupants and the bull were badly injured.

The bull belonged to Jack and Donna Yantis, whose short ranch driveway comes down off a low foothill onto the highway near where the bull was hit.

Jack and Donna grew up near Council. Jack was born here 62 years ago and was raised on a cattle ranch at Fruitvale — a wide spot on a side road that once had a post office and store. Jack, his two older brothers and a younger sister grew up on hard work under the guidance of their father — a World War II veteran who saw combat in a tank unit. The Yantis boys developed a deep-seated work ethic and a unique toughness. Each went on to operate ranches of their own in the Council area.

The scene of the crash was soon lit by the lights of ambulances, fire trucks and Adams County law enforcement vehicles. Just as the EMTs had loaded the occupants of the car into ambulances, several gunshot blasts shattered the night air a short distance away. What happened in those few seconds has been the source of disbelief, sadness and anger in the small community ever since.

Jack Yantis was shot several times by Adams County officers and died at the scene. Donna suffered a heart attack from witnessing this horror and nearly died.

Little of the whole tragedy makes any sense to local people. It’s common knowledge that an animal injured too badly to survive needs to be put out of its misery. And yet, it seems when Jack interrupted his dinner to do just that with a rifle, something went terribly and inexplicably wrong.

Council is the epitome of “gun country,” where any slight against the Second Amendment is fighting words. There are few households that don’t contain several firearms. Pickups with well-equipped gun racks don’t get a second glance. Virtually everyone is familiar with gun safety and the cardinal sins of what not to do are deeply engrained.

As bad as the knowledge of what happened is, what the people of Council don’t know weighs on them like a suffocating blanket. After spending his entire life here, Jack Yantis was known by most people in the area. How could this have happened? The black cloud of this horrible event, the likes of which has never happened in living memory, is in the back of everyone’s mind and comes to the forefront in most conversations.

A vocal minority of Council residents are expressing anger at the Sheriff’s Office and its personnel. Social media sites are a hotbed of speculation and accusation. Eyewitness accounts seem to reveal inexplicable actions by the officers. A march through town is planned for Saturday to advocate justice for Jack’s “murder.” This sentiment is not pacified by news stories in which the tragedy is offensively described as a “shootout.”

A quieter majority is trying to be patient and wait for the Idaho State Police investigation to disclose information to make this nightmare make sense, regardless of blame. Local churches got together Sunday evening for a vigil at which numerous prayers were voiced, asking for patience, understanding and compassion for everyone from the Yantis family to the Sheriff’s Office and even the officers involved in the shooting.

Regardless of the facts that eventually come out, the Yantis family and the community of Council will live under the long shadow of a few incomprehensible seconds from one very dark night.

Dale Fisk is the editor of the Adams County Record newspaper in Council. He was born in Council and grew up on a cattle ranch near Fruitvale, about a mile from the Yantis ranch.

MEMORIAL SERVICE, PROTEST BOTH PLANNED THIS WEEKEND

A public memorial service for Jack Yantis will start at 2 p.m. Sunday at Council High School, 101 E. Bleeker St.

On Saturday, organizers of the “Justice for Jack” Facebook page will hold a protest in support of the Yantis family, starting at noon at Council Elementary School, 202 Michigan Ave. The page has urged participants to be peaceful; organizer Becca Barrow said earlier this week that if anyone shows up armed or attempts to cause trouble, the event will be shut down.

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