From the August 1999 Idaho Observer:
Cover-up in Idaho County?
Father searches for truth in son's suspicious death.
by Don Harkins
This is the sad story of the short life of a 19-year-old boy who was well-liked by everybody who knew him -- until the day his life ended June 24, 1999, in a river of unanswered questions. What appears to be a cover-up of John Wimberley's death has been poorly executed, probably because those involved thought that Wimberley was a penniless indigent with no family.
That was a mistake. Wimberley's father, who has since quit his job in the Seattle area to investigate the curious circumstances surrounding his son's death, is a career military man with Special Forces and Special Operations credentials. Scott Wimberley is a published military tactician and can be expected use all of his skills to uncover the truth regarding the death of his son.
The death, or more likely the murder of John Wimberley began two weeks before when he had been cited for possession of five grams of marijuana. According to Wimberley, who was not known by the people close to him to be a liar, he was told by Idaho County prosecutors that they would see to it that he be sentenced to serve 3-10 years in prison unless he agreed to make three arranged buys that would lead to a bust. "John refused because he could never 'rat' on his friends. Besides, isn't it a little absurd to threaten to send somebody to prison for a long time for committing an illegal act and then blackmail the same person into committing three more of those illegal acts?" asked Scott Wimberley.
[Editor's note: Over the last five years I have investigated governments and the people who comprise them in at least 30 counties throughout the Northwest. Without exception, all of them are run by, or certain key elected officials are supported by major drug traffickers. All of them. Without exception. It would be my guess that Wimberley was caught with marijuana that was not recognized by the "authorities" and they intended to use him to find out from what independent operator it came from.]
Wimberley was scheduled to talk to a Clarkston, WA, attorney the following day and was scheduled to stand trial for the possession charge June 29.
On the night of his death, he had a friend with him and had just picked up another young man who had been drinking and he volunteered to take him home. It was 9:30 in the evening and, according to witnesses, they had been playing hackey sack for a couple of hours. By that time it was getting dark, a light rain was falling and the streets were damp.
The three young men had only gone a few blocks when Idaho State Police Corporal Scott Swearingen pulled them over. The stop was apparently prompted by a determination that Wimberley had been driving without headlights. The ISP on board video camera shows that Wimberley's lights were on.
Wimberley, young, scared of the police and already facing an impossible legal dilemma with the possession charge, let the two passengers out and took off. Swearingen followed in pursuit. Moments later, Wimberley's car was over the embankment and in the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River at the intersection of Leitch Creek Road and the Highway 12 bridge leaving Kooskia.
Everything else from here on out is conjecture because all of the evidence, the skid marks left by Wimberley's car and the car itself, have been altered at the apparent direction of the "authorities."
All of the officers at the scene have filed statements that generally support each other's version of what happened. Idaho County Sheriff's Deputies Jerry Johnson and Corporal Robert Murray stopped to assist Swearingen shortly after Swearingen had stopped Wimberley. Johnson was also an investigator on the marijuana possession incident. Alana Coulter, a Lewis and Clark College student was riding with Swearingen -- her statement also supports the statements made by the ISP corporal who has established a reputation for citing people for infractions as absurd as having one tailight brighter than the other.
Coulter would be an eyewitness as to whether or not Wimberley's poor judgment landed him in the river of if Swearingen bumped him into the river. Coulter stated that Swearingen did call for an ambulance. The ambulance driver has stated that he never received a call and ISP reports state N/A on the space for ambulance.
After the accident, the car was towed a mile to Miles Towing's yard. Curious things happened to the car while it was in Miles' possession. The car was reportedly washed inside and out the very next day and was moved to the Miles' lot across the street soon thereafter. Two witnesses who saw the car after it was towed to Miles commented that the damage that the car reflects to this day is much more sever than how they remember it immediately following the incident. The witnesses also noted that all tires had been removed.
Critical to the investigation of this matter would be the nature of the skid marks. If they were straight as reported by ISP, then Swearingen's claims that Wimberley had locked up his brakes and skidded into the river could be supported. If the tracks were fishtailed as we suspect they were, then the locked brake, straight skid theory would be an official lie. If the skid marks were fishtailed, Swearingen would be responsible for the young man's death after having bumped him as he was turning toward the Highway 12 bridge, causing Wimberley, who was going approximately 46 miles per hour, to lose control of his vehicle and crash into the river.
The field trip
All stories write themselves or they don't based upon facts and evidence, physical realities and human nature. This story writes itself and, except for a few specifics yet to be discovered, we can be certain that the following is an accurate representation of what transpired after Wimberley's car came to a rest facing upstream and parallel to the river. Four of us spent an entire day looking at the scene, analyzing evidence and comparing notes. At best, ISP has not come up with a scenario that is as consistent with the facts as the scenario we have proposed. At the worst, the ISP's story is a cover-up for the murder of a young man with predominantly Asian features.
One cannot rule out the possibility that Wimberley's death was a "hate crime," as what else could have enraged Swearingen to the point that he would ignore his training and violate established ISP chase protocols in his pursuit of a known individual who had not committed a crime against a person or property?
The car's electric windows were down on the driver's side after it had stopped on the rocks. The driver's side was adjacent to the river and the water level was just below the window after the car had dropped 15- 20 feet once leaving the road.
Swearingen reportedly stopped his vehicle and, with flashlight and gun drawn, yelled down to the quiet vehicle, "You are under arrest, are you hurt?"
Swearingen then claims to have heard falling rocks across the road and turned his and Coulter's attention in that direction. The terrain across the road is nearly straight up and down and not a likely escape route for a fugitive.
It was our observation that immediately after going over the edge, Wimberley was likely in a state of shock and unable to answer Swearingen. By the time Swearingen had returned his attention to Wimberley from the cliff across the street, he had regained his composure, grabbed his survival-oriented backpack, slid out the door into the river and drifted out of sight.
It should be noted that Swearingen never called for an ambulance and, after determining that Wimberley was not in the vehicle, the Idaho County Search and Rescue Posse was never notified that a missing person/fugitive was on the loose.
Scott Wimberley was notified Friday morning by friends in Kamiah who happened to be listening to a police scanner that his son was missing. He was in Kooskia that same day and on Saturday he arranged for a tracking dog to pick up his son's trail. "I know my son. He would have slid out the window and drifted 300 yards downstream to the sandy beach area with cottonwood cover," commented Scott Wimberley.
Sure enough, the tracker picked up the boy's scent at that point and tracked him through a clever and circumlocutous route close to a friend's house. The friend shall remain nameless at this point because if Wimberley was indeed murdered, his friend could become a target as well.
It must be noted that at that time of year, the river is very cold and high. Hypothermia begins to set in after five minutes. Not only would it be impossible for Wimberley to swim across the river that night, the current, very swift at that time, would not have taken him across even if he had tried.
Except for another young man who swears that he saw Wimberley traversing a hillside across the river several days after the incident, nobody saw him until his body was found two weeks later -- on the other side of the river, 1/2 mile downstream and wearing different clothes than he had last been seen wearing.
Several days after the death of his son, Scott Wimberley was shown the videotape recorded by the on-board video camera in Swearingen's patrol car. The tape showed Wimberley's car as it went over the embankment from a distance of about 300 feet. One of the passengers detained by police with his face in a puddle watching Swearingen pursue Wimberley, signed a statement that the trooper was one car length behind the 280-ZX and gaining.
One must conclude that either the film or the kid is a fraud.
Scott Wimberley's theory is most likely. "I think that to tape John's car going into the river they washed it car up at Miles Towing, took it out on another night and then staged the reenactment they showed to me. That would also explain why the car was moved and why two separate witnesses noticed that the car was more badly damaged after it had been moved from its original location at Miles Towing," he explained.
It was also noticed by the witnesses that all of the tires, including the rear ones which would have flat spots on them if Wimberley had indeed locked up his brakes for a 128-foot skid, had been removed.
Further evidence that Scott Wimberley's theory has some merit is in the assault charges that are being filed against him by Idaho County Prosecutor Jeff Payne. "It would seem that Payne is pressing the charges at this time to throw Scott in jail to keep him from investigating John's death," said the Wimberley's friend Mike Caine.
The day after the accident Scott Wimberley went to Miles Towing to see inspect the car. According to Scott Wimberley, after he had been invited to go through a box containing his son's things that had been irreverently thrown on the floor, Lee Biesecker came up behind him and made motions to kick him. Words were exchanged, Biesecker then shoved him out the double doors. Scott Wimberley , realizing he was getting nowhere headed for his jeep. Scott Wimberley saw Troy and Lee Biesecker heading toward him in an angry and antagonistic manner. carrying a sledgehammer "I took a rifle out of my Jeep, pointed it to the ground and told them that they didn't want to come any closer. Then I got in my Jeep and drove directly wuth an eye witness to report the incident to Idaho County Sheriff Bob Murray."
After Scott Wimberley left, the Miles filed assault charges against him which are just now being prosecuted. According to Scott Wimberley, he was not being confrontive or rude, his son had just disappeared and he was just trying to find out what happened to him. "I was the one who was assaulted and the Miles were obviously nervous about my poking around," he added.
Read the list of questions below. A person does not have to immediately suspect that the police are guilty of foul play to realize that there are some serious questions that need to be answered. As you read this story and as you entertain the questions that have not been answered, think to yourself: What if my son had impossibly turned up drowned two weeks after the fact on the other side of the river wearing different clothes than he had been wearing at the time of his disappearance?
John Wimberley, 19, of Kamiah, was killed as a result of his 1982 Datsun 280-ZX being forced into the Clearwater River in Kooskia the evening of June 24, 1999. The unanswered questions lead to a logical conclusion that Idaho State Police Corporal Scott Swearingen's willful violation of ISP chase protocols resulted in Wimberley's death.
1. After the accident, why wasn't an ambulance immediately dispatched to the scene?
2. Once it had been determined that Wimberley was not in the car, why wasn't the Idaho County Search and Rescue Posse alerted as they always are when a person is determined to be missing?
3. Why do police reports state that Wimberley, who had a choice of crossing the river to the left at Highway 12 or going straight down Leitch Creek Road, locked up his breaks in a straight, 128-foot skid, but cannot prove it because soon after the incident, a fresh layer of blacktop covered up the evidence?
4. Why did Idaho County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Mealer say that Swearingen was 28 seconds behind Wimberley while ISP report states Swearingen was 6 seconds behind him?
5. Why was the car towed to Miles Towing where the next day the rear tires were witnessed as having beem removed and the car being washed inside and out?
6. Why was the car moved to the Miles' lot across the street within days after being towed there?
7. Considering the curved nature of the Leitch Creek Road, how is it possible for Swearingen's ISP vehicle's on board video camera to have recorded Wimberley's car going over the embankment?
8. Why are there two witnesses who saw the car at Miles Towing before it was moved and claim that the car was more severely damaged after it had been moved across the street?
9. Was the car washed at Miles Towing, then used in a reenactment of the event that more closely resembles the story told by Swearingen?
10. If Wimberley was pulled over for not having his headlights on, then why did the on-board video camera show that his headlights were on?
11. Was Wimberley pulled over because his appearance was Aisian? Was this a hate crime?
Was Wimberley murdered?
1. At that time, the Clearwater River was very swift and cold. Why was Wimberley found drowned (two weeks later) under a bridge 1/2 mile downstream on the oppisite side of the 300-yard-wide river?
2. Witnesses in the car say that Wimberley was barefoot and wearing camo fatigues and a white cotton tank top. Why was he found wearing socks and a plaid shirt that nobody had ever seen him wear before?
3. Why is a man who owns a tracking dog willing to testify that, two days after the incident, his dog picked up Wimberley's scent 300 yards downstream on the same side of the river where it would be most likely for him to have landed all currents and water temperatures considered?
4. Why did the dog then track him to a specific place across Leitch Creek Rd. where the trail ends?
5. Why is there a witness who swears that he saw Wimberley traversing a hillside across the river several days after he was reported missing?
We spent an entire day investigating this matter at the scene and have spent several hours studying the evidence. There are clearly too many questions that have no answers for anybody to conclude that John Wimberley's own actions caused him to die. The people of the state of Idaho and the people of Idaho and Lewis counties should demand that a thorough investigation of this young man's death take place. Based upon the unanswered questions alone, there is more than a reasonble doubt that foul play is involved.
Call the local ISP office at: (208) 799-5144
Call the Idaho County Sheriff at: (208) 983-1100