From the November 1999 Idaho Observer:
Rumors abound over Wimberley case
In the August edition of The Idaho Observer, we frontpaged the story of John Wimberley, 19, who was found drowned two weeks after his car went into the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River June 24, 1999. Our story, after talking extensively to Wimberley's father, after reviewing police reports and documents available at the time and after reading witness statements, indicated that Wimberley was pushed into the river by ISP Corporal Scott Swearingen's patrol car and that a series of events indicate an official coverup of that incident.
We were recently informed that there are people who believe that The Idaho Observer investigation of the matter was not thorough enough and that our assessments were incorrect. Furthermore, rather than write letters to the editor or offer evidence or documentation that would prove our story to be inaccurate, the character and the motives of Scott Wimberley have been attacked. I have also been told that everybody in town knew that young Wimberley was selling weed. If Scott Wimberley is behaving strangely now, that does not change what happened to his son June 24, 1999. If young Wimberley was selling weed, he should have been dealt with according to statute and it cannot be used to justify excessive use of force, if indeed excessive force is what led to his death.
Here is what we know about the incident:
Witnesses claim that the skid marks from Wimberley's car were actually one curved skid mark that was 30 feet long. If Wimberley was going 46 mph, which is likely, he could have made that corner without skidding. The skid as described indicates that he was attempting to turn and was pushed. The official report shows two straight skid marks that were 128 feet long. We will never know because the scene was covered with a layer of blacktop and, to my knowledge, no photos were taken. Witnesses state that the intersection was fine, did not need to be resurfaced and that other patches of roadway are in more need of resurfacing than the intersection in question.
The official reports indicate that no ambulance was called and that the Idaho County Search and Rescue Posse was not contacted to look for Wimberley who, at this point, had apparently disappeared into the river and carried with him fugitive status. I have been told that the Posse is always called to help search for lost campers and fugitives.
Witnesses swear there was only slight damage to Wimberley's car after it had been pulled out of the river and stored at Miles Towing and that the car showed considerably more damage a few days after the incident. Witnesses also report that the day after the accident the car was being washed and the rear tires had been removed.
A witness will swear that the following evening, a Friday, there were police at the scene, apparently investigating. Although I have not seen the ISP videotape of the incident, I have been told that the footage is different than what was described in police reports and the police reports are different than witness statements. My experience tells me that such inconsistencies mean that somebody is lying.
Witnesses described the clothing Wimberley was wearing just prior to the incident. The clothing he had on when he was found a mile downstream on the other side of the river two weeks later is different than what he was reportedly wearing at the time of his disappearance.
ISP Corporal Scott Swearingen is reportedly a very large man who has earned a reputation in the area as being overzealous. Only one person to whom we have talked has expressed a liking for the man. About two years ago, nearly 200 people in the sparsely populated, rugged and remote area held a meeting with Sheriff Meinen and collectively complained about Swearingen's activities as a law enforcement officer.
FBI Special Agent Michael Morrell recently spent two hours collecting forensic evidence at the scene. We will not go into detail about what was found but we will say that perhaps we were wrong about a few things and that the truth might even be more sinister than we originally thought. The investigation is on-going and witnesses are being interviewed.
A few people, and you know who you are, have said the story is wrong, that my credibility as a journalist is in question and the credibility of The Idaho Observer is also in question. Rather than point fingers and engage in ad hominem attacks against the Wimberleys and myself, please present the facts or sign a statement to the facts as you know them. There is a very key witness in this matter. You know who you are. I am willing to travel to Kooskia to meet with you if you can assure me that proof exists that the story was inaccurate.
We do not always like the truth, but the truth is independent of the words and actions of people.
All we want is the truth. If there is evidence offered that will change the story as we have illustrated it, we will print a full retraction. Until then, we stand behind the story as printed. ~(DWH)
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