Deadly Father’s Day crash takes toll on responding Sheriff’s deputies
POCATELLO — In the law enforcement profession, there is no such notion of a routine call or traffic stop.
And while extensive training or years of experience bestow many officers of the law with the emotional fortitude necessary to deal with horrific situations, the Father’s Day head-on collision that claimed the lives of three Idahoans was one call that Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said he, the first responding deputies and the community, won’t soon forget.
“The difference between this accident and others is that the damage was so horrific and there weren’t any skid marks,” Nielsen said. “All of us have seen death before, but when we have kids that are about the same age it really hits home a bit more than anything else does.”
The crash occurred on U.S. 30 near McCammon on Sunday and claimed the lives of Pocatello siblings Eric, 15, and Lauren, 13, Neibaur, as well as Nampa resident Jay Lanningham, 70.
To show their support for the Neibaur family, Nielsen and several of his deputies on Wednesday attended the candlelight vigil hosted at the Portneuf Wellness Complex in memory of Lauren and Eric.
Those in attendance included deputies Clayton Dixon and Charles Bannister, the first responders to arrive on the scene of Sunday’s wreck, as well as Torey Danner of Bannock County Search and Rescue.
“Anytime kids are involved there’s a seriousness there,” Dixon said. “It touches really close to home, but at the same time we are there to do a job and we have to hold back our emotions for the time being.”
While Dixon and Bannister began securing four lanes of traffic going different directions, Nielsen said the fact that the family who witnessed the crash were struggling to extricate their loved ones from the car created a situation where the stress and anxiety levels were remarkably high.
A member of the all-volunteer county search and rescue unit suffered a massive heart attack at the accident scene, but Neilsen said he was released from the hospital on Wednesday.
After clearing the wreckage, Nielsen said he directed the first-responding deputy to end the remainder of his shift, adding that in circumstances like this he orders the deputies and their spouses to receive counseling for the traumatic event.
“That doesn’t happen all the time,” Nielsen said. “But think about it, when you have some traumatic experience and you have to respond to another call it would be very difficult. And this scene was one of those calls.”
Dixon said that because the entire immediate family was at the crash site, it was extremely difficult for some deputies to distance themselves from the emotional nature of the situation.
But that’s also why he and the other deputies felt it so important to show their support to the Neibaur family.
“The sheriff has made it very clear to all of his employees that our main priority is to the public,” Dixon said. “If that means coming here on my time off to show support then I want to do that. And even if they told me not to come in uniform I would have come anyways out of uniform.”
He continued, “Because this is about letting this family know that we are here for them, during the incident and after. It’s about this family, absolutely, but it’s also about letting the community know that we are there for everyone. We aren’t here to pick and choose, when you need us we are there.”
The deputies decided to attend the vigil after approaching Capt. Dan Argyle and relaying their desires to honor the crash victims and to show support for their fellow officers.
“We had such a big involvement with this one because of the family and it was an unfortunate one,” Argyle said. “We feel like we almost have some ownership in it because there were so many family members there. So we thought that as an office we wanted to be there to support them, and this affects our officers, too.”
After dirt bike riders sent a final hurrah by revving their engines, the Neibaur family, wearing T-shirts in the colors of Century High School and adorned with the Neibaur name and Eric’s football number, huddled on the beach at the complex overlooking the water as the sun set.
That’s when hundreds of family members, friends and local residents lit candles to honor and remember teens Eric and Lauren.
“It’s amazing how many people care about this family and these kids,” Argyle said.
Bannister said he personally knows the Neibaur family, which made this particular call extremely difficult to process.
As the deputies and the Sheriff stood atop the hill overlooking the vigil reception, Eric and Lauren’s father, Eric Neibaur shared a few kind words for their efforts before an embrace of respect and support.
“Thank you for all you do,” Neibaur said. “I don’t know how you guys can do your jobs.”
The accident was horrific and is something he said would stick with him forever. But Bannister said he is trying to find some collateral beauty in the situation, with the beauty being the response from others at the scene, some being complete strangers to the family, who had a total and complete loss of concern for themselves.
“At that time, these people were willing to do anything and everything they could to help those people,” Bannister said. “Being willing to see situations like that where people come together regardless of who we are, regardless of politics, religion, and regardless of all the stupid garbage that gets in life sometimes, in situations like this, where all that stuff disappears.”