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One dead in early morning Rapid City garage fire

A body was found inside a detached garage in Rapid City early Monday morning after firefighters extinguished the blaze burning in the building.

The fatal fire comes three days after a person was left with life-threatening injuries from a Rapid City house fire. 

The person who died Monday has not yet been identified, and the cause of both fires remain under investigation, said Jim Bussell, spokesman with the Rapid City Fire Department. He said he's unsure whether the garage was used as a storage or living space, or had some other function. 

The person who was badly hurt in the Nov. 23 fire was transferred to a burn unit in Colorado, Brendyn Medina, spokesman with the city's police department, said Monday. The current medical status is unknown, and information about their identity and injuries could not be shared, Medina said. 

The fatal fire was reported just after 1:30 a.m. on Monday at 118 Signal Drive and emergency personnel arrived on the scene shortly after the call, according to a news release.

Firefighters were told that the garage was occupied, but it was not immediately known if people were inside at the time of the fire.

As firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, police officers located a person with non-life threatening injuries who was transported to the hospital.

After the fire was put out, firefighters found the body of a person inside the garage who was was pronounced dead at the scene. 

These two fires were part of the 198 calls received by the Rapid City Fire Department between 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving day to 7 a.m. Monday, Bussell said. That volume, about 50 calls per day, is the average amount of calls the department receives each day, he said. 

What was "noteworthy," Bussell said, wasn't the amount of calls on Thanksgiving day, but their severity, which included two vehicle accidents, three cardiac arrests, several serious medical calls, two structure fires and a wildland fire. 

"What an intense, stressful day it was for the crew," he said. 


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Ranger jobs created to patrol Black Hills motorized trails

The growing popularity of recreational all-terrain vehicle use in the Black Hills has prompted forest officials to try something new: trail rangers.

Five trail-ranger jobs are being created in the Black Hills National Forest. Deputy Forest Supervisor Jerry Krueger said applications will be accepted soon, and the rangers are expected to be on patrol in 2019.

“I think it’s a function of increased use, and a realization that we need to do a better job of engagement with the public, both in terms of public education and compliance,” Krueger said.

Motorized recreation in the forest was only loosely regulated until 2010, when forest officials adopted a travel-management plan. The plan restricts motorized travel to approved trails and requires users of certain motorized trails to buy permits. Today, 688 miles of motorized trails are covered by the permit requirement.

Permit sales from the past five years reflect the growing popularity of the motorized trail system among users of vehicles such as ATVs, UTVs and motorcycles. Permit sales have grown from 11,170 permits in 2013 to 21,508 last year. Seven-day permits are $20, and annual permits are $25.

The increased usage has been accompanied by complaints about motorized users who fail to buy permits, or cause damage to sensitive areas of the forest, or drive on trails designated only for hiking, biking or horseback riding.

The trail rangers will be tasked with responding to complaints and proactively working with the public to encourage appropriate use of the motorized trail system. They will use ATVs to patrol motorized trails.

Krueger said two of the rangers will be stationed in Spearfish, two in Rapid City, and one in Custer. Wyoming has a similar program managed by that state, which will cover the Wyoming portion of the Black Hills.

The rangers will work 18 of the 26 pay periods in a year, with a break during the coldest winter months. Pay will be at the GS-5 and GS-6 grades, which is toward the lower end of the 15-grade general schedule for federal civil-service employees.

“These are essentially early career types of employees,” Krueger said.

The forest’s commitment to the rangers will be only year-to-year for now, Krueger said, and their pay will be funded by revenue from motorized-trail permit fees.

The rangers will be classified as forest-protection officers rather than law-enforcement officers, Krueger said. They will not carry weapons but will be empowered to issue citations.

The hiring of the rangers is part of a broader effort to update the forest’s overall strategy for non-motorized trails. In the coming months, Krueger said, he expects that effort to include an assessment of the existing trail system, examination of potential new trails and connector routes, discussions of user compliance with rules and permitting, and other aspects of motorized travel.


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Two arrested with heroin, meth and stolen guns in Kohl's parking lot

Two Colorado men were arrested Wednesday night with heroin, methamphetamine and stolen handguns in the parking lot of the Kohl's department store, according to the Rapid City Police Department.

Billy Torrez, 23, and Joshua Cruz, 29, both of Colorado Springs, have been charged with of distribution of controlled substance, possession of controlled substance, possession of firearm with prior felony drug conviction, receiving stolen property, commission of felony with firearm, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cruz was also charged for an outstanding warrant in Colorado, while Torrez was also charged with eluding law enforcement and driving under suspension. 

Police were dispatched to 737 Disk Drive around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday after a report of individuals smoking marijuana in a vehicle. When police arrived, the vehicle that was driven by Torrez began to pull away at a high rate of speed, according to police.

Torrez attempted to drive the vehicle out of the parking lot, but another officer was waiting with spike strips at the exit. Torrez then drove over a curb and through a grassy area before crashing into a fence, according to police.

A search of the vehicle turned up "heroin, a large amount of methamphetamine, a glass pipe, a large amount of cash, and a digital scale," according to a release by the police department. Three handguns were also found in the vehicle and at least two were determined by police to be stolen. 


Chris Huber RCJ / Chris Huber, Journal staff 

Rapid City police and firefighters responded to the garage fire that was reported around 1:30 a.m. Monday.


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SD Supreme Court upholds Indian Child Welfare Act in parental-rights decision

In issuing an opinion on parental rights last week, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act, a month after a federal judge in Texas ruled the adoption law unconstitutional. 

"We are aware of the recent decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas holding parts of ICWA, including its placement preferences, unconstitutional," wrote South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson in the Nov. 20 opinion, an unanimous decision from the five-justice court in terminating parental rights of a Native American woman and a man who is affiliated but not enrolled with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

"[W]e are not bound by the decision of the District Court in Texas and must presume that ICWA is constitutional," Gilbertson wrote, noting the Texas judge's decision to toss out ICWA, the 1978 law. The judge called ICWA a "race-based statute." 

Gilbertson said the Texas's judge's decision may be appealed to a federal appeals court.

The Nov. 20 South Dakota decision affirmed a trial court in Sioux Falls' decision to terminate the parental rights of a Native American mother who was homeless and suffers drug addiction, and a father — known only as "S.T.A," a respondent in the opinion — who has been in and out of prison.

The Department of Social Services had taken custody of the couple's child in November of 2016, following admission by the mother that she'd smoked meth the day before giving birth to an infant in Sioux Falls.

The state's high court ruled that while ICWA generally requires Native American children to be placed with a member of the child's extended family or in a licensed tribal foster home, exceptions can be made.

In this instance, Gilbertson wrote in his opinion that no "suitable custodian" could be found for the child and neither the family member nor Cheyenne River stepped forward to bring the child into protective custody.