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Crime-and-courts
Suspect in Sioux City double slaying is ex-boyfriend of one of the victims

SIOUX CITY — Two Sioux City teenagers are dead after an overnight double homicide in the Morningside area.

This is the third homicide this year in Sioux City and the city’s first double homicide since 2013.

Officers from the Sioux City Police Department responded to the area of Jay Avenue and South Cecelia Street at 1:19 a.m. Sunday after receiving a report that two people were the victims of multiple stab wounds.

Felipe Negron Jr., 18, and an unnamed 17-year-old female were later identified as the victims and were stabbed in a variety of places, according to police officials.

Authorities declined to identify the female victim; however, several of her friends said Paiten Lynn Sullivan was the victim through social media, including Spencer Groves of Dakota City.

The suspect in the case is 18-year-old Tran Walker of Sioux City, whom police confirmed was previously involved in a romantic relationship with Sullivan during a press conference at police headquarters Sunday afternoon.

“What I’ll tell you right now, without giving away too much, is there is a prior relationship between the victim and the suspect; they are associates and known to one another,” said Sgt. Ryan Bertrand. “The victim was a prior girlfriend of the suspect.”

Bertrand said, at this time, they don't believe that Sullivan and Negron were involved romantically.

Groves called Sullivan, who would have turned 18 on Feb. 22, one of the best things to happen to him.

“Paiten was such an amazing young girl with so much ahead of her and it's horrifying to see what happened to her,” he said. “She was always there for people when they needed someone and I loved her so much and I hope she rests well. Also, I thank Felipe. (He) did his best to protect her. I hope they rest in peace.”

Both Negron and Sullivan were transported to Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City after the attack, where they were pronounced dead as a result of the injuries.

According to the department, Walker was "hanging out" and riding in a vehicle with the victims before the incident took place.

“The three people involved — the two victims and the suspect — were originally in a vehicle and had been riding around together,” Bertrand said. “We believe the assault was initiated/started in the vehicle and after the vehicle came to a stop it continued.”

Some civilians came to the victims' aid shortly after the assault, and Negron, who was still conscious at the time, was able to provide them with some information, Bertrand said.

Walker was found shortly after 2 a.m. at the Hy-Vee store on Gordon Drive after several bystanders reported there was an injured man at the store.

When authorities arrived, they realized Walker fit the description of the suspect from the stabbings and took him into custody. He was treated at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s for injuries on his hand consistent with a knife wound.

Walker was later booked at the Woodbury County Jail on two first-degree murder charges without bail. In Iowa, first-degree murder is a class A felony and punishable by life in prison.

As the case is still an open investigation, Bertrand could not provide the suspected motive behind the crime but indicated the charges filed against Walker gave a slight indication.

“If you look at the complainant affidavits, you’ll see that the charge is a murder first with elements of that being that malice of forethought, there being some level or element of premeditation and I’ll just leave it at that,” he said.

During his remarks, Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller noted this incident is tragic for all parties involved considering the ages of the victims and the suspect.

“We don’t often think and discuss the impact these things have on families,” he said. “Certainly, what is upsetting here is the ages of the parties involved and our hearts definitely go out to not only the parents of the victims but the parents of the suspect because truly this is going to change everybody’s lives.”


Govt-and-politics
New chairman takes the helm
Vowing to make positive changes from inside look, De Witt leads Woodbury County in 2018

SIOUX CITY | In his first career with an electric utility in Sioux City, Rocky De Witt liked to "see how things work."

De Witt, who grew up in rural Lawton and still lives in the area, started working in his late teens at the then-Iowa Public Service power plant in the Port Neal area. He later became a journeyman electrician for the utility, now known as MidAmerican Energy Co.

"Every job has a story or a set of stories. It is always interesting to see how things work...I always like to be on the inside to see how things work," De Witt said.

After some career changes over his life, from gas station worker to electrician to part-time bartender to motorcycle salesman, De Witt now has the task of making sure Woodbury County departments run smoothly and provide needed service to county residents.

De Witt, a Republican, was elected to the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors in 2016. After one year on the board,  in early January he was elevated to chairman of the five-member board, succeeding Matthew Ung.

As chairman, his tasks include presiding at the county's weekly board meetings on Tuesdays.

"I have always tried to look at things from the inside out. You kind of work backward from where you think the problem is, to the solution," he said.

De Witt said he still is often struck -- whether in a meeting with a department head or other elected official or complaining resident -- with the notion that he's doing important work that matters to county residents.

"All of a sudden, it dawns on me, this is a big deal. I am part of something that can make changes, and I want it to be positive...Overall, we are going in the right direction. I want to make sure we get the long-term solutions done correctly," De Witt said.

Just four days ago, the county supervisors found a solution to a difficult issue. After Siouxland Paramedics ended its 911 service on Dec. 31, county residents only had one paramedic available in the Emergency Services Department, and the department director wanted to add a few more to treat people in rural areas of the county.

The $146,000 plan approved Tuesday will increase from one to three the number of paramedics in the county's department.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Vicki and Rocky De Witt pet Martha, their rescue dog, Jan. 15, at their rural Lawton, Iowa, home. Rocky De Witt, who has held various jobs during his career, was elected to his first term on the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors in 2016. Earlier this month, the board selected him to serve as chairman this year.

De Witt said his work on the paramedics is instructive in showing how it takes many stakeholders to get a task accomplished. Five financial plans were aired over the month, and he said working through that process since late 2017 meant at least 200 phone calls with county officials, Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott, Sergeant Bluff Mayor Jon Winkel and others.

He described the option vetting: "Let's try this, have you thought about this? There is more time into this than anybody realizes. It shows the depth that we are going."

Listen to both sides, don't muddy water

De Witt said he aims to be very accessible to county residents. He said he gained knowledge of county departments and workers, both department leaders and front-line employees, since working security in the courthouse three years ago.

De Witt said in his month on the job he's sought in meetings to make sure issues are roundly discussed before votes are taken.

"We do like to listen to both sides. We are not here to pollute the water, to muddy the water, with one version," he said.

The other four county supervisors, all from Sioux City, are Keith Radig, Marty Pottebaum, Jeremy Taylor and Ung. They are each paid $33,151 annually, while De Witt, as chairman, makes $39,469.

"The thing that really frustrates me the most is (the perception) that this is just a two-hour-a-week job. It might be considered part-time, but it is a full-time responsibility," De Witt said.

Pottebaum said he's known De Witt for years, back to when his father owned a Sioux City gas station. Pottebaum, the lone Democrat on the board, was in the 4-1 majority voting for him as chairman.

"Rocky will do a good job. He is level-headed, he likes to think things through, and I think he will do a good job of leading meetings," Pottebaum said.

Ung voted for himself to continue as chairman, and told the Journal he believes De Witt was "talked into" taking on the post.

"I have not personally witnessed a thoughtful or measured approach. The last time I privately emailed him constructive criticism regarding his repeated but unintentional violations of the bylaws and best practices, he called me up to question my motives and went on (a profanity) tirade. The pressures of the chairmanship accentuate vindictiveness and defensiveness, if you are not prepared," Ung said.

Ung said it is risky to share those criticisms publicly.

"I’m under no illusions that sharing the truth here will serve me well personally, but I still wish (De Witt) the best and think the team overall will make progress," he said.

De Witt said he has three goals for 2018, including seeing that the county moves into a new mental health services region by July 1 and to keep "a vigilant eye" on making sure county departments function well.

His third goal is a novel new pitch for the county. De Witt would like to pass an ordinance so all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, can drive on county roads.

"The sheriff (Dave Drew) is in favor of it. The rural people are in favor of it. The county engineer (Mark Nahra), not so much," De Witt said.

'I don't know if I should be offended or flattered'

De Witt, 58, lives west of Lawton on an acreage with his wife, Vicki.

He stays busy, as besides his many hours as a county supervisor, he is one of eight part-time workers who work as security personnel in the Woodbury County Courthouse. He does that security work three days per week, and also is licensed to sell guns and teach concealed carry classes.

De Witt said he didn't dial into politics until middle age. The seed for a run for elective office was planted on his cruise ship honeymoon in the late 1990s.

He and Vicki enjoyed cruise meals with a semi-retired judge from Connecticut. Over supper, De Witt fleshed out some political thoughts.

The judge became impressed and eventually pitched to De Witt, "My wife and I think you should get into politics."

De Witt had a succinct response: "I don't know if I should be offended or flattered."

De Witt won the county District 5 seat, after 34-year Supervisor Larry Clausen didn't seek re-election. De Witt was one of seven Republicans who sought the seat, and he finished second in the June 2016 party primary. However, none of the GOP candidates for the District 5 seat met the 35 percent threshold required by state law for nominees to advance to November, and De Witt in June was picked as the party nominee.

De Witt then defeated Bruce Garbe, a Democrat, to win a four-year term that runs through 2020.


Local
RAGBRAI to start in Onawa and go onward to Denison

ONAWA, Iowa — Clint Weaver said his phone was blowing up with text messages within minutes of Onawa being named the starting point for RAGBRAI 2018 during Saturday’s announcement ceremony in Des Moines.

“We are very excited, it’s been 14 years since it’s been here,” said Weaver, Onawa’s director of economic development. “I think it’s going to be a good deal.”

The Monona County community of a little less than 3,000 hasn’t hosted the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa since 2004.

That's a long time for any community but especially for one that hosts its own annual daylong cycling event called ONABIKE, which locals have dubbed a "mini-RAGBRAI."

Weaver doesn’t foresee the community having much trouble recruiting volunteers since most of the people who were around during RAGBRAI’s last visit to Onawa are still in place.

“They’re all excited about doing it again,” he said.

About 25,000 cyclists are expected to descend on Onawa when RAGBRAI kicks off on July 22 to begin the 428-mile journey that also has overnight stops in Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney and Iowa City.

One thing Weaver wants visitors to take note of during their stop is how much Onawa has grown since the last RAGBRAI visit.

The town’s new drag racing strip is opening soon and so is a new Cubby’s truck stop off of Interstate 29.

There also is a celebratory atmosphere in Denison, the Crawford County seat community of 8,300 about 45 miles east of Onawa.

First-term mayor Jared Beymer, who took office Jan. 2, made it a priority of his to bring RAGBRAI back to the city and county after a nearly two-decade-long absence.

“It’s been 17 years since RAGBRAI has been here and it was always fun to have them come through town,” he said. “After our board of supervisors banned RAGBRAI, it’s a big feat for us to kind of remedy that and get on better terms and welcome all the riders to Denison.”

In 2007, the Crawford County Board of Supervisors essentially forbade the event from returning to the community.

The decision followed a fatality that occurred on RAGBRAI in 2004 as a rider fell while pedaling between Mapleton and Schleswig on Crawford County Road E-16. Crawford County's insurance carrier settled a 2006 lawsuit filed by the rider's family and paid out $350,000.

Beymer credited his chamber of commerce for taking the lead on bringing RAGBRAI back to Denison for the first time since 2001 and looks forward to being a good host.

“We hope to make up for the lost time,” he said. “Show them what they’ve been missing out in Crawford County and hope they have a good time.”


Walker