Tuesday, August 11, 2020
He Never Chewed a Bottle Top to Sand but He Endeared Himself to Ketchum Residents
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Ketchum police Chief Dave Kassner, who supervises a staff of 12, says his has been “the best job.”
   
Sunday, August 2, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

You can’t blame Dick Tracy or Wyatt Earp for Dave Kassner’s foray into the world of law enforcement.

It was the stories about his great-grandparents that inspired Ketchum’s chief of police—and other members of his family—to don the badge.

Kassner’s great-grandfather was a village blacksmith who served two terms as sheriff. And, when he stepped down because of term limits, his wife ran for sheriff in 1932 and became the first elected female sheriff.

 
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Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw noted that Kassner has bene a Ketchum institution for 34 years: “He has been a frontline witness to many of the changes in our town. Mayors and councils have come and gone, but Dave has been a calming constant for our community.”
 

“My great-grandfather was an incredibly strong man who could bite the top off the beer bottle and chew it to sand and pick up a bar table with his mouth,” said Kassner. “Were those stories true? Maybe not. But, as a little kid, I soaked them up.”

Kassner, who started on the beat in 1986, was feted by the city of Ketchum Thursday in a farewell lunch boasting the Ketchum Grill’s wood-fired pizza. While he officially retires on Aug. 31, his last day in the office will be on Monday, as he rides out of the rest of his career using vacation days to hike and fish with his wife Colleen and their two Airedales.

He came to Sun Valley from Two Rivers, Wis., to ski, earning play money working at the Creekside restaurant and on construction jobs. But he gravitated towards law enforcement, earning a supervisory certificate with the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training Academy.

Kassner learned the ropes under Capt. Jerry Englebert, a world powerlifting champion who participated in Basque competitions, carrying hundred-pound weights more than 1,700 feet. Englebert was just 5-foot-8 but so strong that his fellow officers wore T-shirts that said, “Don’t mess with me—I’ll tell Jerry.”

 
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Will Freuhling, chief deputy with the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, noted that being police chief is not an easy one, “but Dave has been a great asset to the sheriff’s office and the city of Ketchum.”
 

“He was a very nice, very quiet man but he didn’t take lip from anyone,” said Kassner. “One guy told him, ‘It’ll take more than you to handle me,’ and Jerry got him in a headlock that left him in a stupor when he let go.”

Kassner said Ketchum was a bit crazy when he started patrolling the streets in 1986.

“Ketchum was where everybody lived—Hailey was just a small bedroom community. There were three to four people in an apartment in West Ketchum so they were always having parties and we had to deal with a lot of alcohol stuff.”

It’s impossible for Kassner to forget the night in 1990 that a 35-year-old Boise man named Mitchel John Odiaga went on a shooting rampage killing two men and injuring a third, allegedly under the influence of 36 Sudafeds, a key ingredient in making meth.

 
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Beth Grinstead was among those applauding the chief for his service.
 

“That was a crazy evening, very surreal,” Kassner recounted. “The dispatcher said someone had shot a man and my response: ‘O shit.’ When I got to the scene, Shenandoah Wright was lying in the street at Fourth Street and East Avenue, a blanket on top of him. Jerry came out with a shot gun and told me he’d gone to Warm Springs.”

After killing Wright, Odiaga shot and killed a 23-year-old Burley man on Fifth Street between Washington and First avenues. And he had fired at Jerry Johnson in Warm Springs, the bullet shattering the window of Johnson’s vehicle.

“I remember one woman who was home alone was just terrified. There was just a feeling of fear all over town,” Kassner said.

Odiaga busted through a roadblock that officers set up on Warm Springs Road and raced up Highway 75 towards Galena when he either drove into a ditch or rolled his car. He continued to run up the road in pitch black darkness on foot where he accidentally bumped into an officer from Custer County. The officer was able to wrestle Odiaga’s .30-06 hunting rifle away from him.

 
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Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw presented Police Chief Dave Kassner with the keys to the city so he doesn’t have to break in.
 

Another of Kassner’s more memorable case involved a man who was slashed with a knife in what is now the city parking lot across from the Limelight Hotel. When Kassner got there, the man was holding his neck with his hands as blood squirted between his fingers from his carotid arteries.

“It had started with a pool game but ended with him being cut in both carotids and abdomen,” Kassner said. “We found the suspect, who had been cut in the leg, where the Bald Mountain Lodge is.”

Kassner says his department isn’t called to as many fights as in the past. But today’s fights tend to be bigger—perhaps, as many as eight people at a time.

“But the beauty of this job is being part of a really neat community. It feels good to be part of a caring group of really, good, good people. We’ve had a few things happen here but this community has always rallied behind its police officers,” he said.

Kassner confesses to being a softie when it comes to writing traffic tickets.

“Indeed, you’re not doing your job if you don’t write a ticket. But we have a lot of discretion and when someone told me they were late to church or that they lost track of their speed because they were talking to their daughter about where to sell Girl Scout cookies, I could be a pushover. When I do write a ticket, I try to remind them that it’s not personal. I’m writing the ticket for the driver of the car, not the person.”

While events such as the Allen Conference and Sun Valley Writers Conference did not bring people to Sun Valley this summer, Kassner says second home owners and vacationers have come, nevertheless.

Many came seeking the elbow room Sun Valley offers during the COVID pandemic; some have even bought property.

“It’s stretched us thin,” he said. “In June it was as if we were already at the end of July as far as the number of people here. In a typical year the population really starts growing the first of August and every week it grows exponentially. During late July we were at Labor Day numbers. And we still have another month of summer to go.”

Those who are here have brought bags of wild animal poop to the police department to be identified.  They’ve called wondering when the police would pick up the turds sheep heading to the mountains had left behind. One woman called to say she had bees in her house.

“We’re a catch all,” Kassner said.

Kassner has always had a soft spot in his heart for children and bicyclists—he himself started cycling in his early teens.He created Ketchum’s Bike Safety Rodeo held every summer. And he teaches a 10-hour bicycle safety class to Montessori students.

“I love giving the kids an opportunity to get to know police, to have positive interactions so if they need help or are in trouble they’re not afraid of us,” he said.

Mary Austin Crofts said that when her Blaine County Recreation District began opening up pieces of the Wood River bike trail through Ketchum, Kassner was her “go-to guy” to deal with the motorcyclists and moped drivers who immediately started zooming up and down the asphalt path.

“And when I became the director of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, he was there doing crowd control. He’s so responsive—I don’t think we should let him go,” she said.

Ketchum City Council member Michael David agreed: “He is an icon in the community. He’s done so much over the years. He is the embodiment of community policing—the whole country should look to him to see how it’s done. He’s always there as a resource, not to just to crack down on trouble but to serve as an ally.”

Kassner plans to raft the Grand Canyon—a trip that’s been on his bucket list—in September.

Afterwards, he and his wife plan to plan to ski and travel—to a favorite fishing town in northeastern Brazil and to Patagonia. Both have cycled from Seattle to Portland on their tandem bike, covering 200 miles in one day. They’ve also ridden 500 miles on the Natchez Trace from Nashville to Natchez, Miss. And they’ve done unsupported ride in Europe, taking nothing but a credit card and change of clothes.

“It’s just so fun to get in the zone and soak up the scenery,” Kassner said.

Kassner also hopes to volunteer with the Hunger Coalition.

“I’m going to be the guy driving food around. I just want to be a worker bee,” he said. “I really believe in the mission of the Hunger Coalition. I think many of us have lost sight of the fact that some people here are compromised. Of course, NAMI’s important, too.”

 

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