Bludgeoned driver case could turn on crime scene evidence

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Updated Oct 15, 2018
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“Rude awakening” doesn’t begin to describe the wake-up call Amos Phillips received while parked at T P Gas & Truck Stop, on I-15 just north of Pocatello, Idaho.

In the wee hours of Sept. 3, Labor Day, Phillips was taking his 34-hour restart after delivering for JWE Inc., a five-truck fleet based in Camdenton, Missouri, for which Phillips is a company driver.

The night before, he’d walked next door to the Fort Hall Casino, one of three in the area operated by the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. Like the truck stop, it’s part of the Fort Hall Reservation in southeastern Idaho.

Amos Phillips sustained broken facial bones and a brain injury while parked at a small truck stop on an Idaho reservation.Amos Phillips sustained broken facial bones and a brain injury while parked at a small truck stop on an Idaho reservation.

Phillips recalled that the doors of his 2000 Freightliner Century Class were locked as he slept, but an intruder “grabbed hold of the handle and just ripped it open.” After entering through the passenger door, the intruder demanded money.

“I said I did not have any,” Phillips said. “He said either give me money or I’ll mess you up real bad.” As the two began to scuffle in the sleeper, the assailant, with rocks in both hands, pounded Phillips’ head.

“At one point I had him in a headlock around his neck,” using his legs, Phillips said. “I took my fingers and tried to get to his eyes, but I don’t know if I did or not. It was dark. Then I squeezed his balls. Then I turned him loose with my legs, took both feet and shoved him to the front of the truck and he fell out the door.”

The intruder ran away. He took nothing, but left what could be a critical piece of evidence: his cap.

Phillips was hospitalized for a few days. Both cheeks and his nose were broken, and he had stitches. Most seriously, he had hematoma – a blood clot – on his brain.

His son Erik Phillips brought him home to Camdenton. “A few days later, I started having convulsions, or seizures, because of the head trauma,” Amos Phillips said. He spent four days in a hospital in Osage Beach, Missouri. He’s not sure when he’ll be cleared to resume driving.

Fort Hall Police Detective Brandon Tuia said Tuesday he expects the assailant’s cap to be sent to the state’s forensics lab this week for testing for hair and sweat. Unlike simpler forensics analysis, such as fingerprints, with DNA testing “it might take months to get the results,” he said.

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Unless the suspect has a prior arrest that led to his DNA being entered in a criminal database, there will be no match to help in Phillips’ case. He said he has no estimate of age or other identifying features of the assailant other than he appeared to be Native American.

U.S. Attorney Jack Haycock of Idaho will determine whether the case goes to federal authorities or the tribal court. When a suspect is Native American, a case can go to both jurisdictions without it being considered double jeopardy, Tuia said.

He says it likely will become a federal case, based on its severity and the assumption that the suspect is Native American, whether proven by DNA or based on Phillips’ word until proven otherwise.

Phillips and John Williams, owner of JWE, said they’re frustrated at the slow progress of the investigation.

“They seemed to be very aggressive at first,” Williams recalled. “Then it seemed like they did back off a bit. I was calling every day.”

Williams said he keeps forward-facing cameras in his trucks that run even when the trucks are parked, but Phillips’ attacker approached from the truck’s rear and exited the same way. The intruder’s approach and exit were caught on a truck stop security camera, but the images aren’t clear enough to help, said Stephanie Afraidofbear, interim manager of the truck stop.

The truck stop’s overnight security guard, who mostly monitors activity inside the convenience store, did not witness the incident, she says. The truck stop, run by the tribe as a Phillips 66 franchise, has about 10 truck parking places, she said.

Williams said the driver who was sent to retrieve the truck found blood-stained rocks inside and a mattress so bloodied it had to be thrown away.

Phillips said he’s concerned about paying for his medical bills because has no health insurance. He is the sole provider for his household, which also includes his wife and her two children, who are in high school.

At Phillips’ request, Williams said he’s tried to hire an attorney, but the two he’s called have referred him elsewhere.