Bear Lake’s Utah-Idaho border creates complications for emergency services

GARDEN CITY – Rich County is in a unique situation. Located in the northeast corner of the state, it borders three different Utah counties and two different states. It is also shares Bear Lake, a popular summer vacation destination, with Idaho.

Complications from one border in particular have caused concern to some residents and visitors. According to Sheriff Dale Stacey, because of existing laws, nothing under direct control of Rich County can cross into Idaho. Under Idaho law, there is no legal protection for any outside agency that enters Idaho. That has forced all Rich County law enforcement and ambulances to remain on its side of the line even during emergency situations.

“There’s no coverage,” Stacey said. “We’re liable for everything up there. There’s no plan, there’s no law in Idaho to protect another agency that comes into Idaho.”

The rule stemmed from a lawsuit after an accident more than 15 years ago. According to a 2008 KSL report, Rich County officers pursued a drunk driver across Idaho state lines. Idaho officers joined in on the pursuit of the drunk driver, who soon hit another vehicle and paralyzed the man in it. The man later sued the Rich County Sheriff’s Office. According to Idaho law, the Idaho officers had legal protection, but the Utah officers had none.

Stacey said that since the incident Idaho has requested assistance multiple times. He said he would like to help, but until the law is changed nothing can be done. Despite attempts from Rich County, nothing has been done. It is up to Idaho Legislature to make the change.

“We had a signed memorandum and the whole gamut,” he said. “And they just threw it all out, the judge in that case threw it out.”

Rich County resident Bobbie Coray saw first-hand the complications that can come from the border issues after a lady she was eating dinner with at a Bear Lake restaurant suddenly fainted. Thinking she had a stroke, an ambulance was called.

“They came to the restaurant,” Coray said. “They did some things for her, put her in the ambulance, called the Montpellier ambulance, then they drove her to the border.”

Coray said the woman had to get out of the ambulance in the rain and walk across the border to the next ambulance, which took her to the hospital in Montpellier.

“Here you are in Bear Lake with 30,000 visitors every weekend, or more,” Coray said. “We’ve got three ambulances, they can’t go to Montpellier. They can go to Logan, which is fine, it’s got very good medical care. If there were some sort of mass accident, no one can come help us. It’s just insane.”

Because of the laws, Stacey said ambulances will normally go through Logan Canyon to a hospital in Cache County.

“In fairness, and I’m not in any way dumping on Montpellier hospital, but Logan hospital is a little better equipped to handle some of the things that we have because they are a little bit bigger hospital,” Stacey said.

The same border problem doesn’t exist with neighboring Wyoming or any of the neighboring Utah counties. Rich County officers can cross into Wyoming if assistance is needed. The rule isn’t reversed for Idaho, either. If Rich County ever needs assistance, officers and services from Bear Lake County in Idaho are able to help.

“The commissioner has given the blessing to cross in any entity as requested,” Bear Lake EMS Coordinator Alan Eborn said. “All they’ve got to do is ask for our assistance.”

Stacey said he wants to be able to help and hopes for a change.

“I’ve worked for the Sherriff’s Office for 23 years, I’ve gone on an ambulance for 29 years,” he said. “We’ve worked back and forth, before this lawsuit it was no problem. We didn’t mind going and helping, we did all the time.”

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