Last week, an intoxicated driver veered off a Kuna road and plowed through a historic cemetery, causing significant damage. Community members quickly responded, offering their services to clean up debris and restore the site.
Kuna Pioneer Cemetery, a nearly 150-year-old burial ground off East Stagecoach Way, lost half of its entryway and an informational sign in the crash. The driver also hit a power pole, which had to be replaced by Idaho Power.
On the morning of Aug. 7, shortly after the crash was reported, Ada County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested the driver, James Lee Hengen, 30, of Nampa, on charges of driving under the influence and failing to report a vehicle accident.
Hengen failed sobriety tests at the scene, and he registered a 0.20 blood alcohol content level, more than twice the legal limit, during a breathalyzer test, according to sheriff’s spokesman Patrick Orr.
The Kuna Pioneer Cemetery, which sits on privately owned land, is one of Kuna’s oldest historic sites. The original gravesite predates the city itself, according to Aldis Garsvo, of the Western Heritage Foundation, who constructed the now destroyed informational sign at the cemetery.
The cemetery holds the remains of Ten Mile community members, who settled in the area when modern-day Kuna was just a stagecoach stop on the road from the Owyhee Mountains to Boise. Those buried at the site — six children and six adults — most likely died during a diphtheria epidemic in the late 1800s, Garsvo said.
The damaged entryway was constructed by an Eagle Scout as a troop project, according to Dave Lyon, director of the Kuna Historical Society.
“I couldn’t believe (the driver) took out so much stuff,” Lyon said. “It’ll take some work to get it put back in shape.”
‘A PART OF KUNA HISTORY’
Kuna Grange, a community organization, has been in charge of upkeep at the Pioneer Cemetery for at least two decades, according to Bert Gumm, master of Kuna Grange. The organization regularly does landscaping work at the cemetery and decorates it for Memorial Day.
Last week’s incident was emotional for people who accept some ownership of the cemetery, Gumm said.
“It’s tragic that it occurred, and we do want to see it restored because it is a part of Kuna history, and we can’t just let it go and not replace it,” Gumm said.
Kuna residents quickly responded to news of the crash, commenting on a Kuna Must Know Facebook post, offering lumber to replace the fence or free pizza for attendees of a clean-up operation.
James Seeger, 53, of Kuna made a post on the popular community social media page that received a lot of attention.
Seeger said he was annoyed when he saw the damage.
“I love history,” he said. “It’s sad to see stuff like that. (Kuna Pioneer Cemetery) is part of our community.”
Then, the community began to respond to Seeger’s post.
“I was really happy to see all the people who came forward and said, ‘I want to help,’” Seeger said. “It was just, ‘Hey, let’s help these guys out and see if we can get this fixed.’”
Chad Bittner, a local Domino’s Pizza franchise owner, offered to donate free pizzas to a clean-up party at the cemetery.
“If everybody is going help fix it, I might as well provide some lunch,” Bittner said.
While Kuna residents are eager to restore the cemetery, those efforts will have to wait. Any work on the privately owned land will have to be approved by the owner. According to the Ada County Recorder’s Office, the land is owned by Sharon Harmon of Fruitland.
According to Kuna Mayor Joe Stear, the land owner is discussing restoration possibilities with the Kuna Historical Society.
If the cemetery can be restored, Bittner said there will be free pizza for volunteers.