TIME tragedy

Police: Poison Likely Killed Utah Family of 5

Utah Five Bodies Found
The home where five Utah family members found dead in their home in Springville, Utah, on Sept. 28, 2014 Rick Bowmer—AP

Investigators found empty methadone bottles, 10 empty boxes of nighttime cold medicine and two boxes of allergy medicine in their garbage, along with a red liquid substance in Pepsi cups

(SALT LAKE CITY) — A Utah couple and their three children found dead in their home last month were likely poisoned, their bodies found together in a locked room with cups next to each of them, and empty bottles of methadone and nighttime cold medicine in a trash can.

Police in Springville aren’t saying who killed the family or whether one of the parents might have been involved. Toxicology results have not determined an exact cause of death, but search warrants obtained Wednesday say the family was likely poisoned.

Benjamin and Kristi Strack were in bed, with children ages 11 through 14 lying around them, tucked in bedding up to their necks, according to the search warrants. Kristi Strack had a red liquid coming out of her mouth.

Some of the bodies looked to have been positioned after they died Sept. 27. They were found by the couple’s older son and Kristi Strack’s mother, who said she couldn’t believe “she” would do this to the kids but wouldn’t elaborate, police wrote.

Investigators found empty methadone bottles, 10 empty boxes of nighttime cold medicine and two boxes of allergy medicine in their garbage, along with a red liquid substance in Pepsi cups. They also found a pitcher of red juice, a purple bucket with yellow liquid, a bag of marijuana and other medications, including sleeping pills.

Springville police Lt. Dave Caron said Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the search warrant or speculate about the cause of death until results of a toxicology test come back. That’s expected in late November, he said.

“Until I get those, I really don’t have anything,” he said. “I could come up with all sorts of theories, but it’s not helpful.”

The search warrant says it wasn’t normal for the children to be in their parents’ room because they have their own rooms.

Kristi Strack was last seen alive at 6 a.m. by the older son’s girlfriend, who also lives in the home. The girlfriend went back to sleep after talking with Kristi Strack, and the house was quiet when the older son and his girlfriend left the house that afternoon.

When they returned at 7 p.m. and saw the house was still quiet even though all the cars were in the driveway, they knocked on the master bedroom door. When no one answered, the couple called Kristi Strack’s mother and her friend, who helped them force it open.

Authorities have previously said the five did not die violently.

The five were identified as Benjamin Strack, 37, his wife, Kristi, 36, and three of their children: Benson, 14, Emery, 12, and Zion, 11.

Little is known about the family. A family spokesman has declined to reveal much and, at a vigil, family members declined comment.

Benjamin Strack’s former boss said he worked off-and-on for six to seven years at AK Masonry, a bricklaying company, and had borrowed money in the past. Court records show Benjamin and Kristi Strack pleaded guilty to misdemeanor forgery charges in 2008 and disorderly conduct the following year.

Springville is a city of about 30,000 near Provo, about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.

MONEY 529 plans

Why the Best College Savings Plans Are Getting Better

stack of money under 5-2-9 number blocks
Jan Cobb Photography Ltd—Getty Images

Low-cost 529 college savings plans continue to rise to the top in Morningstar's latest ratings.

Competition is creating ever-better investment options for parents who want to save for their kids’ college costs through tax-preferred 529 college savings plans, according to Morningstar’s annual ratings of the 64 largest college savings plans.

In a report released today, the firm gave gold stars to 529 plans featuring funds managed by T. Rowe Price and Vanguard. The Nevada 529 plan, for example, which offers Vanguard’s low-cost index funds, has long been one of Morningstar’s top-rated college savings options. The plan became even more attractive this year when it cut the fees it charges investors from 0.21% of assets to 0.19%, says Morningstar senior analyst Kathryn Spica.

“In general, the industry is improving” its offerings to investors, Spica adds.

You can invest in any state’s 529. In many states, however, you qualify for special tax breaks by investing in your home-state 529 plan. If you don’t, you should shop nationally, paying attention to fees and investment choices.

Morningstar raised Virginia’s inVEST plan, which offers investment options from Vanguard, American Funds and Aberdeen, from bronze to silver ratings, in part because Virginia cut its fees from 0.20% to 0.15% early this year.

Virginia’s CollegeAmerica plan continued as Morningstar’s top-rated option for those who pay a commission to buy a 529 plan through an adviser. American Funds, which manages the plan, announced in June it would waive some fees, such as set-up charges.

But there are exceptions. Morningstar downgraded two plans—South Dakota’s CollegeAccess 529 and Arizona’s Ivy Funds InvestEd 529 Plan—to “negative” because of South Dakota’s high fees and problems with Arizona’s fund managers.

Rhode Island’s two college savings plans moved off the negative list this year after the state started offering a new investment option based on Morningstar’s recommended portfolio of low-cost index funds. Given the potential conflict of interest, Morningstar did not rate the plans in 2014.

Joseph Hurley, founder of Savingforcollege.com, which also rates 529 plans, says he hasn’t analyzed the Morningstar-modeled funds because they are new and don’t have enough of a track record. But, he adds, the Rhode Island direct-sold 529 plan offers several low-cost index fund options.

Here are Morningstar’s top-rated 529 plans for 2014:

State Fund company Investment method Expenses (% of assets) for moderate age-based portfolio (ages 7 to 12) Five-year annualized return for moderate age-based portfolio (ages 7 to 12)
Alaska T. Rowe Price Active 0.88% 11.25%
Maryland T. Rowe Price Active 0.88% 11.42%
Nevada Vanguard Passive 0.19% 8.65%
Utah Vanguard Passive 0.22% 8.01%

Related:

 

 

 

TIME Crime

Utah Mother Allegedly Stabbed Her 2 Kids

The children, ages 12 and 8, are now in stable condition

A mother in Utah was arrested Saturday morning after she allegedly stabbed her two young children.

Police received a call at 6:15 a.m. on Saturday from a home in Utah’s West Valley City and booked the mother on charges of three counts of domestic violence and aggravated assault, Fox 13 Now reports.

The woman’s daughter, 12, and son, 8, were transported to a local hospital in serious condition but were stable as of 9:30 a.m. local time.

The children’s father stopped the attack from continuing after his teenage daughter saw the stabbings occur, police said. Police didn’t know of any significant history of domestic abuse at the home.

The mother is being interviewed about the incident.

[Fox 13 Now]

 

TIME Health Care

What Missouri’s New Abortion Law Means for Women

Missouri Abortion
Elizabeth War looks over a gathering of her fellow abortion opponents in the Missouri Capitol rotunda in Jefferson City, Mo. on Sept. 10, 2014. Jeff Roberson—AP

A 72-hour waiting period could have big consequences

A new Missouri law imposing a 72-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions could decrease the abortion rate in the state, increase the abortion rate elsewhere and drive up expenses for women terminating pregnancies.

The Missouri legislature voted late on Sep. 10 to override Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of the law, which requires women seeking abortions to have an in-person appointment at Missouri’s only abortion clinic, wait three days and return for the procedure itself. Abortion rights advocates say the 72-hour waiting period, which is similar to policies in Utah and South Dakota, makes accessing abortion far too arduous and intrudes into women’s personal health care decisions. Anti-abortion advocates say it gives women time to fully consider their decisions and could reduce the number of terminated pregnancies.

Reliable data on how Missouri’s new law will affect either the abortion rate or when in their pregnancies women choose to have them does not exist, but researchers have found that 24-hour waiting periods, which are law in more than 20 other states, cause women to undergo abortions later in pregnancies and travel to other states instead. This is according to an analysis of existing research compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. In a 2009 paper, Guttmcher researchers explained that after Mississippi imposed a 24-hour waiting period in 1992, the number of abortions in the state fell 22 percent and the proportion of women who underwent abortions after 12 weeks gestation increased 17 percent. After accounting for women who traveled to other states to access abortion services, the researchers said 11 to 13 percent of women who would have had abortions did not get them due to the 24-hour waiting period law.

In addition to affecting the timing, location and rate of abortions, waiting periods also increase costs for some women who are forced to travel to clinics at least twice. In a state like Missouri, which has a single abortion clinic, some women will have to travel long distances twice or spend three or four days away from home to make time for an initial appointment, the waiting period and abortion itself. In addition to the basic travel expenses, such trips can include additional costs in the form of childcare and time off from work.

One recent study, which has not been published, examined the impact of Utah’s 72-hour waiting period. In a 2013-2014 survey of 500 women who showed up for their initial counseling visits, researchers found that when contacted three weeks later, 85 percent of women had had abortions. Of those who had not, some had miscarried, others were still seeking abortions and some decided to continue their pregnancies. The rate of women who decided against having abortions was similar to the rates in other studies of locations without waiting periods, according to the study’s lead author, Sarah Roberts, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

In addition, Roberts says the study found that the average period of time between the first visit for women in Utah and the abortions was eight days, not three, due to the need to arrange logistics like lodging, transportation and childcare. She says the average additional cost imposed by Utah’s mandatory 72-hour waiting period was $40 to $50, equal to about 2.5 percent of monthly household income for women in the survey. “The costs are not insignificant,” she says, particularly for low-income women. Roberts says the Utah study also found that the three-day waiting period forced women to tell more people about their abortions, in the course of making arrangements.

As for Missouri, Roberts says it’s impossible to accurately predict what the new waiting period will mean for women in the state. But, she says,“based on our data, I would continue to expect that women would face additional financial costs. Making arrangements to go back would probably force women to tell more people about their abortions.” And, she says, “we would expect additional delay.”

TIME animals

Ape Who Predicted Super Bowl Winners Dies

Super Bowl Prognosticating Ape Dies
In this Jan. 30, 2014, photo Eli the ape has a paper mache Seattle Seahawks helmet he chose over a Denver Broncos helmet, predicting the winner of the Super Bowl, at the Hogle Zoo, in Salt Lake City. The Hogle Zoo—AP

Eli the Orangutan had accurately prophesied the winner in seven consecutive Super Bowls

Bookies and animal lovers alike were in mourning Tuesday after a Utah zoo confirmed that Elijah the Orangutan, who accurately guessed the winners in seven consecutive Super Bowls, has died.

Better known as Eli, the clairvoyant ape was a “staff and community favorite” who rocketed to national fame by correctly forecasting the winning team in each of the last seven Super Bowls. Eli, 24, was born in Topeka, Kansas, at the zoo. He moved to the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2004. He died due to complications from breast cancer during a medical procedure, the zoo said in a statement.

“Eli was the class clown, a total ham,” Senior Great Ape Keeper Bobbi Gordon said. “He aimed to entertain and please. He played gently with Acara and was very interactive with the public. He enjoyed doing silly things to make guests or keepers squeal, laugh and scream,” she said.

Eli is survived by his offspring Acara, 9, with whom he lived and was “a gentle father,” the zoo said.

Here’s a video of Eli correctly predicting that the Seattle Seahawks would win the Super Bowl in perfect ape fashion, as he always did, by smashing and climbing on things. He retired with 7 out of 7 correct guesses, at the top of his game.

TIME Congress

Republican and Democratic Congressmen Bond Amid Canyons and Grouse

Jason Chaffetz
Elijah Cummings, left, walks around Utah’s red rock Window Arches with Jason Chaffetz. Jason Chaffetz—Flickr

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) head to the rivers and red rocks of Utah to change the tone of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, a 63-year-old black Baptist congressman from Baltimore, spent Monday in Utah, looking through the soaring red rock Window Arches surrounded by desert. He was still digesting the “excellent” barbecue chicken from a Dutch-oven the night before, when he rode a flatbed boat on the Colorado river in Canyonlands National Park. And he still wanted to talk about his weekend trip in the King Air twin-propeller plane used by Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his chance to meet a state county commissioner whose wife had been recently treated for cancer. “That was so significant to me,” Cummings told TIME, who has called his vote for the Administration’s signature healthcare law the most important of his 18-year career. “Cancer is a big factor in my family and in my district.”

All along this voyage of discovery, Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a 47-year-old Mormon who opposed Obamacare, was by Cummings side, and neither would have had it any other way. The two-night Chaffetz-Cummings trip was designed to deepen a bond first forged in June, when Chaffetz went to Baltimore to better understand the seniors, former convicts and AIDS patients in Cummings’ district. Now Cummings, his black Under Armour t-shirt poking out underneath his polo, trekked west to learn about the consequences of putting the Gunnison Sage-Grouse on the endangered species list and economic impacts of designating 1.8 million acres around Canyonlands as a national park. Chaffetz, whose mother died from cancer, said their talk about the disease was “a reminder to [Cummings] that we have a lot in common.”

Commonality matters because Chaffetz and Cummings may soon control one of the most bitterly partisan and dysfunctional bodies in the U.S. Congress, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The current chairman, Republican Darrell Issa of California, will be stepping down in January because of term limits, ending a tenure that has been marked by ceremonial shout fests, banging gavels and few measurable accomplishments. Democrats have attacked Issa for exploiting partisan outrage and forging few legislative responses to legitimate scandals, including the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking sting, the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of political groups. Some Republicans have also, more quietly, expressed dismay at the committee’s lack of accomplishments. In March, committee decorum hit a new low-point when Issa shut off Cummings’ microphone during an IRS hearing, which Issa quickly then adjourned before later apologizing.

Few can imagine Cummings ever choosing to spend recreational time with Issa. But with Chaffetz, whose reputation is both conservative and cordial, the two men seem to have hit it off. Cummings says Chaffetz would not wield the gavel like Issa if chosen as the next chairman, even though the two Republicans are close on the political scale. “Although we have disagreements, I have always found him to be non-disagreeable,” says Cummings. Like a twin, or at least a congressman used to sharing the stage, Chaffetz agreed almost word-for-word with Cummings in a separate phone interview. “We’re going to disagree on most issues,” Chaffetz told TIME. “I just don’t want to be disagreeable.”

On Tuesday, the two men showed up together on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to show a united front. “I want a relationship which will allow us to get things done,” said Cummings. “I actually want to get some stuff done,” said Chaffetz.

In interviews, the two men brought that same level of comity in their descriptions of each others districts, which lie on opposite ends of the political spectrum. “They wanted to preserve their environment but at the same time they wanted to be able to use their land,” said Cummings, who noted that some ranchers he met were their families’ seventh generation working the land. “I thought I would hear from folks who were just one-sided. But I felt that they were trying to reach some kind of balance.”

“We’ve got some issues in Utah that are uniquely western,” said Chaffetz, who wore jeans and brown leather cowboy boots around Canyonlands. “You can’t truly appreciate that until you feel and see it. The same is true in Baltimore. They’re dealing with a ton of issues such as food deserts [neighborhoods lacking in healthy food options] that I’ve never heard before.”

Chaffetz and Cummings may even start to dress alike. Waiting for Cummings in his Capitol Hill office is a gift, a brown, felt cowboy hat from Burns Saddlery, “a real one,” says Chaffetz, who owns a black version.

“I don’t know that I’d recommend he wear his hat in his district, but if he comes out West again he’ll look right at home,” Chaffetz said. “And I’m not wearing a cowboy hat in Baltimore unless I want to get my butt kicked.”

TIME Utah

Explosion at Civil War Re-Enactment Sends 3 Children to Hospital

Authorities say the children are in stable condition after a spark from a cannon set off nearby ammunition

Three children were sent to the hospital after a cannon caused an explosion at a Civil War re-enactment event in Orem, Utah. Two of the three children were engulfed in flames when the blast occurred at the beginning of a parade, KUTV reports.

“When the flames went up in the air, these three children started crying. One little girl’s clothes were on fire, we’re told,” witness Brittany Tait told the local station. “People were running with water to douse her.”

When the cannon was fired, a spark landed on additional ammunition and triggered the explosion, according to a statement from Orem’s Department of Public Safety. Authorities did not elaborate on the children’s injuries but said their conditions were stable as they were taken to a hospital nearby.

[KUTV]

TIME U.S.

This Is The Nerdiest State in America

Trekkies, Doctor Who lovers, and Dungeons & Dragons role-players take heed: this study claims to have found your natural habitat

Utah is known for many things: the Great Salt Lake, its high Mormon population, hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics and, now, being the ultimate nerd capital of the United States, apparently.

Real estate website Estately published a list of the nerdiest states in America this week and the Beehive State came out on top, followed closely by Alaska, Wyoming and Idaho. On the other end, Washington, D.C., Mississippi and New Jersey were named the least nerdy.

Estately created the list by calculating the percentage of users in each state, plus the District of Columbia, who listed one of the following as an interest on Facebook: cosplay, anime movies, fantasy lit, comic books, Dungeons & Dragons, LARPing, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Magic: The Gathering, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The data revealed a few trends: Nerds prefer less-populated, more rural states over places like California, New York, Texas and Florida, and they also seem to avoid the South like the plague.

There are some issues with the list, however. For starters, anyone who thinks Washington, D.C. is the least nerdy place in the country has clearly not spent much time in the land where people openly identify as “policy wonks.”

Second, because the list is determined by Facebook interests, it only charts the openly nerdy among us — Mississippi may not seem like a nerd paradise, but for all we know, it could have the largest secret network of social media-averse Dungeons & Dragons players meeting up in the dead of night to roll their polyhedral dice in peace.

TIME Tourism

Ski Resorts Want You to Pay for Next Season’s Skiing Right Now

Resorts are trying to get skiers locked in as loyal guests next season—and simultaneously keep them away from competitor mountains—with major deals for early-bird purchases.

America’s biggest ski resorts are at it again. For a variety of reasons, starting with recent seasons of less-than-stellar snow and ending with increasingly aggressive tactics in the pursuit of customer loyalty throughout the industry, resort companies are upping their game to convince skiers and boarders that they should pay for next season’s skiing mere days after the current season has ended.

And how do they get customers to commit so far in advance? By waving special offers that are often so good customers can’t refuse.

Two of the industry’s biggest players, Vail Resorts and Intrawest, make it easy even for those who are currently struggling to pay off credit card bills related to the ski season just in the rear-view mirror, by allowing customers to lock in pass prices now with only a $49 down payment. Once that’s been paid, the company has your credit card information—and before next ski season begins, your card will automatically be charged for the balance.

Vail, which owns and operates ten major ski resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Heavenly, and Kirkwood, offers a wide variety of passes. The unrestricted Epic Pass is at the top price-wise, running $729 (up $40 from special prices available last summer), with a range of cheaper options for special buyer categories (kids, seniors, college students) and for skiers who can live with more restrictions (blackout dates, fewer resorts, etc.). Considering that a single-day walkup ticket can run well over $100 at a place like Vail, it’s easy to see how these season passes are well worth the money for even a moderate skier who figures to log in, say, 10 or 12 days of making turns each winter.

For diehards putting in a few dozen days per season on the mountain, these passes are no-brainers. They’re probably even underpriced. Why, then, do ski companies keep prices so low?

The big reason is that they want skiers to commit their money—and their loyalty—early, long before anyone can tell if the season’s snow will be good or bad (and potentially not worth the trip at all). They also want customers to commit because doing so largely eliminates the possibility that these skiers will wind up spending a day, let alone an entire week’s vacation, at a competitor resort. After you’ve already coughed up a few hundred bucks for a pass, after all, you’ll want to use it rather than paying more money out of pocket.

The ski companies are also well aware of the powerful trickle-down effect of selling one pass. The likely result is that the passholder will wind up spending money in resort-area restaurants, bars, and hotels, perhaps over the course of seven, ten, or many more days. And pass purchases beget pass purchases, as skiers and boarders tend to buy passes at the same places as their skier and boarder family and friends.

In fact, the Intrawest Passport pushes group sales by directly incentivizing family and friends to buy their passes together. One adult pass, which grants six days of mountain access at each of the company’s six North American resorts (including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Stratton in Vermont, and Tremblant in Quebec), costs $589. But up to five additional adult passes purchased at the same time cost $449 each, and up to five kids ages 12 and under are totally free. The deal gets more appealing when you add more people to the mix—and bringing more customers to Intrawest’s resorts is exactly what the company wants.

Each of the many ski pass programs in North America features different price points and inclusions, but they all have one thing in common: They want your money asap. Intrawest is only guaranteeing current pricing through April 30. The Mountain Collective, which provides two days apiece at resorts like Whistler-Blackcomb and Aspen-Snowmass and 50% off the regular rate thereafter, is throwing in an extra free day at your choice of mountains for a vague “while supplies last” period. The Mountain Collective pass is now $359, up from $349 last season, and runs $99 for kids 12 and under.

Another pass partnership, the Powder Alliance, hasn’t announced its policies for the upcoming season yet. If they remained unchanged from 2013-2014, all season passholders from a dozen resorts will automatically get three free days each at all of the other participating resorts, including Stevens Pass in Washington, Crested Butte in Colorado, Snowbasin in Utah, and Schweitzer in Idaho. And yes, you can expect discounts for buying passes early. The pricing at Schweitzer, for instance, generally calls for 2014-2015 passes to rise by $100 as of June 1. The takeaway is pretty obvious: Smart skiers will want to lock in a lower price now.

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