Top GOP official badly injured in Idaho Falls plane crash

Damond Watkins, one of three Idahoans on the Republican National Committee and vice president of corporate relations at Melaleuca, suffered a broken back when a King Air he was traveling in crash-landed about a mile south of the Idaho Falls airport shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday.

Watkins, 40, is Idaho’s Republican national committeeman and worked on the Mitt Romney presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. He represents Melaleuca on the board of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and was in Boise Thursday for an IACI meeting. He was returning home to Idaho Falls in the private plane.

Damond Watkins. Photo courtesy of LinkedIn.

Watkins’ father, Dane, told the Statesman that his son is scheduled for surgery at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls at 11 a.m. Friday, a procedure he said is expected to last four or five hours.

“We just thank the Lord that he’s alive,” said Dane Watkins, a former state senator from Idaho Falls and former candidate for Congress. “It could have been a lot worse. We’re fortunate and blessed.”

The plane was piloted by Bradley Hone of Idaho Falls, who is expected to be released from the hospital Friday, said Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde. The second passenger, Justin Manwaring, was treated and released, Wilde said. The plane is owned by Rollie Walker of Idaho Falls.

Wilde said he couldn’t speculate on the cause of the crash, but said the fuselage was intact. An investigator from the Federal Aviation Administration was at the crash site Friday.

Damond Watkins is one of seven siblings. His father said all the children will be together today and Friday, with five of them coming from Utah. Damond Watkins’ brother, Dane Jr., is a 7th district judge.

Damond Watkins and his wife, Jinger, have four children. Watkins, who graduated from Dartmouth College, is a serious cyclist. His father said he completed the 206-mile LoToJa Classic on Sept. 7 in 10 hours and 30 minutes, a personal best.

Dane Watkins said his son has suffered no paralysis and is alert and talking. “I know he wants to get back on his bike as soon as he can.”

Added Dane Watkins: “We appreciate all the thoughts and prayers. We have confidence in the doctors and the hospital and we think everything will be OK.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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