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US father charged over snow death

Robert Aragon appears in court in Shoshone, Idaho, 29 December 2008
Robert Aragon, 55, has been charged with second-degree murder

The father of an 11-year-old Idaho girl who was found dead in a Christmas Day snowstorm has been charged with second-degree murder.

Sage Aragon died after walking miles in freezing temperatures when her father's car became stuck in a snowdrift.

Robert Aragon, 55, has also been charged with felony injury to a child.

Her uncle, Kenneth Quintana, 29, who was also in the car, is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder and drug possession.

Police said that Mr Quintana was carrying methamphetamine and marijuana.

Pyjama bottoms

Robert Aragon had been taking Sage and her 12-year-old brother, Bear, to see the children's mother when his car became trapped in a snowdrift on Christmas Day.

Bob did not send his kids to die, he didn't even want to let them go
Kenneth Quintana
Mr Aragon, who lives apart from Joleta Jenks and has custody of the children, allegedly let the pair get out of his Buick Century truck and attempt to walk the estimated 10 miles (16 km) to their mother's house.

He apparently remained behind with Mr Quintana to free the car, which had become stuck around 0900 on a desolate stretch of State Highway 75, some 110 miles (175km) southeast of Idaho's state capital, Boise.

The alarm was not raised until Ms Jenks contacted Mr Aragon, and then the police, when she had heard nothing from her children 10 hours later.

A sign near the spot where Robert Aragon's car was stuck in a snow drift, in Shoshone, Idaho, 29 December 2008
The snowdrifts were deep in Blaine County on Christmas Day

"I could not believe it," Joleta Jenks was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency. "I told him there was a storm coming."

Police with search dogs set out to find the children amid four-foot (1.2-metre) snowdrifts and temperatures as low as -5 degrees F (-20 degrees C).

Bear was found wearing only his underwear, sheltering at a rest area by the road, some 4.5 miles (7km) from where the children had set out.

Apparently delusional from hypothermia, he had discarded his jacket, trousers and shoes, police said.

Sage was found unconscious early the next morning, 2.7 miles (4.4km) away from where the children had left the car, but was pronounced dead of suspected hypothermia at a nearby hospital.

The girl had been wearing snowboots and a coat over a pair of pyjama bottoms and a shirt when she was found.

Ms Jenks said her son told her the children had argued about whether to go on, or turn back, and had eventually separated.

'No call'

"It's just difficult to understand," said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling.

Map

"I've never seen anything like this, it was a 10-mile walk, the way they were dressed, it's just all mind-boggling," said Sheriff Femling.

"They didn't even call me, telling me they were walking," Ms Jenks told the local Times-News.

But Mr Quintana said that Mr Aragon has been wrongfully accused, and that he thought the children's mother was coming to meet them.

"Bob did not send his kids to die, he didn't even want to let them go," he told KMVT, a local television station.

"But the kids were confident, hell I was even confident, that she [Joleta Jenks] was going to be there."

Mr Quintana said the two men had later tried to follow the children's tracks in the snow, but had been forced to turn back because of bad weather.

Court appearances

Robert Aragon remains in custody in Blaine County jail on a $500,000 bond, while Mr Quintana is expected to appear in court later on Friday.

In a brief court hearing earlier, Mr Aragon banged his head on a table and cried "Oh my God" as a judge read out the charges and possible sentence.

Mr Aragon, who faces life in prison if found guilty of second-degree murder, was freed briefly to attend his daughter's funeral and cremation in Jerome.

About 350 people filled the chapel for the service, where Sage's grandfather, Darrell Tendoy, from the Native American Reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho said sage, sweet grass, and feathers represented his grand-daughter's life.

Her mother said: "Sage was just starting to grow up, I don't know why this had to happen."

But speaking of Robert Aragon, Joleta Jenks said: "I don't need to sit and yell. I know he's going through hell right now."

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