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Rainbow Family, residents to air concerns in Heber

Published June 24, 2014 4:57 pm

Leilani Novak-Garcia • Dispute over car horn purportedly escalated at campsite.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the wake of a Monday stabbing near the Rainbow Family campsite in the Uinta National Forest, Rainbow participants and community representatives will air rising tensions during a town meeting on Wednesday night in Heber.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Wasatch County Library/Senior Center building, 465 E. 1200 South, according to Wasatch County sheriff's Chief Deputy Jared Rigby.

City officials have been wary about the gathering since it was announced. On the city's website, residents were warned that while most Rainbow Family campers are law-abiding, others have been known at past gatherings to aggressively panhandle at businesses, deliberately damage groceries in order to later retrieve them from the trash, and rack up unpaid medical bills. Complaints about public nudity and public urination also were common.

Meanwhile, the alleged perpetrator of the stabbing, Leilani Novak-Garcia, 32, of Las Cruces, N.M., was being held in the county jail Tuesday in lieu of $20,000 cash-only bail after being charged in 4th District Court with second-degree felony attempted murder.

She was scheduled for a first court appearance on Thursday.

Novak-Garcia, who goes by the nickname of "Hitler," allegedly was continually honking the horn on her car about 1 a.m. Monday near the Rainbow Family campsite, about 15 miles east of Heber. A 45-year-old Salt Lake City man asked her to stop; she refused, according to charges.

Frustrated, the man apparently unlatched the hood of her car and was attempting to remove fuses in order to silence the horn. Novak-Garcia allegedly attacked, stabbing him multiple times in his head and shoulder.

Forest rangers in the area said they heard someone scream, "I'll [expletive deleted] kill you," before finding the victim bleeding from his wounds, according to charges.

Novak-Garcia was found hiding inside a tent at the camp later Monday afternoon and arrested, investigators said.

The victim was taken to the hospital, where he was reported to be in satisfactory condition on Tuesday.

The incident not only dampened the "peace and love" theme espoused by the loosely organized, hippie-inspired group, but raised concerns among residents of the mostly rural community, already on alert.

On June 15, the body of 40-year-old Susan Marie Muzzie-Wilkinson, of Kenne, N.H., was found at the campsite. Foul play was not suspected, and authorities were awaiting the results of toxicology tests to see if her death was drug-related.

Forest Service "resource advisers" have been on site to monitor camping, cooking, parking and sanitation operations, as Rainbow Family members arrive ahead of the annual gathering, which officially is scheduled July 1-7, according to the group's website.

As of Tuesday, an estimated 750 Rainbow Family members reportedly had set up camp in the West Fork of the Duchesne area, with numbers expected to increase daily, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Past gatherings have brought as many as 20,000 people from across the nation.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims