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Sheriff Famed for Capture Faces Re-Election Fight

May 29, 1986

VIRGINIA CITY, Mont. (AP) _ After he trekked three miles across a snowy mountainside to single-handedly capture two mountain men who had abducted a female athlete, Madison County Sheriff Johnny France became something of a folk hero.

But even legends have their flaws, contends long-time deputy Dick Noorlander, and he’s seeking to oust France from the job that made him famous when he brought Don and Dan Nichols in from the cold in December of 1984.

″I felt we need somebody who was here and available as a sheriff, somebody who would put their time in,″ Noorlander says. ″I think that’s the prime issue right now.″

France attended President Reagan’s second inauguration, has published a book on his adventures and operates an outfitting business that specializes in whitewater raft trips down the turbulent Madison River.

It is his business that is the main point of contention in the campaign, which will end with the June 3 Republican primary because there is no Democratic opposition.

″He floats the river all summer - guide trips and all that,″ says the 56- year-old Noorlander, a Navy veteran who has been deputy for 11 years. ″This is my only job.″

France, sheriff for six years, says Bear Trap Express took up 14 or 16 days last summer that ″weren’t regular days off.″

″I think I’m entitled ... to use my vacation floating on the river ... like him using his vacation anyway he pleases,″ the sheriff says.

France notes that the $19,430-a-year sheriff’s position also includes duties as coroner, humane officer, truant officer, district fire chief and fire coordinator for county and state lands.

″I have many hats to wear,″ he says.

The income from his business helps put his children through college, but France, who turned 46 Wednesday, said he is phasing out of Bear Trap Express and will have a son take over most of the trips through the Beartrap Canyon this summer.

During the campaign, France is emphasizing his 16 years’ experience in law enforcement and his abilities as an administrator in dealing with budget crunches.

He is not emphasizing his role in capturing the Nicholses, the father and son who kidnapped a member of the U.S. biathlon team to be the son’s bride, then eluded capture for six months.

The elder Nichols, convicted of killing one of Kari Swenson’s rescuers, was sentenced to 85 years in prison. Dan Nichols was sentenced to 20 years.

France says the case ismZ t of i BUST IT

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