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Woman charged with attempted murder in stabbing at Rainbow Family Gathering

Published: Monday, June 23 2014 7:44 p.m. MDT

HEBER CITY — Wasatch County prosecutors have charged a New Mexico woman with attempted murder following a Monday morning stabbing at the campsite where the annual Rainbow Family Gathering is taking place.

The second-degree felony charge was filed against Leilani Novak-Garcia late Monday afternoon in 4th District Court.

Novak-Garcia, 32, is accused of stabbing a man in the head and the shoulder about 1:30 a.m. Monday. That's when Forest Service rangers said they heard a disturbance where someone screamed a threat to kill another person, charging documents state.

Wasatch County sheriff's deputies and rangers entered the campsite in the Uinta National Forest and were led to Neil Sparling's camp. The 45-year-old Salt Lake City man told investigators he had been stabbed by a woman with dark hair "who was somewhat heavyset," court records show.

Sparling told deputies the woman had been honking the horn on her vehicle for 30 minutes when he approached her and asked her to stop. When the woman refused, Sparling said he tried to remove the fuses from under the vehicle's hood to silence the horn and was stabbed twice, court records show.

Novak-Garcia left the campsite before deputies arrived, Wasatch County Chief Deputy Jared Rigby said. Investigators, however, were able to determine the vehicle Sparling approached was registered to Novak-Garcia.

"Additionally it was confirmed to (investigators) by members of the gathering that Leilani had been in her vehicle honking the horn prior to the (stabbing)," the charges state.

Sparling was taken by ambulance to University Hospital where Rigby said he was listed in serious condition.

The stabbing came one day after authorities responded to the Rainbow Family site in the mountains 15 miles east of Heber City for an apparent drug overdose, the chief deputy said. The man in that incident was flown by medical helicopter to a hospital in critical condition, Rigby said.

Authorities are also awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine what caused the June 15 death of Susan Wilkinson, 39, of Keene, New Hampshire, at the site of the Rainbow Family's spring council, which was also held in Wasatch County.

The three incidents come as the number of people who have arrived for the annual Rainbow Family of Living Light gathering has risen from 120 to 650, according to the U.S. Forest Service. As many as 20,000 people could show up for the gathering's main event on July 4.

"We've been told to expect this," Rigby said. "It's something we believe we're prepared for.

"So far, this is up on the mountain," he added. "We haven't really had to deal with anything right here in the community, in the city. We're thankful for that."

The chief deputy encouraged area residents to contact law enforcement with any concerns they may have, but said they should not believe "a lot of rumors" about widespread criminal activity by Rainbow Family members.

"We have had some calls for service … that include people that are pulling (food) out of trash cans and Dumpsters or panhandling in front of businesses," Rigby said. "To some extent we can try to enforce some laws there, but it's very difficult."

Still, Rigby said, federal, state and local officials are working together to keep the peace, both on the mountain and in town.

"If (Rainbow Family members) want to break the law, we're going to make sure it's enforced," the chief deputy said. "At the same time, we understand everyone's rights, including the rights of this community. We're going to make sure that the residents here are safe and that they feel safe."

Novak-Garcia was arrested about 7:15 p.m. Monday. She is being held in the Wasatch County Jail on $20,000 cash-only bail.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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