1949: Disasters, murder make headlines
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
As Carbon County moved into 1949 repercussions from the past world war were still working their way through the country with rent controls, debt accumulation and the return of service men's bodies from overseas. However, local news took a turn for the worse right from the beginning of the year as two disasters took place within the first two months.
On Jan. 13 the Sun Advocate reported that an explosion in a Helper service station killed a young man and injured two others. Apparently some gasoline had been spilled and 19 year old Frank Wallace was trying to clean the fuel off of a floor by scraping it with a metal snow shovel.
"...investigating officers were inclined (based on an eye witness account) to believe that a spark caused by the snow shovel coming into contact with the concrete caused the explosion," stated the paper. "As the explosion occurred the entire canopy section of the station collapsed."
A couple of months later (April 30), a fire broke out in the at the Zion's Wholesale Grocery warehouse and Johnson Furniture (both south of Main Street on 100 West in Price) and caused huge damage to the buildings. The paper reported that the fire started in a flue between the two establishments. The damage while confined to the interiors of the buildings, destroyed thousands of dollars worth of goods, particularly in the grocery warehouse. As the final estimated came in the cost of lost goods alone was $100,000.
A lot of news from 1949 came from the eastern part of the county too. First residents of Dragerton, with houses now primarily under private ownership after the sale to occupants the year before, decided they did not want their town to be incorporated. The movement began in the spring when some of the towns residents asked the Carbon County Commission to study the idea. After some wrangling and interpretation of the law it was established that an election would be set on July 12 to see if the majority of residents wanted incorporation. At the same time they would also vote for city officials (mayor and councilpersons). However, when all was said and done, voters turned down the idea of becoming a third class city. Out of 1,100 registered voters only 421 voted and they voted the idea down 239 to 182.
"Reports received from the East Carbon community indicated that many of the eligible voters did not exercise their right to vote because they did no favor incorporation," stated the paper in the July 14 issue. "Consequently the low vote was recorded."
Another, much more dark occurrence took place in Sunnydale on May 18 when a woman took a gun to her husband while the family was having breakfast. It was reported that Ufilia Ruiz, 30, confessed to shooting Cedro Ruiz, 32 with a .22 caliber rifle.
"...Mrs. Ruiz stated that prior to breakfast the husband had struck her and attempted to choke her," said the report in the Sun Advocate. "After setting the table for the meal she went to another room and got the gun and shot the husband, the bullet entering the region of the neck with the carotid artery is located..."
Mr. Ruiz was able to get up and went in the living room but collapsed there and expired after a doctor had arrived. Mrs. Ruiz had left the murder weapon on the kitchen table after she used it. She was arrested and booked for homicide.
An inquest on May 20 into the murder showed that the children were present in the house during the murder, but not at the kitchen table because their mother had told the oldest daughter to get them away from the breakfast table because she told her daughter that she was going to kill Mr. Ruiz. That daughter testified that her mother had been repeatedly warned by Mr. Ruiz not to leave him or he would follow and "kill her."
While the weapon had been in the house for some time, there was no ammunition for the gun until one of the children found a .22 caliber bullet laying in the yard and the mother had taken it away the day before the murder. That ws the shell she used to kill him, because she had thrown away all the other ammunition that had been in the house before the date of the murder.
Because of the circumstances and the testimony of the investigating officers the inquest jury returned a verdict of death at the hand of "Ufilia Ruiz by shooting with a .22 caliber rifle not feloniously."
However, the county attorney, which did not need to follow the jury's direction filed a first degree murder charge against the woman, based on the time lapse (30 minutes) between the shooting and the last altercation between the two.
In late June Wellington Justice of the Peace Jack Allen reduced the charge to second degree murder during the preliminary hearing after he denied a motion by the defense to dismiss the case. She was bound over for trial, which was set to begin July 18. Mrs. Ruiz pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The trial took all of one day with a two hour deliberation by the eight person jury. The verdict was not guilty. based on the fact that the woman had suffered for years because of abuse and beatings by the deceased.
The news wasn't all negative that first half of the year though. Carbon High's baseball team went to the state finals, and took second place in the Class A league. Members of that team included Bill Perry, Frank Marelli, Louis Tonc, Jimmy Scarcelli, Burl Hoopes, Bobby Davis, David Faddis, Ernest Etzel (manager), Gerald Culwell, Morris Nelson, Jerry Crawford, Gene Plaga, Calmer Griffith, Juney Lindsey and Darryl Crawford. The coach of the team was Chris Axelgard.