1950: Another war erupts overseas, labor unrest continues
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.
With the turning of 1949, the American people were somewhat optimistic, despite the fact that the Communist world seemed to be gaining great strength across the world. World War II had been over for almost five years, yet the country still was war weary.
But the distance between wars is no respecter of people's ambitions. Since 1945 the Soviet Union had become a nuclear power, had solidified its power and land base in all of eastern Europe and was spreading its doctrine across borders into many other countries. At the end of the decade China had become communist, with its vast masses now under control of totalitarian government and ready to fight, despite, at the time, an army that was not well equipped.
In June the North Koreans invaded South Korea, and the United Nations stepped in to stop them. The forces that were sent were largely American, and many young men and women, a number from Carbon County would lose their lives over the next two years until an uneasy truce was called at the same place it began, the 38th parallel.
Locally, the year began with tragedy as three people were killed in a terrible car accident at Blue Cut on New Year's Day. A nearly new Buick station wagon headed eastbound with four people in it skidded on ice and ran broadside into a milk truck. While the Emery county man driving the truck was not injured, two of the occupants of the Colorado car were thrown out on the street while two others, the deceased driver and his son remained in the wreckage. The only survivor was the son. It was an ominous beginning to the new year and new decade. This single accident took more lives than had been lost on Carbon County roads the whole year before.
Once again in 1950, a murder case came up that had troubled the area for four years. Joe Garcia Trujillo of Castle Dale had avoided the firing squad at the Utah State Prison since his trial in July of 1946. He had been convicted of Max Lopez of Hiawatha and was slated to be executed in the fall of that year, but had filed appeals and stays had been granted time and time again. Then, almost as the new year began, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that he deserved a new trial. The new trial was based on what the majority of the court saw as a failure of the judge to give the jury proper instructions and that the "motive for the shooting was not shown" clearly.
Trujillo's new trial was set for May 22. The outcome of that trial was no different, as he was convicted again and sentenced to death with the date for the execution being set for Aug. 19.Trujillo's lawyer immediately filed for a new trial again and Judge Fred Keller set July 10 to hear arguments on the case, but at that time he denied that request. However, later that month the judge issued a stay of execution based on an appeal Trujillo's lawyers were working on. That appeal was to heard by the Supreme Court on Dec. 11.
In another case, Richard Hampton of Royal was charged with first degree murder for the shooting of of Wallace Wright that took place on June 10 in front of the Hampton home.
In February, mine workers who were out on strike (with the slogan "no contract, now work) and despite orders from the union to return to work, became involved in some violence on the picket lines and other places. The most violent incident came near the summit of Price Canyon when a trucker hauling coal was stopped by some people in a car that was parked on the side of the road. According to the report in the Sun Advocate on Feb. 23 Steve West (the truck driver) got out of his truck to see why they were stopping him and "the men began beating him."
"He managed to get back into the cab of his truck and two shots were fired through the closed window, one striking him in the wrist," stated the paper. "He could not identify his assailants and only knew that they were in a light-colored Plymouth coupe."
Harassment of working miners and others, along with damage to trucks and equipment was reported during the same time period. In one case rifles were used to shoot engine blocks on standing trucks, cracking their engine blocks. Not all mines were involved in the non-authorized strike centering on the Knight Ideal Coal mine and Coal Creek Mine. In early March things had calmed down and officials actually declared that some of the incidents of reported violence were exaggerations.
Also on March 22, a plane that was traveling from Cuba to Washington State crashed on what is now Highway 191 near the Carbon County/Duchesne County line. The plane crashed and burned completely killing the two Pullman, Wash., residents who were in the machine.
A bond election for a building program in Carbon School District was postponed in April because residents of the East County area protested that they were not getting a fair shake in the plans for the money. The stoppage of the election was determined during a school board meeting in which a former board member "was emphatic in that it (the group making the presentation) felt that discrimination had been show by the board when the building needs of the district were determined and the bond election called."
Helper was hit with a major fire in mid-July as three buildings, including the Helper State Bank was destroyed in the blaze. The fire caused 10 businesses to shut down within the three buildings that were affected. Some of the businesses that were affected included the Avalon Hotel, the Continental Bus Lines office, the law office of Stan Litizzette and the Progressive Market. It was reported in the Sun Advocate on July 20 that the damage was assessed at about $300,000 and that many of the buildings had either no or only partial insurance.
The war brought the draft home again too. In the fall young men from Carbon County started getting draft notices in the mail and started reporting for service under the 1050 Selective Service Act.
The most amusing story of the year that came from the Sun Advocate concerned a Carbon County man who drove his car into a waterway in central California. It seemed that John Pierucci of Price drove his pickup and trailer off the road into a drainage ditch and the top of the truck was just showing enough so Pierucci could stand on it.
"After his car ran into the ditch, he found himself stranded atop of it and unable to reach the bank," reported the paper. "He said he reached down into the truck and took out a .30 caliber rifle which he fired several times in the air trying to attract attention. When this failed, he said, he fired at the headlights of an approaching car. Pierucci said he slipped just as the gun discharged and he figured his shot went wild."
It did go wild, right into the foot of the driver of the car, Sam Bruno. Later after getting off the car after a truck driver helped him two officers arrested Pierucci and put him in jail. The paper reported however, that Bruno, who said he heard something hit his car but didn't notice he had been shot until later when he saw blood on his foot, would not press charges.