1973: Murder trials begin and end, freak accident involves 5 cars, 17 people
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.
Fire was the name of the game in Carbon County in early 1973. In early January a house fire in Wellington ravaged the home of a young couple, twice. First the fire was reported in the furnace room on the night of Jan. 13. The Wellington fire department responded along with a unit from Price. The temperatures were very cold and the water sprayed on the house quickly turned to ice as fire fighters had to work in slick conditions. That first blaze destroyed the furnace room and the kitchen, with one bedroom having extensive smoke and water damage. That next morning the Wellington fire fighters had to go back to extinguish a blaze that emanated from the roof, where numerous layers of shingles had caught fire from the other blaze but had gone undetected. The estimated damage to the home was $6,000. Only the week before the Wellington fire department had fought a fire in a dairy that was destroyed in the town.
The next weekend another double fire took place in Price where a fire started in a mattress in a basement bedroom. A shorted lamp caused the material to ignite. A closed door retarded the fires progress probably for hours and then it broke through the door and started climbing into the rest of the structure. Neighbors then noticed the fire and reported it (no one was home at the time) and it was put out. The next day the Price department was summoned again because of a hot spot in the floor that had not been extinguished and the blaze began burning again.
A car wreck which involved four vehicles and 17 people was termed a "freak" accident by police in early February. Two cars traveling about three miles east of Price each full of just-off-their-shift miners collided when one car struck the other from behind on a slick road after the first car slowed down to make a turn. The car making the turn was driven by the impact into the eastbound lane of Highway 6 where it was hit by a pickup truck. That spun the vehicle even more as it then hit a motor home. Three of the miners were thrown from the spinning car in the process and one was killed. Three others were hospitalized.
In late February, Howard Smith Bennett was found guilty of second degree murder of a man who was placed in a cell with him at the county jail in 1972. Bennett, who had been arrested for with assault with a deadly weapon had been placed in the holding cell earlier that night. At 11:30 p.m. that night a deputy went to the cell to release Huntington who had made bail and found him dead. Bennett was asleep on the other cot in the cell. A medical report said that Milt Huntington, who had been placed in the cell because of intoxication, had three fractures of the jaw, a ruptured liver, deep head cuts and a crushed chest. Bennett was the only person in the cell with him during the entire time. In September of that year a first degree murder complaint was filed against Bennett and he was later bound over for trial.
Bennett had been convicted of second degree murder 10 years before when he shot and wounded a man and then went on to kill Fermin "Shorty" Lopez with a gun. Bennett got 10 years for second degree murder in the killing of Lopez and had been released on parole from the Utah State Prison on May 14, 1968. His parole had just ended when he faced the murder charges concerning Huntington. He was sentenced for 10 years to life by the judge after the verdict was announced.
Another murder trail was progressing at the same time the Bennett trial was ending up. Based on reports in the Dec. 21, 1972 issue of the Sun Advocate a family argument led to a gun fight between two men with one discharging his weapon three times and the other never firing a shot. Eugene Andreini of Helper was charged with first degree murder in the death of Anthony Perri on Dec. 17. According to the report Perri was in a cabin at Scofield when reportedly Andreini came in and the shooting ensued. At first the charges against the Helper man were going to be voluntary manslaughter, but later the county attorney raised the charges to first degree murder. After a hearing on Feb. 21, a judge upheld the charge. However Judge Edward Sheya later disqualified himself from the case after the defense complained of his personal knowledge for both the defendant and the man that was killed. The case then went to the court of D. Frank Wilkins.
The media world in Carbon County changed in April when it was announced that the Sun Advocate Publishing Company had purchased the Helper Publishing Company, which produced the Helper Journal each week. That paper had a rocky history since it started at the Helper Times in 1911, although it had had a number of owners, including Hal MacKnight who at the time ran the Sun Advocate. He later sold the paper to Joe Tullius who ran it until 1973. The paper still stood independent for a couple of years until the mid-1970s when it was merged with the Sun Advocate.
April also brought the first mention of the Bureau of Land Management proposing off-road restrictions for vehicles on the lands it managed as well as proposals for many other kinds of activities on BLM lands. At that time the only restrictions were for large groups or commercial ventures which both needed permits that at the time were free. The new regulations proposed would restrict travel to certain areas and require riders to have a drivers license or be supervised by someone over 21 with a valid license.
Cutline for photo: Some Carbon County residents brave a float trip down Desolation Canyon in 1973. Restrictions on land use and other kinds of recreation on BLM controlled lands were proposed that year as concerns about over use of certain areas, and destruction of the land became of a concern.