1976: Helper Journal ends publication, arson suspected in fires
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. The article is being written from front page stories that appeared during each year in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
This was the year the country celebrated it's 200th birthday and the events around that celebration didn't leave Carbon County behind in any way, shape or form. Festivities and events began in April when Price City hosted Town Meeting '76, the first one in Utah of a program designed to help citizens become aware of problems in their community and to help them find solutions to those problems. The bicentennial celebration itself was reported by the Sun Advocate to be not that much different from other years. Fireworks were displayed and get-togethers were held around the county. The weather in the local area was not typical early July with a lot of rain and some wind. Along the Wasatch Front a storm knocked out power to huge areas of the Salt Lake valley, but that had little effect on Carbon County.
In January a light airplane crashed north of Price, but the passengers, both from Idaho, were able to walk away from the crash. The plane had taken off from the Carbon County Airport, but the Cessna 140 was unable to keep its altitude, largely because authorities thought that it was overloaded with heavy baggage and also had a full load of fuel. The flight had originated in Winter Haven, Fla. and the pilot reported that the takeoff was to be the last leg of the flight with the destination being Mountain Home, Idaho.
In mid January a deal to put a railroad in between Carbon and Emery counties was announced by a Denver investor. The main purpose of the $70 million project was to be hauling coal, although the Sun Advocate reported that it could also be used for carrying other kinds of items as well. The line was to travel through land that was about 60 percent privately owned and would have been connected with what was then the Rio Grande lines between Price and Wellington.
A murder in southwest Price also took place in February. Gary Mitcheson was arrested as a suspect in the murder of Richard Herrera on Feb. 6. An argument over a set of mag wheels and tires was reportedly the flare point of the killing. Mitcheson was later bound over for trial on a charge of second
degree murder by Judge John Ruggeri. On March 22, Mitcheson pleaded not guilty, saying that the shooting was accidental. He said that when Herrera showed up at his home with some other men he had come to the front door of the house with a rifle just to "frighten" them. But upon reaching the front door he said he tripped and the rifle went off, from which a bullet struck Herrera, who was sitting his his car, in the throat. However others said that Mitcheson came to the door and took aim at Herrara. The trial was set for April 30. In that trial various stories were told about the incident and what led up to it by several witnesses. In the end, on April 23 the jury found Mitcheson guilty of second degree murder after deliberating for two hours. In May Mitcheson was sentenced to five to life after attempts to have a retrial failed.
A fire in Carbon County's storage sheds caused $300,000 in damage on May 12. Much of that cost came from the contents and not the building, which was the old Carbon County Airport hanger. Lost was a lot of equipment for search and rescue as well as a large amount of maintenance equipment.
Fires in mid-June severely damaged two businesses in Price, the Price Commission Company and Eastern Utah Produce. The fires took place almost at the same time on June 10, so the Price Fire Department had to be turned into two units to fight the blazes. The Eastern Utah Produce warehouse fire was quickly put out which allowed those fire fighters to go to the other blaze and help out. That fire was out of control when the departments personnel arrived and actually threatened to burn into the businesses principal building and also threatened two other businesses, United Auto Parts and Checkerboard Grocery. Arson was strongly suspected in both fires from the beginning because of their timing and the way they started.
A second plane crash in a year in the county killed two Iowa men and a man from Green River on August 31. The plane crashed in Sunnyside Canyon. The crash occurred near the Don Wilcox ranch landing strip after it left the landing field. It apparently could not gain enough altitude to clear a mountain and crashed into a group of trees.
In that same issue of the paper (Sept. 2,) it was also announced that the Sun Advocate had a new editor in the personage of John Serfustini. At the time the 28-year-old newsman came to the paper from the Wasatch Wave in Heber where he had worked for a number of years. He was to depart the Sun Advocate only a couple of years later, and recently came back to the Sun Advocate where he was named the Associate Editor of the paper last spring.
Still another fire destroyed Price Floral on Dec. 1. The early morning fire started near the back of the building. At the time there was no estimate of damage.
Finally. 1976 was the year that the Helper Journal, which had been in existence since 1911 (as the Helper Times until 1931) merged with the Sun Advocate. The change happened in October, and for over a year the paper was moved to a Saturday publication and was called the Sun Journal. It was a weekend type of paper with new stories but also information about activities and weekend events. The last issue of the Helper Journal was published on Wednesday, Oct. 6.