1977: Coal strike gains national attention, Helper police chief faces and beats state AG charges
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.
An investigation that had been going on for months highlighted the second half of 1977 as the Utah State Attorney General's office brought charges of perjury and malfeasance in office against Helper Police Chief Karl Stavar. AG Robert Hansen maintained that testimony that Stavar gave during an investigation into county law enforcement agencies was "false or inconsistent."
Within two weeks a number of citizens had banded together to help Stavar with his defense costs, raising $1,500 in just a few days. In September Stavar's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the malfeasance in office charge because "Utah no longer has charges of indictable misdemeanors nor malfeasance in office" saying that malfeasance in office had become official misconduct. Later in the month, the testimony that Stavar had given the attorney general's office was thrown out because the charged police chief had not been read his rights nor did he have an attorney present during questioning.
During that same hearing two officers testified that Stavar had told one of them that "We have a whore house in town. Look the other way." The other former officer testified that he had been told to stay out of the back rooms of a couple of the bars in town. They implied earlier that was because gambling operations were going on there. Later, in September, Judge Edward Sheya dismissed the malfeasance charge because he agreed with Stavar's lawyer that the man would need to be convicted of a misdemeanor before official misconduct charges could be filed.
In October the perjury charge against the Helper chief was dismissed too. Then in November the attorney general's office filed new charges against Stavar. This time it was obstruction of justice charges. The charges stemmed from the testimony of the former Helper police officers who said they feared for their jobs if they had cracked down on certain activities in Helper.
In mid-August a fire in a mobile home located in Carbonville killed three people including a mother and two of her children. One boy was able to get out of the trailer home. The mother was able to get out of the trailer with her son initially, but then returned to the mobile home to try and rescue her two daughters. The investigation into the fire took some time with two state fire investigators finally finding that the fire was electrical in nature and purely accidental.
September brought an unusual robbery in East Carbon. Thirteen bandits, reportedly dressed like how Gypsies appear in films and on television held up the Miners Trading Post. According to Manager Jim Leonard the band cornered two clerks near the office and pulled out the cash drawers taking $567. They drove out of town in three cars and police surmised they may have taken some of the back roads our of town. However, the pursuit of them came to nothing.
September also brought hopes for hundreds of new jobs and a new power plant in the area. The Intermountain Power Project task force narrowed down the construction of a huge 3,000 megawatt plant to six areas of the state from the original number of 13. Three of the six sites were in eastern Utah including near Mounds, near Green River and one in the San Rafael area. Clean air standards continued to limit the areas in which the plant would be built, and only two, Mounds and West Lynndyl near Delta met those requirements. The task force eventually picked the West Lynndyl site and the plant was built in the early 1980s.
Despite protests from many locals, particularly those that were concerned about the low water levels at Scofield Reservoir, the Division of Wildlife Services went ahead with a fish poisoning program at the water hold in September. Using rotenone dropped from a plane, they started the poisoning the last week of the month and were done in a couple of days. Soon thousands of fish started coming to the surface and washed up on the beaches around the reservoir. The point of the operation was to kill the trash fish in the reservoir, even though the treatment would take out all the fish including trout. Not long after the final pass of the plane the DWR reported that hundreds of people, many in boats were near or on the lake picking up the stricken fish.
After years of planning construction on the by-pass road from Blue Cut to just east of Price began in October. The road was to take traffic from the old Highway 6 (now Carbonville Road and Main Stree in Price) and route it around the town, cutting down congestion.
October also brought another change. The last locally owned dairy farm closed its coral gate for the last time on producing milk. The Blue Hill Dairy in Spring Glen send the last truckload of cows they had sold to an auction house in Utah county off in a truck on Oct. 8. The owners, Sam and Joe Fazzio, said they were glad to be rid of the responsibility, but also said "...we'll miss it."
The end of November also brought two more fires, with officials saying that arson was the cause.
The two fires happened within 200 yards of each other only 12 hours apart. On Nov. 28 a fire destroyed a warehouse at 51 West 100 south causing about $100,000 in damage. The building was being used as storage for three companies that had materials and equipment stored there. The second fire struck a van at a moving and storage business only a short distance away from the first fire and 10 a.m. the next morning, causing $2,500 in damage.
Finally the year ended with a huge strike in the union coal mines of the area. About 2,600 workers went on strike Dec. 6 and picket lines were set up at the union mines as well as at a number of non-union mines in the area. Law enforcement was reinforced in the area by the Utah Highway Patrol, due to past problems at some picket areas. But within a week things started to happen. The worst was a county bridge which was burned on the road to Wattis where the independent/non-union Plateau Mine was continuing to operate.
Roads were also laced with glass and tacks in the area. The United Mine Workers of America District 22 officers asked the independent mines to close down for a week so that the tempers could cool off, but they said they would not do that. They felt that the closure would show those that had done the burning and other acts that violence and destruction works. Gov. Scott Matheson ordered more highway patrol members into the area, raising the number to 90 in conjunction with the Carbon County Sheriff's contingent that was trying to keep the peace. In court the next week at the Carbon County courthouse, a hearing was being held about the right of picketers to set up lines at non-union mines when an anonymous bomb threat was called in and the courthouse had to be evacuated. Nearing the end of December the picket lines and things across the area started to quiet down and Matheson ordered all but 15 highway patrolmen out of Carbon County.
Two men who were fleeing from Oklahoma after a jail break and the alleged murder of a police officer there also came to the wrong place to get away, largely because the strike had brought so many law officers to the area. The men picked up a hitchhiker near Green River and on the radio in the vehicle they had stolen he heard a news report about them. He asked that they drop him off at Green River and they did, apparently not realizing the man had put two and two together.
He reported their sighting to police and the men were spotted in east Price a few hours later. They got away and then were spotted in Helper. Eventually they were captured in Spring Glen after they did a home invasion and threatened a couple there. There were plenty of police to arrest them on the scene when they tried to run from the home.
Another change that came to the area was in form of a change in the Sun Advocate. Ever since the paper bought the Helper Journal in 1976, the paper had split itself into a Wednesday main edition and a Saturday edition called the Sun Journal. On June 11, 1977 that changed as the Saturday edition became a second full size Sun Advocate to be published each week.