1994: Sunnyside mining goes bankrupt, inmates escape from county's new jail
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.
January brought a spate of BB gun incidents in which police exclaimed dismay because they could have led to tragedy. In one case a young man displayed a BB gun pistol in the hall at Carbon High School during a basketball game. While he didn't point it at anyone, a girl reported it to the administration and they called police.
Officers rounded up several young people in a group thinking the kid was with them, but found he was not. He instead hid under a car while police questioned the others. Later he was spotted walking through the cemetery, but after being taken into custody it was found he did not have the gun with him. He later led officers to where he had placed the gun.
In another incident, the next day another youth was arrested for carrying around a pistol BB gun at 100 West Main after he was reported by people in the area. At the time officers were largely concerned because the BB guns looked so much like real pistols and they were worried that if pulled out in the wrong circumstances a peace officer could take it for a real firearm, which could lead to a shooting.
In March, Carbon County seized all assets of Sunnyside Coal. At the time the county said that the company owed them $400,000 in back taxes. They did it because they felt the company was selling off its assets and there would be nothing left to cover the county's tax lien. The point of the action, where the assessor actually went to the mine and marked all property that it had been seized, was for a tax sale that was to take place in April. However in mid-April it was learned that the company had filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court.
While the Helper City Council passed a preservation ordinance in 1992, protecting buildings in certain areas in town from being changed or destroyed, it wasn't until the spring of 1994 that historic preservation commissioners were appointed to oversee the area. The ordinance regulated repairs, alterations, additions and the demolition of buildings in the areas designated. The commission also was appointed to review any signs placed in the area as well.
Just when people in the area thought they had heard the last of the John David Young case, in which an enraged truck driver injured several people and killed a Utah Department of Transportation employee by running the truck he was driving off the road, another wrinkle in the case appeared. A Salt Lake attorney who supplied legal advice to Young filed a suit against Carbon County asking for a total of $41,000 to be paid to him for his representation of Young. County officials said that the attorney took over the case he never filed a motion seeking court appointment and he also never filed a motion to be released from the case. The Carbon County Attorney's office thought that he was providing the services pro bono.
As usual, water became a topic of discussion in 1994. A weak winter had provided for less water than normal, but in the works by August was a unique public-private funding program to conserve water by agricultural users. The plan at the time was to supplement the piping and canal lining costs from both the Stowell Mutual Water and Canal Company and also the Carbonville Ditch Company. It was the beginning of the effort to maximize the water in the area not only as a conservation tool, but to a certain extent also a political one concerning Sanpete County's effort to build the Gooseberry Dam Project.
The struggle over that issue also took front and center on a lot of front pages in 1994. It was a time of high activity by both Carbon and Emery County. Two public meetings took place on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that had been produced by the Bureau of Reclamation in March, one in Price and the other in Mount Pleasant. The hearing held in Price attracted a huge number of people, almost all opposed to the dam and the project moving any further along. In May, the Sanpete Water Conservancy District applied for $350,000 to the Permanent Community Impact Board to address engineering on the project. The Sun Advocate reported, tongue in cheek that "The Gooseberry Narrows hearings in Price last March never happened" because the request "included no negative comments" in the district's request for funds." The issue simmered all year with Sanpete giving a bus tour of the proposed area for the project to Central Utah Project officials in the summer. In the fall the Southeastern Utah Association of Governments came out against funding for the project.
The new Carbon County Public Safety Building was finished in the late summer and inmates were moved from the old jail to the new one in September. An open house was held for the public before the facility went into use. With that went away the threats of lawsuits concerning the conditions in the old jail. But the new jail was not escape proof. In late September three inmates managed to escape from the jail by crawling through duct work and tipped out an exhaust fan on the roof and then jumped to the ground. The dislodged duct work was created via a piece of lumber that had been left during construction in the ceiling.
Without that it the inmates could not have made entrance into the duct work. In addition the exhaust fan they exited was not bolted down. One escapee was captured within a few days. In mid-October two people were arrested in connection with aiding in the jail break. A week later the other two were arrested, one in Murray and the other in the San Diego, Calif. Area. Both were arrested in the separate towns for because they were committing or had committed crimes there since the escape. Later in the year one of the escapees who had been returned was also charged with an "injuring jails offense" after he got upset about something and tore up one of the jail cells.
A speeding motorist in Wellington ended up dead by his own hand while Wellington Police Department personnel chased him. He was observed going 65 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone and when Chief Lee Barry turned on the lights on his cruiser in pursuit the man did not pull over. Barry then turned on his siren but the man still did not pull over. Speeds along Highway 6 where he was being chased did not go over 65 miles per hour, and then the car started to slow down, weaved and went off the road colliding with a fence. When Barry approached the car he found the man had shot himself in the chest while driving. He was dead by the time rescue crews arrived.
In November, the authorities also began the search for one of serial killer Ted Bundy's victims in Clark Valley. The site had been described by Bundy before his execution in 1989, and after that the Carbon County Sheriffs Department had searched an area around Sunnyside Junction, based on his description. Nothing was found. However, in the fall of 1994, a the department got a tip from a woman who said that around 20 years before she and her husband had been rock hounding in Clark Valley and had seen a young man in a suit burying something in that area. She said that nearby stood a Volkswagen.
The description matched Bundy and his car so the search was on. Nothing was found in that fall either. But the search created a controversy when the Bureau of Land Management sent Sheriff Jim Robertson a letter telling him he had to have the land that was disturbed recontoured and reseeded. The letter also stated that the department should have asked for authorization (permit) to do the search and disturb the land. Robertson told the Sun Advocate that he had not broken any law and that he doesn't need special permission from a federal agency to perform duties that are within his jurisdiction.
Carbon County Sheriffs Deputy Mike Martinez points out the exhaust fan on the Carbon County Safety Building's roof which three inmates tipped over to escape in 1994. The three were caught within a few weeks of fleeing the jail.