1997: Blizzard paralyzes county, college gets in trouble on 'student' head count
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.
In January a winter storm slammed the area, surprising almost everyone, including weather forecasters. The storm dumped 31 inches of snow in Price and in places higher as much as 40-50 inches fell, including in places like Kenilworth and Scofield. Snow on the ground already added to the totals. Even the San Rafael Swell got a lot of snow, something that doesn't happen often.
The College of Eastern Utah came under fire at the first of the year because of documents found that allegedly showed that class numbers at the campus were being bolstered by using faculty and staff names to fill out the class rolls. The state's funding model for the universities and colleges depends a great deal on enrollment, so the Salt Lake Tribune jumped on the discrepancy.
However, the state commissioner of higher education at the time said that the filing of those names on rosters was just a mistake and that nothing fraudulent had been done. The next week state auditors showed up at the school to review records and look into the activities regarding enrollment. In February the state announced that the college would have to give back $19,100 for inappropriately counting some members of the staff as students in training classes and retreats.
The idea of a restaurant tax to help fund tourism venues and events was also proposed in February. At the time it was estimated that the county could garner $117,000 per year in revenue for projects with a 1 percent tax. Projects that were proposed at the time included expanding the fairgrounds, facilities in Nine Mile Canyon, a new visitors center, a coal mining tour, the Helper Intermountain Theater and the creation of a parkway along the Price River. The tax was later approved by the county commission.
KTVX gets in trouble over chewing tobacco
A television news crew from KTVX was also suspected to aiding to the delinquency of minors when they asked five Carbon High students to chew tobacco and spit it out for a news story they were doing. The students involved were apparently chewers and a speech given by a cancer victim who said he had part of his jaw removed because of chewing had just spoken at the school.
KTVX officials claimed that they were just filming the students doing what they usually do, but the students claimed they were given the chew by the reporter and the camera man to use. The students were cited and suspended from school for the activity. In May, Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate filed charges against the reporter and cameraman. In June a trial date was scheduled and the defendants pleaded not guilty in writing to the court.
Threat of floods
April brought about the threat of flooding as temperatures warmed and began to melt the record snowpack that had fallen that past winter. It was reported the wet weather that had taken place during the winter and spring had also started movement again on the Thistle slide area near Billy's Mountain. Thee county was preparing early in the month by filling sandbags and clearing debris so the river would not jump its banks. The east county area also was seeing high stream flows and was preparing as well. Wet weather later in April increased the likelihood of flooding.
But the weather did cooperate better than many had expected and low level snow melted fairly slowly and the cooler weather towards the first of May kept upper level snow from melting all at once. The wet ground however, led officials to continue to monitor the Thistle slide and another area on Highway 6 just a mile west of Soldier Summit for slippage. Late May brought word that it appeared flooding long the Price River had been avoided.
Irrigation piping idea gains support
The idea of piping all irrigation water in the county also took on a life of its own in 1997. Local residents began banding together to help the county as a whole to move from flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation on farmland and for those that had irrigation shares for their properties. Federal funds were starting to be released to pipe canals and run laterals at the time. The funds were largely let to control salinity in the Colorado River Basin. The secondary effect of it was also to save water as well. At the time canal officials from the various canal companies were still in the process of where main lines would run to replace the open water ways.
The shooting of a man in Wellington in June by a police officer was big news in the area in the summer. Officer Mark Watkins, who was involved in the shooting, was cleared of any wrong doing during an investigation of the incident, in which Wade Jay West was killed. A video camera in the patrol car, an audio tape and a witnesses account of what went on showed that Watkins story about how he had to use his weapon to fend off an attack on his life. During the situation West rammed the patrol car with with another vehicle, assaulting Watkins with a baton and then trying to get hold of the officer's side arm.
While the spring runoff threats of flood subsided in June, in August a number of big thunderstorms rumbled through the area and one of them dumped 2.75 inches of rain on Price in one afternoon storm. Gutters were full, washes were pouring out water and kids were playing in the wet stuff in the streets while many people in town were trying to pump water out of their basements. A road project on Main Street in Price had been hit with one storm and then another causing damage to the work and delaying the process of getting the work done.
In November one of the state's deputy attorneys general was arrested in Carbon County on charges of driving while under the influence. Kenton David Goodwill, was arrested after he high centered his state marked vehicle on railroad tracks. The car was a good distance from the vehicle crossing and it appeared the man had turned the car onto the tracks and tried to drive down them.
Armed robbery at City Market in Price
An armed robbery at City Market (now Fresh Market) in mid-November alarmed citizens across the county. The robber used a semi-automatic pistol to force three female employees who were in the customer service booth to open the safe and turn over money to him. No suspect was located despite massive police efforts in the area right after the robbery. A release in early December to the Sun Advocate stated that the police had uncovered some leads in the robbery and were following them up but they still had no idea who the gunman was.