2000-2005: Tragedy, terror and triumph in Carbon County
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.
The first five years of the new century were quite eventful in Carbon County.
In July 2000 an explosion at the Willow Creek Mine in the Castle Gate area ended the lives of two miners, and also ended the usefulness of a mine that only opened just a couple of years earlier. The methane-hydrocarbon ignition took place on the night of July 31. Both men had been employed at the mine for less than six months. After that day, the mine never really reopened for operations again because of the gas problems.
It was in 2000 that the idea of removing lockers from Mont Harmon Junior High was first mentioned, too. At the time it was very controversial because many parents and students wondered how they would survive without lockers in the halls. The fight went on for a number of years, but finally the lockers were removed and students go to school there without lockers today.
A crime spree that started in Daggett County ended in the Price area a few days later. On the afternoon of Oct. 21, 2001 Daggett County officials found two deer hunters murdered and based on leads they sent out an immediate statewide attempt to locate on one of the dead men's pickup truck.
At approximately 9:21 p.m. that night Helper Police Officer Kent Allred spotted a suspicious vehicle matching the missing pickup's description traveling on U.S. Highway 6. He attempted to stop the vehicle at 10th North near Martin, but the occupants allegedly refused to comply with the command and Allred radioed for backup assistance.
Carbon County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Stefanoff responded and the two patrol cars trailed the pickup toward Price. Shortly before arriving at the west Price exit, the suspect vehicle picked up speed and a pursuit ensued. The officers had sent word of the pursuit so Price police officers put spikes across the highway. When the fleeing pickup hit the spikes the suspects fired shots at the pursuing patrol cars. One bullet struck the Helper patrol vehicle in the front hood area, but no officers incurred injuries in connection with the armed incident. The spike-disabled pickup continued along U.S. 6 for almost a mile, then slid off the roadway into a field near Creekview Elementary and the Price city domes. The careening pickup truck created a cloud of dust, concealing the suspects while the pair exited the pickup and fled east into field.
Carbon County law enforcement agencies cordoned off U.S. 6, the city streets in south Price and State Road 10 while authorities searched the surrounding neighborhoods on foot for the murder suspects. The manhunt culminated when law enforcement personnel apprehended Lewis and Michael Heffelfinger at an irrigation pump house near the east Price interchange two days later. During that time the community was on the alert for the men who had been spotted by a couple of residents during the two days. The pair were later convicted of the murder of the two hunters.
Long suffering residents of eastern Utah also finally got their case on Highway 6 heard in 2001 when Readers Digest named the highway one of the 10 most dangerous in the nation in 2001. Along with protests to the governor and legislative pressure, the highway began to attract money from the legislature to make it safer. Still many died in the first five years of the century. Even today the highway takes a toll each year, although at a lower rate, as work on it continues on the road to make it safer.
The year of 2001 will always always be remembered for the 9-11, and even though it was a national event, that took place in far away places, the local population was affected quite deeply by the events in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. For weeks after, the community grieved for the lost souls and could only imagine how it would change the world as they knew it.
A year and a half later that attack would be brought home even more as the 1457th National Guard unit from Price, was sent away to training in Washington State and then dispatched a few months later to Iraq. At the time no one knew for sure when they would be coming home. They were expected home sometime in the spring of 2004, but then in an emotional session at the armory, relatives were told that it would still take longer for their loved ones to return home, maybe up to an extra six months. But within two months good news arrived and the National Guardsman were home. They suffered no casualties while in the field.
In 2002 the Olympic Torch passed through Carbon County on its way to Salt Lake City for the Olympics. A number of locals got to hold the torch and a few even got to run with it.
The year also brought a near disaster when at about 7:45 a.m. on July 31, a large crane lifting beams to be fitted for the skeleton of the new administration building at the College of Eastern Utah tipped over and crashed across the site. The construction equipment landed on 400 North between 400 and 500 East, blocking the road and taking down utility lines. Only one injury was reported in connection with the incident. The incident brought national attention to the area.
High School state championships and near championships were plentiful during the first five years of the new millennium. In 2000 the Carbon High football team did something no team since 1951 had done, they made it to the state quarterfinals. Led by the quarterback play of Brady Martinez and the strong play of Carson Pollastro, Ryan Avery, Dan Mower, Kenny Gressman, Dominic Lewis and Jan Jorgensen, the team disposed of Union High 38-7 in a playoff game to get a trip to St. George to face Snow Canyon.
Unfortunately the biggest winning season since the mid-20th century (and up until 2011) came to an end on a warm southern Utah November afternoon as the Warriors took away the state championship dreams by beating the Dinos 46-27.
But many in that same group of athletes who lost out on that state dream were able to recover and come back in the spring of 2001 and take 3A baseball championship, the first state championship the school had won since 1997 when the girls basketball team won it all and the first for the boys in any sport since the baseball team won it all in 1952.
Ironically, they played the game on a field in St. George, this time on a warm May evening, and they faced many of the same athletes that had taken them out of the state football championship race the fall before. This time the outcome was different as the powerful Dinos downed Snow Canyon 7-6. That night the team came into Price triumphant, escorted by police cars and fire trucks blowing their horns as they drove from the south end of town into the Carbon High parking lot where a huge crowd greeted them.
It had been so long since such a celebration of a championship had taken place in the area that people around town flooded Carbon County dispatch with calls wondering about what was going on and if they were in danger because of the all the emergency vehicles and sirens that were sounding.
The next school year, in January of 2002, the Carbon High diving team was able to take a "true" state championship. Diving is a sport in which there are no divisions, all schools regardless of size compete equally. The teams big stars were Kimberly Snook, Mikeleen Loveless and Derek Potter.
But the big school year of pure championships came in 2004-2005. In that year Carbon's volley ball team took the 3A state championship, and in February they took the state high school basketball championship as well. And again that spring the boys of the school won the state high school 3A baseball championship.
The volleyball win came at the expense of a nemesis in the form of Morgan High that had dominated the sport for a decade and who had beaten the Lady Dinos time and time again. Players like Monica Shorts, Jamie King and Morgan Warburton, who was named the MVP of the tournament, finally brought home the crown. That winter, many of the same girls that had played on the volleyball team entered the state basketball tournament with a 19-1 record and a number one ranking in the state. And once again, in the final game, it was Morgan that was in the way. But another Morgan, Warburton it was, showed the Lady Dinos victory as they raced to a hard fought 64-54 win. Warburton was also named MVP of the state basketball tournament.
The baseball team once again finished their season in St. George, this time beating Pineview High School 10-3 for the 3A crown. Players on that team that were instrumental in the win included Joe Via, Cameron Oliver, Chris Hanson, Nick Nielsen, Tyler Nelson, Chris Hatch, Dustin Howa and Mike Zaccaria.
Price City was also given an award that recognized it as the best city in Utah under 10,000 population in 2004. The town was cited for everything from its infrastructure to its recreation and beauty.
The glory of winning championships at Carbon High School in 2004 and 2005 were displaced by dismay and unhappiness in another part of the county when it was announced in the late winter of 2005 that East Carbon High School would close its doors that spring. A series of public meetings were held that winter concerning the fate of both Helper Junior High and East Carbon. Finally the Carbon School Board voted 3-2 in April to close the east county school.
That spring the final senior class launched blue and white balloons into the air as they walked out of the building after the final graduation was held in the building. The school that was built in 1959, with such high expectations with the support of a corporate sponsor was no more. The building would be demolished within a year. Nearly in its footprint would rise Bruin Point Elementary, which operates as the only Carbon School District facility in the community today.