Equipment and workers toil to build a tunnel for the railroad to get moving through Spanish Fork Canyon again during June of 1983 after a huge mudslide directly wiped out rail lines and Highway 6. Another casualty of the slide was the small town of Thistle, which was inundated by water backing up behind the slide. Even though the water was eventually drained from the natural lake that was formed by the slide, the town was never rebuilt. Only some ruins and a few roof tops that are stuck on the mountainsides around where the water raised them still remain today, as a note in history of a town that once was.
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 mudslide that took out the highway and the railroad in Spanish Fork Canyon in 1983 was a disaster for southeastern Utah economically. That was particularly true for Carbon County.
In April of that year the mud started to slide due to one of the wettest springs on record and when it was done the passage through the canyon to the coal fields of Utah were under 100 feet of mud and rock. There was no coal going anywhere through that canyon.
On top of that, in early June the local area had to deal with other effects of a heavy snow pack coming down in the form of runoff due to unusually hot temperatures. In Scofield a bridge washed out and another was so damaged it was closed as Mud Creek spilled over its banks. The town also lost one of two culinary water lines in the deluge.
At the same time the Price River Water Improvement District was working hard to protect its water works because high, strong water down Price River was threatening to damage the diversion structure to its treatment plant. In addition, the PRWID water plant was having to work harder than ever because Price City's plant was not able to handle the muddy water coming in due to the floods. This meant PRWID having to up production by one million gallons per day so Price city could have culinary water.
But hope for the slide situation was on the way. The 2.5 mile long lake that was created by the slide was beginning to drop by mid June due to a drainage tunnel that had been built and pumps erected by the Army Corp of Engineers. Good news for the coal industry came in the form of a very active Rio Grande Railroad which started almost immediately after the slide stabilized to bore a 3,100 foot tunnel through the mountain for their train cars to traverse. Atop the mountain, W.W. Clyde Construction Company was blasting and honing a road over the top, a road which is still used as the major thoroughfare from Carbon to the Wasatch Front today.
On July 4 the tunnel was opened for railroad traffic and coal began to flow down the canyon on train cars once again. But it wouldn't be until the nearly the end of the year before Highway 6 was routed over Billy's Mountain and opened to auto traffic. The construction of the road was held up by a number of factors including two rock slides that occurred in November, and very bad weather hitting the area in December, slowing work considerably. The highway finally opened on the last day of December at noon. Drivers were thrilled to not have to drive over Indian Canyon and through Heber to get to the Wasatch Front, which added at least an hour of travel time to the trip each way.
While all this was going on, the Carbon Hospital Reactivation Corp. was still busy trying to reopen the old Carbon Hospital so the area would have two facilities to serve it. A setback in the plan came when St. Mark's Hospital of Salt Lake, which had been a supporter and possible backer for the project for almost two years pulled out its support in July. That fall the Price City council began to look for buyers for the old hospital as the idea of reopening it began to wane. The city said that the building was costing about $30,000 a year to maintain and they wanted to get rid of it. It was at that time when the sale of the structure to the College of Eastern Utah began to be discussed.
On August 16 a new Seventh Day Adventist Church being built in Price was hit by a freak windstorm and it brought down the skeleton of the building that had already been erected. Volunteer workers fled as the wind blew through the site, but seven of them were unable to get out of the way and were injured, one seriously with a broken pelvis. The estimated damage was $5000.
The nude body of a 16-year-old girl was found by a railroad employee on August 29 in the upper Gordon Creek area. The worker saw it from a train he was on and after getting back to Helper he rode a motorcycle to the area and found the body of Betty Joell Kellum who had only come to Carbon County in the spring and attended Carbon High School for a short while. There was no identification on or near the body, but later she was identified and her parents, who lived in Arkansas, were informed of her death.
According to reports in the Sun Advocate she had been stabbed 29 times. Within a few days authorities arrested a suspect and charged him with murder. The man, Jonas Daniel Paul Sutton, 19, was said to have been the last person seen with her at a party on August 26. That fall Sutton pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity, the second plea being one that would test a new law that had been passed by the Utah State Legislature earlier in the year. Two mental examinations of Sutton took place on the insanity plea, one by a local psychologist and another that was ordered by Judge Boyd Bunnell with a Salt Lake City psychiatrist. No further action in the case was reported in 1983.
The money that was forwarded by the legislature for building a new athletic center at the College of Eastern Utah began to work its magic on Sept. 23, when the ground was broken for what would become the BDAC on the the USU Eastern Campus today. The building project was being funded by $3.5 million dollars that the college had been fighting for for 12 years to replace the old gymnasium on campus.
An investigation into a charge of tampering with evidence of a former Price police officer, eventually led to an iceberg hidden under the water as the police chief of the city lost his job. On November 23, Price Mayor Art Martinez fired Chief William Cossaboom, and then the former chief was charged with a third-degree felony for his connection to fund misuse within the department. It was claimed in the charges that the police department had a "slush" fund which had been built from such things as making copies for others, insurance charges and other small amounts of money that came into the department.
As the case grew, it was found that Cossaboom, who had been hired as the head of the police department in Price, had gotten a good recommendation from the city he had been a police chief in before (Frisco, Colo.). But upon investigation, many in that city's government reported he had had problems and one councilman said that he thought the former employee of their city should have been fired long before he resigned.
The charges against him and the former officer resulted from a secret investigation by the Carbon County attorney's office. Other officers were also initially suspected to be involved, but later charges were not pursued in the matter because Count Attorney Keith Chiara said that after investigation no criminal wrong doing was found. The case against Cossaboom flowed over into 1984.