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1987: Strange events in law enforcement

Darin Pitt of the Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control pours confiscated liquor and beer down the drain at the Carbon County Sheriffs Office. The issue of misuse of alcohol and youth use of the substance would come up over and over again as it has in many years before and after 1987.

Sun Advocate publisher

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 August, a man stole some guns from a pawn store in Price and then boarded the Amtrak train the next day in Helper with one of the guns tucked into his back pocket. A terminal master saw him get on the train with the gun, but the train was well on its way and he couldn't stop it.

He contacted the conductor, who went back and sat by the man in the car he was riding in. The conductor informed the gun holder that it was illegal to have a firearm on a train and asked if he could take it and return it to him when he departed the train. The train traveled through Price and no one contacted law enforcement agencies about the situation.

Later the rider found the conductor and told him he wanted the gun back. The conductor refused to give it back and the man pulled out another firearm he had concealed, at which point the conductor returned the gun to him (but it had been emptied of its ammunition). The rider then threatened the conductor with the unloaded gun. The conductor thought at the time he could probably overcome the rider, but realized if the man had another gun on him he might get away and hurt some passengers.

The train arrived at Woodside and the rider got off the train and the conductor saw him jump on a freight train headed the same direction. The conductor immediately contacted authorities in Grand Junction, but when the police went to the box car the rider was supposed to be in, all they found was an indigent not fitting the description. However when he was arrested two weeks later in a stolen car coming back to Helper from Salt Lake City, it was revealed that he had hitch hiked back to Helper and ridden to Salt Lake with some friends. He was charged with kidnapping, among other charges at that time.

On Sept. 8 a cigar box containing three sticks of dynamite, fuse cord and some blasting caps was found on top of a popcorn machine by a teacher at Carbon High School. After investigation by the Price Police Department, it was found that a student had left it on top of the machine. When questioned the student said that the three sticks was all he had. But later another student showed up with another stick and the first student was interviewed again and admitted that he also had another five sticks of the explosive. Police felt that the student had no intention of setting off the explosives as school, but was going to set the off after school. No charges were filed at the time, but he was referred to juvenile court

Bones found along the cliffs near Carbonville had authorities concerned that a homicide had taken place, but after some study, it was found the bones were from a Fremont Indian burial site. On Oct. 10, two boys from the area were hiking when the found some bones sticking out of a slope near the cliffs. They dug out a few bones and brought them home.

The parents told the boys that the bones appeared to be human and they intended on contacting the Carbon County Sheriff's Department, but because they had some visitors they decided to wait to a little later. Meanwhile the boys went back to the site with another boy (even though they were told not to) and started digging more. Soon they unearthed a rib cage and a skull; that discovery scared them and they headed home.

That night the authorities were informed and the next day Sheriff's Deputies accompanied the boys to the site. Upon exhuming the rest of the skeleton authorities could see that the teeth of the person had been almost totally worn down. The site was not far from where construction crews had found other Fremont burial sites in the 1960s when they were widening and realigning Highway 6.

Michael David Valent pleaded guilty to the murder of his grandmother, Yolanda Armstrong of Price, at his preliminary hearing on Oct. 26. Armstrong was found stabbed to death in mid-June and Valent was arrested not long afterward. At the time of the plea, Valent was being held in the Utah State Hospital in Provo and was on medication. When asked for his plea by Judge Boyd Bunnell, the defendant said "Guilty and mentally ill." The prosecution felt that under the circumstances the defendant did not need further evaluation.

November brought the revelation that over $500,000 of equipment had been stolen from the Kaiser Mine near Sunnyside and at the washer plant in Wellington. After hiring a private investigator, the company found that a good deal of the equipment was located at another mine in Utah and also in mines in the states of West Virgina, Colorado and New Mexico. At the time the company was in bankruptcy and alluded to the fact that some of the equipment may have been taken by creditors without authorization and that some local people might be involved in the thefts.

In late November a number of "John Does" brought a suit against then Carbon County Sheriff Barry Bryner through their union, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The suit alleged that Bryner had "repeatedly breached his duty to deal fairly and in good faith with said John Does." It also accused him of following employees, not following established seniority and "promoting less qualified employees to various positions."

Also charges of sexual harassment, age discrimination and questions of moral turpitude would brought up. At the time a union representative said that if Bryner would just go away they would not pursue the suit. However in a meeting a few days later with the Carbon County Commission and in a letter to the Sun Advocate on Nov. 26 Bryner said he wouldn't quit because he owed it to the people who elected him to stay in office.

Over the next few weeks the sheriff and commission would be odds again and again over actions in the department and the suit. New charges about a number of other things arose out of the suit, too. In a Dec. 3 issue of the paper Bryner claimed that the news reporting of the situation had been biased and in fact favorable letters to the editor about him had not been printed by the Sun Advocate.

The end of the year brought out a report from the Utah Population Estimates Committee that showed that Carbon County's population had dropped by 2.6 percent since 1986 or a decrease of 600 people. While the state had an estimated 1,678,000 people and was overall growing, nine counties were losing population. The committee said the loss was coming as a result of out-migration of people as well as a declining birth rate. In specific, the slow down in the coal industry starting in the mid-1980s was also cited as one of the reasons Carbon was losing residents.

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