The year began with the senseless death of a Millard County Sheriff’s deputy who was gunned down in the middle of a highway near Delta. Josie Fox’s alleged killer was caught after a manhunt that spanned several counties. Fox was not the only badge-wearing public servant to be shot and killed in the line of duty. In August, police say Scott Curly ambushed and killed Kane County deputy Brian Harris. In November, a Utah State park ranger would also be shot, but thankfully survived. His alleged shooter was still on the loose a month later.
Scandals and controversy would signal big changes in Utah’s political environment. When Utah Senate Majority leader Sheldon Killpack was pulled over just after midnight on January 15th, a typical DUI arrest altered Utah’s Republican leadership. Killpack’s resignation and legal troubles were highlighted by a court battle between the State of Utah and ABC 4 News (along with other media outlets) over whether the state could determine which public records could be kept secret. In March, another shocking political scandal would lead to the resignation of Utah House majority leader Kevin Garn, who confessed to being involved in a naked hot tub encounter with a teenaged girl decades earlier. Stranger still was the standing ovation given to Garn by the Utah Legislature after his tearful confession.
Layton tragedies, Bennett gets the boot
In May, another tragedy would also haunt the community of Layton. Ethan Stacy had not been a resident of Utah for very long when his life was taken. Ethan’s mother Stephanie Sloop and her new husband Nathan called police on May, asking for help in locating Ethan, who they claimed had wandered off. Community concern turned to outrage when the Sloops led police to a shallow grave near Powder Mountain, where investigators found Ethan’s small body desecrated and mutilated in what prosecutors say was an attempt to hide the truth; that the boy suffered an awful, slow, painful death at the hands of the people who were supposed to care for him.
Also in May, voters in Utah began what would become a political firestorm across the United States as 4-term U.S. Senator Bob Bennett was the first to feel the sting of conservative disenchantment with the Republican establishment. Bennett came in third behind Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater in the Republican primary, leading to a tearful concession and a trend in other states that would result in a November mid-term election that shook up the Democratic majority in Congress and leveled the playing field in the Senate. Lee won Bennett’s seat in the Senate in November, along with a host of other “TEA Party” favorites across the country.
In late May, Utah resident and former child star Gary Coleman died after falling and hitting his head inside his Santaquin home. The 42-year-old actor's wife (or ex-wife, as it was later discovered) took center stage in several legal battles over his will and burial rights. Many in the entertainment world mourned for Coleman, who starred in the TV show Diff'rent Strokes in the early 80s.
Gardner execution, Red Butte debacle, 'The List' and a reprieve for Jeffs
Also in June, 20,000 gallons of crude oil poured into Red Butte Creek after a pipeline burst. It would take months to clean away the residue, but Chevron, the company that owns the pipeline assured residents they would take full responsibility and be more careful. Salt Lake City leaders were justifiably frustrated when the same pipeline burst again in early December, although the latest leak did not impact Red Butte creek as bad as the first time.
When ABC 4 and other media outlets received an envelope in June containing a list of the names of people supposedly living in Utah illegally, no one could predict the firestorm that would result. “The List,” as it would come to be known, caused a lot of anger and alarm in Utah’s Hispanic community. Utah’s government leaders, who were already trying to tackle tough immigration issues, were left befuddled by divided public sentiment concerning “The List,” even after the culprit, a disenchanted state employment worker was discovered.
The Utah State Supreme Court had a big surprise in July, as the conviction of Warren Jeffs was overturned, citing an improper jury instruction during his 2007 trial for rape as an accomplice. The ruling left Jeffs’ legal future in limbo in Utah, even though the polygamous leader was eventually extradited to Texas to face similar charges.
Gun battle, Utes/Cougs depart MWC, Machine Gun Fire
As the college football season approached in August, a major shake up involving the University of Utah and Brigham Young University would make national sports headlines. The U of U eagerly accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 after the conference failed in a bid to lure Texas and other Big-12 schools away. BYU, left with little money to be gained by a continued by any association with the Mountain West Conference, decided to go its own way, choosing independence. Utah State University took the honorable path and decided to honor an agreement to stay in the Western Athletic Conference, rejecting a possible bid from the MWC. In the end, all three of Utah’s major college football programs have now gone their separate ways.
In September, a routine live-round exercise at The Utah National Guard’s Camp Williams turned into one of the biggest disasters of the year. The Machine Gun Fire burned several acres on the military base, but quickly spread into the neighborhoods of Herriman, burning 4 homes and forcing the evacuations of thousands. It took several days to get the fire under control. It may take several months to sort out all the insurance and legal claims.
Justice for Elizabeth, Roy crash, Tabernacle inferno, floods
In early December, a small plane crashed into a Roy neighborhood on approach to the Hinckley airport in bad weather. The crash raised questions as to the safety of homes so close to the airport. Luckily, the pilot survived and no one on the ground was hurt, although the crash damaged some homes.
In Mid-December, the Provo LDS Tabernacle, one of Utah County’s most celebrated landmarks went up in flames, leaving nothing but a charred frame and scorched memories. It will not be until January 2011 before an exact cause is known.
Just before Christmas, a huge storm caused flooding in southern Utah. Although there was more water in the rivers and streams than in 2005 (when flooding swept away homes and caused damage costing millions), officials credited preventative measures and a quick response for saving several homes and controlling the damage.