This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The sport utility vehicle blew a tire while driving up U.S. Highway 89 in Sanpete County. When it rolled, centrifugal force hurled three of the boys who were passengers through the windows, including 12-year-old Easton Taylor.
Easton died at the scene. He was one of six males, ages 12 to 18, who were inside the vehicle, according to the Utah Highway Patrol. According to UHP's written report, three of the passengers, including Easton, were not wearing a seat belt.
The six were members of the Kingston Group, according to former sect members, also known as the Davis County Cooperative and the Latter Day Church of Christ. The group practices polygamy. Another practice or lack thereof is coming under scrutiny.
The Kingstons tend not to wear seat belts, former members say, though an attorney for the church says members are advised to use them.
The issue of seat belts and car seat use among the Kingstons is highlighted by the June death of Easton, and the September death of 3-year-old Paisley Hayden in Salt Lake County.
Last month, the Salt Lake County district attorney's office charged Carolyn Dawn Hughes, a 24-year-old member of the Kingstons, with class A misdemeanor negligent homicide in connection with the death of Paisley, her daughter, and who police said was not in a car seat.
A website that tracks the Kingstons, http://www.kingstonclan.com, recently published a list of 12 women who the publishers say belong to the sect and have had citations in Utah courts for failure to use seat belts or child restraints. The citations are dated from 1998 through 2006.
"They have too damn many kids to fit them in a car," said Emily Tucker, who left the Kingstons with her family when she was 14. She is now 28 and says she remains in contact with some of the sect's members. She helped The Salt Lake Tribune confirm the affiliations of the people involved in the crashes in Sanpete and Salt Lake counties.
Buckling one child in a car seat occupies space that could otherwise hold two kids, Tucker said. She described Kingston women as being left to take care of their children, and perhaps kids from other households, without adequate help or transportation. Buying bigger vehicles or finding more adults to drive them would cost money that men in the sect don't want to pay, she said.
Tucker points to the sect's leader and her uncle, Paul Kingston, as an example.
"Some of his wives have 17 kids, so they would need two cars," Tucker said. "So why would Paul buy two cars for however many of his wives have 17 kids?"
Even when there are enough seat belts to go around, the Kingstons teach followers that if they are in a car crash, God will protect them, Tucker said.
"We were told in Sunday school that if we were on the school bus and the school bus crashed, God would save only [the Kingston children]," Tucker said.
F. Mark Hansen, an attorney for the Davis County Cooperative, on Thursday disputed Tucker's assertions, saying church members are told to wear seat belts.
"I've heard it said more than once in a meeting to put on your seat belt," Hansen said.
As for whether members were told God will protect them, Hansen said: "That's ridiculous. People know they're not immortal, bulletproof, whatever you want to call it."
When Hansen drives, he said, he tells everyone to buckle up.
"If we have more people to take than we have seats in the car," he added, "then we take two cars."
Any disuse of seat belts isn't confined to the Kingstons. Hildale, Utah, and adjacent Colorado City, Ariz., are home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A former marshal there, Helaman Barlow, said he often saw adults filling vehicles with too many children.
"It's a matter of practicality," Barlow said. "You really can't get a vehicle, other than a bus, that will have seat belts for 20 people."
Barlow, who has 11 children, acknowledges he has let his kids go without restraints when driving a short distance in town. But he said he makes everyone put on seat belts when he pulls onto the highway.
Barlow said that at one point, FLDS President Warren Jeffs told his followers that when they got in their cars, they were supposed to buckle their seat belts then pray for a safe trip and for Jeffs' deliverance from prison before driving.
In 2014, according to court records, UHP ticketed Hughes in Summit County for failure to use a child-restraint device. She was fined $95.
Then, on Sept. 3 of last year, Hughes' SUV was in a northbound left-turn lane at the intersection of Redwood Road and Research Way (about 2700 South). The SUV carried eight children from multiple families.
A southbound vehicle collided with Hughes' SUV on the passenger side when she attempted the turn. According to court documents, Hughes said she didn't realize the oncoming car, which was going about 40 mph , was "going so fast."
Paisley was ejected through a window on the driver's side and crushed by the overturning SUV. Hughes' 2-year-old son suffered critical injuries to his leg.
Police later determined no one in Hughes' SUV was wearing a restraint, court documents say.
The negligent-homicide charge carries a potential punishment of up to one year in jail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 23 in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court. Hughes has not yet entered a plea.
Her lawyer, Steve Burton, on Friday declined to discuss the crash or why Paisley wasn't in a car seat, but said he and the prosecutor are in discussions to resolve the case.
"Everything that people have said about her is she is a very loving mother and a very selfless person," Burton said, "and I think everybody on both sides [of the criminal case] recognize that."
There were no charges filed in the June 20 rollover that killed Easton. In that crash, Easton and the five others were returning from camping, UHP said. The driver was passing another vehicle when the left front tire blew on the SUV.
The SUV went left off the road, hit a drainage ditch and began to roll. Easton, who was in the back seat, was partially ejected, UHP said.
Twitter: @natecarlisle Clarification • An earlier version of this article said none of the occupants of a sport-utility vehicle during a June 20 crash in Sanpete County was wearing a seat belt. That information came from a Utah Highway Patrol spokesman who briefed reporters after the crash. However, UHP's written report on the crash says the driver and two passengers wore seat belts; three other passengers, including 12-year-old Easton Taylor, who died in the crash, did not.