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Year already third-deadliest for Utah officers

Published September 1, 2010 6:52 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The shooting of Kane County sheriff's Deputy Brian Harris marks the fourth time a Utah law enforcement officer has died in the line of duty in 2010, already making it the third-deadliest year on record.

"This year has been especially bad for us," said Robert Kirby, historian for the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial and a Tribune columnist. "We haven't seen numbers like this since the '80s."

In 1987, five officers died while on duty — two were killed, two died in car accidents and one died in an accidental shooting. The bloodiest year was in 1913, when six officers died — five in a single manhunt.

In 2010, Harris and Millard County sheriff's Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox were shot to death and Sevier County sheriff's Sgt. Franco Aguilar and Bureau of Indian Affairs Officer Joshua Yazzie died in traffic accidents. Last year, no officers died while on duty.

The rise mirrors national numbers, too.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there was a 43 percent increase in officer deaths by midyear than the same period in 2009, which had the fewest line-of-duty deaths since 1959.

The reasons for the spike in deaths this year are unclear.

Some, like Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker, say economic pressures of not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from has pushed some Utahns over the brink, while others, like Kirby, call it a run of bad luck.

Dekker, too, sees a change in society's values.

"Life isn't as cherished as it used to be by some people," he said. "Their answer to some things is to take a life over what is proven in some cases to be very minor things. Often somebody is just angry."

Dekker said the Jan. 5 shooting death of Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox deeply affected everyone on their small force.

"It's like a member of the family being lost," Dekker said. "You've lost a loved one and you're out here doing the same job and you just hope and pray every day that it doesn't happen again."

The news of any officer in the state being killed in the line of duty takes its toll on family, too.

"The spouses, the kids, they all worry a little bit more when they see something like this," he said, referring to the slaying of Kane County Deputy Brian Harris. "Those kids who are older who see Mom or Dad head out the door to protect and serve — even my kids — they get worried."

This year has also marked two firsts for the state: the first female officer to die in a gunfight and the first Latino officer to die.

"Homicide remains the single biggest cause of law enforcement deaths," Kirby said, adding that seven of the past 15 officers to die were killed by a suspect.

"These latest figures provide a grim reminder that, even with all of the safety improvements that have been achieved in recent decades, our law enforcement officers still face grave, life-threatening dangers each and every day," Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said in a statement.

Kirby said losing so many officers in a short time highlights those dangers.

"We're always shocked when there are this many in a year," he said. "But we know there will be another." —

Officers who died in 2010 while on duty

Jan. 5 • Millard County sheriff's Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox was shot to death during a traffic stop.

April 29 • Sevier County sheriff's Sgt. Franco Aguilar was thrown off Fish Creek Bridge on Interstate 70 when a car slid on the icy road into an accident scene.

June 7 • Bureau of Indian Affairs Officer Joshua Yazzie died after his car went over a 200-foot embankment on the Ute Indian Reservation.

Aug. 26 • Kane County sheriff's Deputy Brian Harris was shot to death during a foot pursuit of a burglary suspect.






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