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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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FOIA helps family learn what happened to grandparents

As I pointed out before, a lot of people think open-records laws are mainly for journalists writing about government.

But my colleague, Joel Campbell, recently highlighted how one Utah woman used the federal Freedom of Information Act to fill in a chapter of family history.

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Leslie Randle’s grandparents had left their family in 1966 for a 19-week USO tour entertaining U.S. forces in Alaska and around the Pacific. Hugh Yancey and his wife, Elinor, would do "speed painting", quickly producing a landscape picture. Hugh Yancey had appeared at fairs and on television, once producing a picture faster than a Polariod print could develop.

But the USO tour came to a tragic end a week later, when the transport plane carrying them to a remote Alaskan radar station crashed in the ocean, leaving no survivors.

But Randle had questions about what exactly happened, and through the Freedom of Information Act, she was able to get more details than the sparse information the military provided the family at the time of the accident.

As Randle told Campbell, there is no closure, but the records provided answers to a 44-year-old mystery.

If you have a similar story, please contact me.

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