Ron and Jinjer Cooke met sometime in about 2000 while they were both living and working in the Phoenix area. They quickly fell in love. They moved in together and married. Jinjer’s three children immediately began calling Ron "dad."
Everything was going well for the new family, and they had no idea that several years later, they would be embroiled in a lawsuit with a remote, mostly polygamous town that refused to give them water.
The turning point for the Cookes happened Dec. 2, 2005, Jinjer testified Tuesday in court. Ron was working on a road construction project in Phoenix when a truck crashed into him. The accident left him with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, and he spent months in the hospital — two weeks of which he was in a coma.
Jinjer told the court Tuesday that the accident devastated the family. Their income was quartered, and their home, which they had only recently moved into, wasn’t equipped for Ron’s new handicaps, which included confinement to a wheelchair, use of a catheter and other things.
So the Cookes began looking for somewhere else to live, a place they could afford and that would work for Ron.
And that’s when they began considering Ron’s childhood hometown, Colorado City.
Together with Hildale, Colorado City is part of Short Creek, a small community on the Utah-Arizona border that is mostly populated by members of The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Ron grew up in the polygamous religion, but left as a teenager. Still, Jinjer said Tuesday, Ron had fond memories of the region.
In 2008, the Cookes moved to Short Creek. They signed an occupancy agreement with the United Effort Plan, an FLDS-created but later state-run land trust, but initially lived in a trailer.
The move sparked a long and ultimately fruitless effort to get water hooked up to their home. Jinjer said she wasn’t expecting any fight over the water hookup because she took it as a given that when you move to a new house you get the utilities. It didn’t occur to her that there would be any problem.
But there was, and the Cookes and their lawyers believe they never got water because they aren’t members of the FLDS Church. They say the city governments in Short Creek are controlled by religious leaders and non-members suffer harassment and discrimination.
City attorneys disagree. They say the Cookes never complied with city policy and moreover were recruited to sue the cities. As they tell the story, the Cookes were pawns in a plan hatched by state-appointed officials who wanted circumvent local authorities.
Seth Cooke, Ron’s brother, also testified Tuesday.
— Jim Dalrymple II
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