After a slight dip, Utah homicides up in 2013
By Michael McFall
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jan 01 2014 07:53PM
After a slight dip, homicides in Utah are back up.
Law enforcement investigated 57 homicides in 2013, not including negligent homicides and automobile homicides. While previous Salt Lake Tribune tallies have been calculated differently at times, last year’s total is higher than the 49 in 2012 and 53 in 2011.
The increase goes for domestic violence, too: The deaths of 22 people last year were related to domestic violence, and that is "22 too many," said Peg Coleman, executive director of Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
"We have really done a lot of victim blaming," Coleman said, pointing to a mentality that it takes "two to tango" in domestic violence. That culture is part of what has kept victims from seeking help, even though there is no excuse for such violence, Coleman said.
The coalition normally publishes an annual report tallying domestic-violence-related deaths, but not for 2013. Instead of reiterating these stories, they will instead turn more of their attention to research and ways to improve a system that can do better, Coleman said.
Domestic violence is predictive and preventable, she said. "[It’s important] just for people to know that there are services, and that these things escalate over time."
Anyone can call 1-800-897-5465, 24 hours a day for completely confidential help, the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, and 911 in the event of an emergency.
Of all the year’s homicides, Salt Lake City police investigated the most, with nine. The agency with the second most, at seven, was the Unified Police Department, which covers a large part of Salt Lake County. That further cements this year’s trend that people were most likely to die in the state’s most populous county: It accounts for 41 percent of homicides.
"These cases are tragic," said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. "They are very unfortunate, and we do everything we can to bring these cases to a resolution not only for these victims who are killed but also for the family and loved ones."
Davis County takes second place, accounting for 10 percentof homicides statewide, while Weber and Utah counties tie for third, with 9 percent each.
Combining all of the homicide victims this past year, the most likely victim was a man in his mid-30s. Two out of every three victims were male, and the average age of all the victims was 36 years old.
Nine victims were children and the youngest was 5-month-old Ryker Petersen. Police said Ryker’s father shot him with a .22-caliber rifle then tried to turn the gun on himself, but a family member reportedly intervened. Ryker’s father, Joshua David Petersen, has since pleaded guilty.
Most homicide victims, like Ryker, were shot to death — 68 percent. Another 9 percent were stabbed.
As in the previous year, one officer was shot and killed in 2013. On Sept. 1, Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson was gunned down when, according to police, he stopped to investigate an oddly parked car. Police say the car’s owner, Timothy Troy Walker, ambushed Johnson and then turned the gun on himself and his girlfriend, Traci L. Vaillancourt. Walker and Vaillancourt survived.
There are two outstanding suspicious deaths that might ultimately be ruled as homicides. Two teenage boys, Ashton Peck and Andrew Nelson, were found shot to death in a Murray home on Sept. 7. Police are still investigating their deaths and await reports to get a better picture of what happened that day.
Six people were shot by police, killings that were ruled justified. Two people died from injuries they suffered while allegedly trying to rob someone’s home, according to the police.