Fatal shooting in Orem sparked by drug debt, police say
A fatal shooting in Orem a case that initially appeared to be a fatal car crash was sparked by the victim's failure to pay a drug debt, according to documents filed in 4th District Court.
Orem police at first thought 42-year-old Rupert E. Miley died from injuries suffered in a 3:15 a.m. Tuesday traffic crash near 200 East and 800 North.
But based on a bullet hole in the back of the driver's seat and Miley's profuse bleeding, investigators quickly discovered he had been shot in the back.
An accident scene that extended for several blocks including the destruction of a light pole, several trees, road signs and a fire hydrant resulted from Miley's efforts to drive himself to a hospital, according to court documents obtained Thursday.
Mason Eric French, 24, the alleged triggerman, was found lying on the roadway at the scene. A revolver was found at the scene of the crash.
French was taken into custody after providing details that did not match evidence at the scene, police said.
Officers later arrested a third man, Travis Waldron, 24, who allegedly jumped from the car and fled after the shooting.
Waldron's girlfriend told police that early Tuesday morning, Waldron and French, who were intoxicated, became upset at Miley over "an illegal drug debt," according to court documents.
The girlfriend said the two men left her home at about 2 a.m., but they returned sometime later to get a .357-caliber handgun and left again on foot at about 3 a.m.
A woman who lived with Miley later told police that two men matching the suspects' descriptions came to her home at about 2:30 a.m., demanding to see Miley.
The woman said she refused to let Miley go outside, and that the two suspects left after she threatened to call police.
But Miley left the home about 15 minutes later, and never returned, the woman told police.
Waldron later told police that after trading angry text messages with Miley over the drug debt, they met in a grocery store parking lot where, according to Waldron, the drug debt was seemingly resolved.
Waldron, who claimed he did not know French had a gun, said all three then got into Miley's car, according to court documents.
Waldron said French must have pulled out the gun and it went off, shooting Miley in the back. When Miley started driving to a hospital, Waldron said he jumped from the car and fled to a friend's home. Waldron told police they would find his fingerprints on the gun because he had handled it a week earlier.
But Waldron's girlfriend said Waldron told her a different story.
She told police she got a phone call from Waldron at about 3:30 a.m., asking her to meet him. The woman said Waldron then told her that during an argument in the store parking lot he had pointed a gun at Miley's head.
The woman said that Waldron told her he later handed the gun to French, in the backseat of the car, and that soon afterward the gun went off, sending a bullet through the seat into Miley's back, according to court documents.
French, who suffered minor injuries in the crash, declined to give a statement to police, saying he first wanted to speak to an attorney.
Both men have been booked into the Utah County jail on suspicion of murder. French is also facing a potential obstruction of justice charge, while Waldron a convicted felon could face a firearms violation.
Formal charges are expected to be filed next week.
It is not the first run-in with the law for either man.
Waldron pleaded guilty to drug and theft charges, including one felony, in two separate cases in 2012. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug charges in two separate cases in 2009 and to drug and disorderly conduct charges in 2007.
French was charged in March with felony possession of a controlled substance and is awaiting trial. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to charges of underage alcohol consumption and false identification. He pleaded no contest to a charge of disorderly conduct in 2007.
Miley, too, had a criminal history consisting mostly of minor convictions that begins in 2004 with misdemeanor convictions for drug possession and criminal mischief, according to Utah court records.
Since then he had pleaded guilty in four other drug cases, including a third-degree felony for which he was sentenced to a year in jail, and an assault case.
In October, Miley was charged with misdemeanor counts of drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. A pre-trial conference in that case had been set for next month in Orem's justice court.