Lawmaker wants to strengthen law vs. rock toppling

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A state legislator wants to make desecration of Utah's natural geologic wonders punishable by prison and a heavy fine because authorities aren't finding a charge serious enough to use in the case of two former Boy Scout leaders accused of toppling one of the unique rock formations at Goblin Valley State Park.

Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said "there just isn't much" in state law for use against the October toppling made infamous by a YouTube video. One Scout leader films the other pushing over a mushroom-shaped sandstone pillar and then they and another companion cheer and high-five.

They claimed it might have been ready to fall and kill a visitor. The rock formation they toppled was eroded from sandstone deposited about 170 million years ago, parks officials have said.

"We have nothing to deal with this type of desecration," Pitcher said. "We can deal with graffiti, people who would cut down a tree, who do general vandalism, but we don't have anything to deal with people who actually destroy geologic formations or antiquities in the parks. We have nothing to put the fear of God in them."

It isn't clear whether a garden-variety-level charge of criminal mischief applies to destruction of a natural object. The vandalism law has been used against people who carve graffiti or their names into the arches of southern Utah because officials could derive a value from erasing the damage, Emery County Attorney David Blackwell said.

"This one's different," Blackwell told The Associated Press. "How do you put a price on putting a rock back — and can you put it back?"

Blackwell plans to consult with parks officials who investigated the Oct. 11 toppling and then make a decision the second week of December on possible charges. He wasn't certain what action he might take. Blackwell said he was awaiting delivery of a report from investigators.

The video shot by David Hall shows Glenn Taylor pushing over the boulder. They were stripped of their Boy Scout leadership positions, and both say their video triggered death threats from around the world. Their troop was elsewhere at the state park during the filming, Blackwell said.

"We have now modified Goblin Valley," Hall says on the video since removed from YouTube. "Some little kid was about ready to walk down here and die, and Glenn saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way. So it's all about saving lives here at Goblin Valley. Saving lives, that's what we're about."

No working phone listings could be found Friday for Taylor or Hall.

Previously, Hall has said, "We're extremely sorry for our mistake. We look forward to doing everything we can to make it right and move on."

From the start, parks officials and others doubted the rock formation was at risk of tipping over. It may have been perched that way for much of human history, like hundreds of other goblin-shaped rocks that dot the eroded floor of the state park, Pitcher said.

"We're going to let a Scout leader determine what's loose or falling?" Pitcher said. "They were down there to raise havoc. They weren't protecting the public."

Pitcher said their "unconscionable" act might never have come to anyone's attention if it wasn't shown on YouTube.

"Here you have people who took it upon their own to tip over antiquities, to destroy and desecrate things that are probably millions of years old," Pitcher said. "They're priceless."

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