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  • SOUTHERN UTAH MEMORIES: Evan Whitehead investigated eight airplane crashes while sheriff of Washington County
    by Loren Webb
    Published - 09/08/13 - 03:47 PM | 1 1 comments | 632 632 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    Evan Whitehead. Photo credit: Washington County Historical Society
    Evan Whitehead. Photo credit: Washington County Historical Society
    (ST. GEORGE, Utah) - Evan Whitehead got into law enforcement when he began working part-time for Washington County Sheriff Roy Renauf, assisting the sheriff on investigating auto accidents and helping with paper service, according to a July 7, 2004 interview I had with Whitehead.

    Whitehead was born Oct. 29, 1918 to Chester A. and Jessie Gardner Whitehead. He had one brother and one sister. Whitehead attended Woodward Elementary and Dixie High School. He started hauling gasoline for Bill Prince and Lorain Cox. He later worked for Clarence and Art Dahl, hauling fuel out of Bakersfield, Calif. He then worked for Milne Truck Lines in 1940.

    He married Mae Gubler from Santa Clara and they had three sons and one daughter. After one year driving for Milne Truck Lines, Whitehead started driving for Garrett Truck Lines until he went into the Army in 1944. He was trained as an infantryman, but ended up a construction foreman, with most of his time spent in the Pacific Theater in the Philippines and later in Korea on occupation duty.

    He bought the first backhoe in Washington County and operated that for 14 years. About that time, he began working part-time for Sheriff Roy Renauf.

    At that time, the Sheriff’s office was located in the basement of the Pioneer Courthouse, now housing the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce. While Roy was sheriff, he had no deputies. However, Blondie Porter, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper, deputized Whitehead.

    When a horse, Roy Renauf was riding during a Dixie Roundup Rodeo, fell on Renauf, Renauf was injured and decided not to run for re-election as sheriff.

    At that time, Whitehead was asked to run for sheriff. In 1962, the new Washington County Courthouse was completed, the same year Whitehead was elected sheriff. Whitehead proceeded to hire George Andrus as a sheriff’s deputy. Whitehead served four terms for a total of 16 years before Sheriff Eugene Jones defeated him.

    During Whitehead’s tenure, he remembers investigating the Kenneth Hall murder case. Hall was living in a trailer house on the west side of the Black Hill. Whitehead said the suspect, Roy Lee Poe, was arrested and convicted of Hall’s murder. Poe was a drifter and was arrested in Nevada, between Logandale and Boulder City. He said he and Andrus went to Nevada to pick up Poe and transported him back to St. George where Poe was convicted and sentenced to prison.

    Whitehead investigated eight airplane crashes while sheriff of Washington County.

    One plane crash occurred when two planes coming from Arizona, transporting individuals wanting to attend the St. George LDS Temple, crashed at the St. George Airport, killing three to four people.

    The medical examiner on the case was Dr. Clark Staheli who had moved to St. George for his internship, Whitehead said.

    Another plane crashed into Pine Valley Mountain, killing two persons, a man and woman. They were on their way to LDS General Conference in Salt Lake City when they ran into a storm. A local resident, Beaner Wood, flying over the area, found the plane. The bodies of the two victims were retrieved and taken to a local mortuary.

    Another plane crash occurred during sheriff Renauf’s administration, but Renauf never located the plane which had originated from Logan, Utah, and was headed to Los Angeles with two persons aboard, when it disappeared somewhere in Southern Utah.

    Whitehead said Clair Hansen’s sons had gone deer hunting in Bear Valley. When one of the sons got lost on the mountain, he stumbled onto the plane crash with two skeletons inside the cockpit.

    George Andrus and Whitehead were notified and with Whitehead’s son, Ron, and St. George resident Dean Gardner, they went to the site of the plane crash and brought back the remains in body bags. Whitehead said the plane had been missing for 13 years.

    About that time, several local residents organized a county search and rescue group. Whitehead and his brother, Wes, also learned how to fly airplanes for search and rescue purposes.

    Whitehead also remembers the time when a group of 2,000 to 2,500 “flower people” moved onto the Enterprise Reservoir area for a two-week period after getting permission from the U.S. Forest Service. Whitehead said he kept a close watch on the group, but had no serious problems.

    With the county population growing, Whitehead began hiring more deputies to patrol the county. They included Alvin Truman and Larry Reeves in Enterprise, along with Pat Judd, Mike Excell, Glenwood Humphries and Rymal Hinton.

    The Sheriffs Department investigated the theft of copper wire and copper cable at the old Apex Mine, but was unable to solve the crime.

    On another occasion, Whitehead received a call from Phillips Petroleum officials in Los Angeles, Calif., who notified him that one of their geologists, who was assigned to map hot springs in the Veyo area of the county, failed to show up to an appointment in Beaver, Utah.

    Wes and Evan Whitehead went in a search plane and began searching the Santa Clara Creek drainage where they located the geologist’s car, four to five miles northwest of the General Steam area of Dixie National Forest. On closer examination, county search and rescuers found that the geologist’s car had slid off the road and lodged against a pine tree.

    Luckily, the geologist was uninjured and was brought safely back to town after which Whitehead notified Phillips Petroleum officials that the geologist was okay.

    Phillips officials asked if there was any fee for the rescue of their geologist. Whitehead replied no fee was required, but he did warn the company that in the future, “Don’t ever send a guy alone into the backcountry.”

    The company later sent a check for $250 to help cover rescue costs.

    In 1969, the year Neal Armstrong made the first successful flight to the moon, Whitehead received a phone call from AT&T officials, saying they would have a helicopter pilot pick up Whitehead at the St. George Airport the following morning at 6. When Whitehead arrived, he learned that someone had sabotaged a telephone line in western Washington County that conceivably could affect the space flight to the moon.

    The pilot flew Whitehead along the Beaver Dam Wash in western Washington County, eventually meeting an AT&T lineman. While on the trip, Whitehead learned that someone had sawed down telephone poles. The lineman was able to fix the problem and as they were traveling back, the helicopter pilot asked Whitehead if he recognized the pilot.

    The pilot said he was the same pilot Whitehead had traveled with in the Kolob Canyon area when Whitehead had criticized the pilot for flying down through a deep canyon endangering the lives of all aboard the flight.

    The pilot said he remembered that, and thanked Whitehead for bringing that matter to the pilot’s attention.

    Evan Whitehead was sheriff of Washington County from January 1963 to December 1978, according to a Washington County Historical Society website.

    Comments-icon Post a Comment
    Garrett Whitehead
    March 12, 2014
    I had heard many stories about my grandpa and his tenure as Sheriff while growing up, but had not heard some of those mentioned in this article. Thank you for the added memories.
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