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The BYU women's soccer team celebrates after its 3-2 win over Utah.

Summer road fatalities were lower than ever after '100 Deadliest Days' in Utah

It was early in the morning on the Fourth of July when Meghan and Morgan Hunter swerved to avoid hitting a deer on the road and lost control of their vehicle.

The sister and brother were wearing seat belts when the car rolled several times and landed sideways on the side of the highway. Both were able to exit the car before first responders arrived.

At the hospital, doctors discovered Meghan Hunter had broken three vertebrae in her neck during the crash. She was planning on starting her freshman year at Brigham Young University in the fall and running on the university’s track team.

Now she is waiting one year to recover before participating on the team. She was still wearing a neck brace when she shared her story on Thursday at a press conference hosted by the Utah Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety.

“I knew my neck was really sore, but I didn’t know the extent of how bad it was,” Meghan Hunter said. “It made me feel lucky that things weren’t worse.”

Jason Davis, deputy director for the Utah Department of Transportation Engineering and Operations, said he doesn’t believe luck has anything to do with the outcome of the crash.

“They weren’t lucky that they had their seat belts on. They made the decision to put their seat belts on. They weren’t lucky that they were driving the speed limit. They made that decision,” he said. “We don’t need to be lucky. We need to make better decisions out there on the road.”

The number of fatalities during the “100 Deadliest Days” of summer dropped nearly 40% this summer, officials reported, making 2019's summer road fatalities numbers lower than ever.

A total of 103 people died on Utah roads last year during the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This year, that number dropped to 62 people.

“Historically, our numbers have averaged about one fatality a day during that time period,” Davis said. “We’re extremely optimistic that people are changing their behaviors.”

For more than 10 years, the department’s Zero Fatalities education program has strived to educate Utah drivers on safe driving habits like buckling up and never driving aggressively or while impaired, drowsy or distracted.

Statistically, the most dangerous time of year to drive is during the summer, Davis explained. The longest stretch of days without a fatality this year were 11 days between June 2 and June 12.

More than half of all the fatalities in the past six years were men, according to UDOT statistics. Failing to wear a seat belt caused at least 10 fatalities this year, and speeding and distracted driving was the reason behind another 10 fatalities.

“Our troopers respond to the scene and they get to see what happens at the scene of a high speed crash. They experience firsthand the frustration when it involves someone who didn’t chose to wear their seat belt,” said Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich at the press conference. “We get to go and try to explain that to family members and explain why someone isn’t going to be able to come home.”

Surrounded by 41 people wearing numbered t-shirts representing each survivor compared to last year, Rapich thanked law enforcement, first responders and dispatchers who work together to help motorists after harrowing crashes.

“Crashes happen, but let’s do everything in our power to prevent them from happening,” Davis said.

LDS Church debuts first Book of Mormon video installment; production continues

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is bringing to life the stories and doctrine of The Book of Mormon, considered sacred scripture by the church, through a series of new films.

The first installment of these videos will debut Sept. 20. The church’s hope is the production of these videos will give people throughout the church and the world a visualization of the Book of Mormon.

“The Bible videos were first,” said Jaelan Petrie, a producer. “Next is the Book of Mormon; it has always been in the works.”

In short, the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ, shares the story of Lehi, a prophet from Jerusalem, and his descendants as they leave the holy land in 600 B.C. and travel to the Americas and build civilizations. Those in the Book of Mormon live the Mosaic law as they prepare for the coming of the Messiah. These LDS scriptures teach that a resurrected Christ appeared to the people on the American continent.

Petrie admits telling the doctrinal stories of the Book of Mormon is a big undertaking, as are the goals of the video series.

“There are two purposes,” Petrie said. “The first is to bring anyone who watches closer to Christ. The second is to extend the reach of the Book of Mormon.”

Petrie added, “Videos can go places we can’t. Members share with friends. It will be on YouTube and all kinds of places.”

In two weeks the cast and crew will put a wrap on the third year of filming. This year, they filmed storylines in the Book of Mormon from the time of King Benjamin to the later chapters of Alma.

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin was a beloved leader and prophet of the people. His speech to the people is stirring, according to Petrie.

“You don’t realize this was a life-changing event for all those people responding to King Benjamin,” Petrie said.

Petrie added this week they filmed the martyrdom of women and children thrown into the fire, as told in the scriptures.

“I didn’t expect the emotion. These weren’t just characters, these were humans,” Petrie said. “It was very emotional when Abinadi (a prophet in the Book of Mormon) burns to death.”

Petrie said they aren’t necessarily picking all of the great stories of the book, but the great doctrines taught in the book.

The videos are sponsored by all the church’s departments, and they have come together to give support to the project, Petrie said.

Elder Le Grand Curtis, General Authority Seventy, said the Book of Mormon project was approved November 2016 by the First Presidency. In August 2017, he became the leader of the steering team of general authorities along with Sister Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the General Presidency of the Relief Society.

“This is not just a media product,” Curtis said. “We are staying true to the doctrine.”

The sets range from grass huts to large sound stages, foreign set locations to computer-generated imagery. The most recent production was done on elaborate indoor and outdoor sets at the LDS Film Studios in Provo.

Curtis added, “I love the Book of Mormon. When I read it I will think of these portrayals.”

That may not be too hard. According to Curtis, in coming days the public will be able to see new notes references in the electronic and online version of the Book of Mormon, leading to the video connected to that scripture story.

Adam Anderegg, one of two directors on the project, has worked all three years of production. He said one of his favorite portrayals was that of Alma the Younger, a rather rebellious son of Alma, another prophet portrayed in the Book of Mormon.

“Alma the Younger I love more than ever,” Anderegg said.

Alma the Younger has a life-changing experience, similar to Saul in the New Testament, that alters his life and his service to God.

Anderegg said that most of the cast are members of the church, but there are plenty who are not. Cast members must be LDS if they are portraying a prophet or member of deity.

The two main set designers are both indigenous — Kee Miller and John Munoa. They did the set designs with several indigenous influences from South and North America, according to Anderegg.

“It’s a really special opportunity for directors who love the Book of Mormon,” he said. “What we are doing is a visualization as compared to a dramatization. There are lots of ‘aha’ moments where I’m blown away.”

Curtis said one of the stories that will be released this month is the story of Lehi’s dream of the tree of life.

“You see people taking the fruit and being filled with joy,” Curtis said. ”When I see the mockers in the great and spacious building, I can visualize it. Nothing takes the place of the book, but the hope is it will help children and investigators (of the church).”

“We still need to film Christ coming to the Americas. That will be a daunting task,” Curtis said.

No one knows that better than Elizabeth Hansen, the lead writer. Hansen has been a screenwriter for many years and is a member of the American Screenwriters Institute.

“I approach this with a great deal of reverence and respect,” Hansen said. “What I’ve found is the book came alive.”

Hansen said she feels fulfilled when she hears of church leaders reading and approving of the script.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he liked what he read. For Hansen, who admires Holland immensely, she admits the book becomes real, sometimes leading her to tears.

Hansen said that one of the General Relief Society sisters also asked that the women in the Book of Mormon have a voice — not a whiny or complaining one.

“We accomplished that,” Hansen said. “I think my favorite is yet to come. I just did 3 Nephi 17.”

Hansen referred the section in the book when Christ is depicted visiting the Americas and blessing their children; he was moved to tears speaking about it.

“I can come across a simple passage and be just weeping. Then I know I’m connected,” Hansen said.

Amber Weiss, from Oklahoma, plays Abish, a servant to King Lamoni’s household. She is secretly converted to the gospel and gathers members of the village to see the miracles in the palace.

“Abish interacts with the queen and performs a miracle and brings the queen out of a deep sleep,” Weiss said. “I think Abish is so cool. You don’t hear stories of women using faith.”

Weiss said she has done research on Abish and feels like she is much like her.

“Sometimes it’s hard to say if it’s Abish helping me or me knowing how to portray her,” Weiss said.

The church will finish the entire Book of Mormon video series sometime in the next year.

breaking featured
LDS Church announces groundbreaking date for Saratoga Springs temple

After more than two years of waiting, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced Saturday, Oct. 19 as the official groundbreaking date for the Saratoga Springs temple.

Attendance at the event will be by invitation only. Those living in the general area are invited to view the proceedings live from local meetinghouses.

Elder Craig C. Christensen, Utah Area President, will preside.

The temple was announced in April 2017 by then-church President Thomas S. Monson. It will be located in the new Beacon Pointe subdivision, west of Redwood Road and north of Meadow Side Drive.

Renderings show a three-story temple of about 87,000 square feet. An adjacent 21,000-square-foot meetinghouse will also be built, according to the church.

Members of the church living in Saratoga Springs have been eagerly awaiting any news on their city’s temple location or groundbreaking. Since Monson’s announcement of another Utah County temple, there had been little to no visual movement on a designated construction site, site plans or designs.

According to county mapping, the LDS Church owns approximately 3,000 acres of land in Saratoga Springs.

It is also not unusual for the organization to take significant time to release details of where and when a temple is going to be built. For example, there have been no further details released about the the April 2018 announcement of a temple to be built in a yet-to-be-determined major city in Russia.

Saratoga Springs residents aren’t alone in patiently pining for the temple.

There are currently 17 operational temples in Utah with others announced or in construction process in Layton, Tooele and Washington County.

Santaquin Police investigate possible homicide after infant dies of heat

A detective with the Santaquin Police Department filed a request for a search warrant to seize the mobile phone of a woman whose 6-month-old son died after his body reached a temperature of 109.8 degrees Fahrenheit, possibly from being left in a hot car.

According to the affidavit, officers are investigating whether the infant death was the result of child abuse homicide. The affidavit states Santaquin Police were dispatched at 5:44 p.m. on Aug. 13 to the emergency room at Mountain View Hospital in Payson after receiving reports of an infant that died from overheating in Santaquin. After arriving at the hospital, police discovered the deceased was a 6-month-old boy, who is described as having “hot, red, flushed skin” and a core temperature of 109.8 degree Fahrenheit.

The affidavit states that when the police were initially notified by the hospital about the infant boy, they were told he had died in a storage unit. But other evidence also pointed to the boy possibly dying from being left in a car.

The affidavit notes the infant already had rigor mortis set in, where limbs begin to stiffen after death, which typically begins between two to six hours following death. Rigor mortis was observed by police and confirmed by the emergency room physician. According to the affidavit, the emergency room physician told police the only condition that could cause the infant’s high body temperature would be “environmental elements.” According to police, prior to the emergency room calling about the infant, neither police nor medical personnel received emergency calls regarding the incident.

Police questioned the infant’s mother shortly after being called to the hospital and asked her about the events leading up to the boy’s death, the affidavit states. The affidavit describes the mother’s reaction as “unusual for a mother who just lost their infant child,” stating she was “calm and showing very little emotion,” and “struggling” to shed tears. According to the affidavit, the mother seemed more concerned with self-preservation and with officers accusing her of something than for her child.

Police asked the mother to provide a timeline of her day, which she said included running several errands, including meeting the owner of a storage unit in person. Police found her description of how long events took inconsistent, documents state. The affidavit states the woman told police her baby was in his car seat inside the vehicle right beside her the whole time and she didn’t notice anything until she arrived in Santaquin, after which she said the infant was lethargic, had a blank stare and was hot to the touch. The woman told police that just before arriving at the hospital, her baby began to stiffen and had fluid running from his mouth.

The mother of the infant told police it took approximately 35 minutes to get from Santaquin to Mountain View Hospital driving on SR 198 while speeding, but the affidavit notes the typical drive time using that route and during the time of day the woman described is closer to 10 minutes while driving the speed limit. The woman also told police her cell phone battery died, which is why she couldn’t call for help, according to the affidavit.

According to the affidavit, the woman told police part of her day involved visiting a neighbor around 3 p.m., and that the neighbor held the baby who was fine at the time. The affidavit states police determined the woman visited her neighbor at 1:30 p.m., instead of 3 p.m., and the neighbor denied ever seeing the baby when the woman visited.

As for the alleged meeting in person with the owner of a storage unit, police found the owner denied scheduling an appointment with the woman, and denied insisting the woman meet the owner in person, like the woman told police, which again indicated gaps and inconsistencies in the woman’s timeline, the affidavit states. According to the affidavit, the woman proceeded to change her story a couple of times regarding what she was doing before arriving at the hospital, which led police to ask to see her phone to confirm her timeline and whereabouts before the death of her infant, as well as to confirm the cell phone’s battery was dead.

The affidavit states the woman became defensive and said she didn’t have her phone, after which an officer walked with her to the waiting room of the hospital where her family was waiting; according to the affidavit, the phone was not in the hospital room or the woman’s vehicle, rather it was “mysteriously lost.”

According to the affidavit, the day following the incident the woman’s neighbor had convinced the woman to talk with police regarding “events she left out of her story;” the woman also told police she had found her cell phone stuck between seats of her vehicle. The woman gave the cell phone to police and provided a different story of her whereabouts prior to arriving at the hospital, telling police that instead of running errands, she was driving all over South Utah County searching for her lost dog with the infant in the car and lost track of time, the affidavit states.

Corporal Mike Wall with Santaquin Police said the investigation is ongoing as police try to determine the exact timeline of events that led to the infant boy’s death, and other evidence, such as a report from the medical examiner’s office. However, Wall said, it serves as a reminder to parents to not leave their children unattended in vehicles at any time, but especially on hot days.

“It doesn’t take long for kids to overheat,” Wall said. “(There’s) no safe time to leave kids unattended in a vehicle in this heat.”