SALT LAKE CITY — A tech worker was charged Wednesday with murder and kidnapping in the death of a Utah college student whose body was found in a wooded area with her arms bound behind her.
Prosecutors said Ayoola A. Ajayi, 31, was the last person Mackenzie Lueck communicated with before she disappeared on June 17.
She died of blunt force trauma to the head, and her body was found with her arms bound with zip ties and ropes, District Attorney Sim Gill said while announcing the charges.
He declined to discuss a motive or the nature of the connection between Lueck and Ajayi.
Gill became emotional as he described the Lueck family’s reaction to the charges.
“They asked me to express on their behalf the generosity of so many strangers and friends,” he said. “They are genuinely appreciative and moved by the outpouring of love and compassion.”
Lueck disappeared shortly after she returned from a trip to her California hometown for the funeral of her grandmother and took a Lyft from the airport to a park.
She met Ajayi there, apparently willingly, but a short time later her phone was turned off “and never powered back on,” Gill said.
Police later found the charred phone in the backyard of Ajayi’s home in Salt Lake City, along with a bone, muscle tissue and part of Lueck’s scalp, Gill said.
A neighbor reported a fire and a “horrible smell” coming from the yard on the day Lueck disappeared, Gill said.
Her body was later discovered in a shallow grave in Logan Canyon, 85 miles from Salt Lake City. The site is near Utah State University, where Ajayi had attended classes. Phone data puts him at the canyon a week after Lueck disappeared, Gill said.
Ajayi was arrested June 28 during the wide-ranging search for the 23-year-old University of Utah student that lasted nearly two weeks. Prosecutors did not strike a deal with Ajayi to find her, Gill said.
Ajayi was charged with one count each of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body. A court appearance was set for Monday.
An attorney listed for Ajayi did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The charges make Ajayi eligible for the death penalty, but Gill did not say whether prosecutors would pursue it.
Lueck has been remembered as a bubbly, nurturing person. She was a member of a sorority and a part-time senior at the university studying kinesiology and pre-nursing.
Ajayi is an information technology worker who had stints with high-profile companies and was briefly in the Army National Guard.
He has no formal criminal history but was investigated in a 2014 rape allegation and was arrested in a stolen iPad case at Utah State University in 2012. The arrest and the expiration of his student visa led to him being banned from the campus for about three years.
A native of Nigeria, Ajayi is now a U.S. citizen, records show.
The countdown has started for many Utah County Boy Scouts to get their Eagle Scout award before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints and the Boy Scouts of America go their separate ways.
For instance, LDS Boy Scouts who were not a Life Scout by the end of June, the rank preceding Eagle Scout, will not have enough of the required leadership time of six months to get an Eagle Award by Dec. 31.
Eagle Awards aren’t going away, but it appears many Latter-day Saint families are shifting their focus on what their church’s new program might be.
Of the troops attached to the Utah National Parks Council, about 98% are LDS. The council is based in Orem and is the largest council in the Scouting program. There are nearly 84,000 Scouts from Lehi to St. George and just over the borders into surrounding states.
“We are starting to see an influx of applications for Eagles,” said John Gailey, spokesman for Utah National Parks Council of the BSA.
Gaily said some LDS congregations have identified boys working toward their Eagle and are focusing on them. Other LDS wards and their youth leaders are not doing anything until the new church program starts.
“Youth want Eagles, but adults are saying no,” Gailey said. “Boys are calling us.”
Gailey said the greatest challenge is that boys need 20 nights of camping with a troop. The council provides a couple of weeks for solo campers in which the council provides the leadership, but that is still not enough time.
The National Parks Council owns 13 Scout camps — the two best-known to Utah County scouts are Camp Maple Dell in Payson Canyon and Camp Jeremiah Johnson in Hobble Creek Canyon.
Currently, more girls are using Jeremiah Johnson than boys for their LDS Church Activity Days programs, according to Gailey.
To keep money coming in, some of the camps are rented to other organizations such as the new Adventure for Youth program from Brigham Young University, LDS girls camps, family reunions and other groups.
“We provide the infrastructure and activities, they do the rest,” Gailey said. “A few are year-round camps.”
Gailey said a new camp was opened two years ago in Eagle Mountain and is doing well.
Just a couple miles outside of Blanding near the Four Corners area, the council has been running a summer camp for an LDS stake that has been bringing Scouters for years.
“They bring their families,” Gailey said. “They use it to help youth prepare for missions. The people who put on the camp are LDS members. Troops from all over go there, it’s a huge tradition.”
Gailey said the camp sells out, but the new church program could change that.
Utah is holding its own with successful camps and camp programs, but other areas of the country are reporting a down tick in camp usage already as a result of the upcoming LDS split.
On June 24, the Associated Press reported, “For the first time in 55 years, Camp Raymond 30 miles west of downtown Flagstaff will not be hosting its six-week scout summer camp, though it will continue to offer its other year-round programs.”
The summer camp was down by more than 3,400 participants from last year — an estimated $700,000 loss in revenue.
The Associated Press report noted that northern Arizona is experiencing a decline in BSA troops.
“The region is expected to lose more than 1,800 scouts who are church members unless they transfer to community troops, although fewer than 10% are expected to transfer,” the Associated Press reported.
About 70% of Boy Scout troops in Arizona are chartered by the church, while in northern Arizona, the percentage is higher, with 105 church troops and 22 community-chartered troops registered, according to the Associated Press.
Arizona has also seen a reduction in professional Scouters and closures of camp stores and other affiliated programs.
Gailey said the National Parks Council is hoping 20% of its registered Scouts will find new troops or that new troops will be organized.
Community caring in question
Those new troops may have to pick up the ball on the bigger programs and volunteer projects supported by Scouting.
Special community projects will likely be highly affected, particularly fundraising.
It’s all of the unknowns and unintended consequences of the church change that has the council concerned.
“We don’t know about how Friends of Scouting will do,” Gailey said. “The National Parks Council has their drive in the fall.”
Friends of Scouting is a fundraiser sponsored by the LDS Church on behalf of Scouting. That will come to an end with this fall’s final collection of donations.
Gailey said the council has been looking at restarting popcorn sales to raise money. Across the nation, omitting Utah, popcorn sales are big for Scouts, like cookies are for Girl Scouts.
“It is usually sold in the fall (opposite the Girl Scouts) for units and the council,” Gailey said.
And what about food and the annual Scouting for Food drive for the Community Action Services and Food Bank?
Dave Smith, food bank manager, is concerned about what is going to happen next spring when the Scouting for Food drive usually comes around.
“If I did not have the boys get fliers and bags out and on Saturday of the drive knock on doors, I’d get four or five times less than just having people remembering to put a bag of food out,” Smith said. “If we don’t have boots on the ground, kids ready to help the whole effort will fall flat and not be effective.”
The National Guard is ready to transport the food to the food bank, but the Scouts typically brought food to the LDS stake centers for transportation, Smith said.
“It’s a big concern. In our outlying communities like Coalville, Kamas and other small towns, the attitude is, ‘Hey its changing; we’re not even going to bother’,” Smith said.
The numbers of donation have been going down over the past few years as the transition trods on. According to Smith, the Scouting for Food drive has gone from 163,000 pounds of food in 2018 to 103,224 pounds garnered this spring.
“It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen,” Smith said.
That’s about the same reaction of Adam Whitaker, executive director of the American Red Cross Central and Southern Utah Chapter.
“The Red Cross is the sole provider of blood for 40 of the 44 Utah hospitals,” Whitaker said. “There are thousands of blood drives every year and dozens of them are Eagle projects.”
Whitaker said that besides the blood drive he is concerned that boys will not engage as much in community service.
“We are hopeful there will be a requirement for community engagement,” Whitaker said in reference to the new LDS Church youth program.
Bill Hulterstrom, CEO and president of the United Way of Utah County, said Scouts are involved with volunteering for many non-profit organizations.
“We hope ‘love they neighbor’ will still continue,” Hulterstrom said.
Many Eagle Scout and merit badge projects focus on cleanup and renovation of parks and schools, which are already feeling the effects of the Scouting break-up.
According to Scott Henderson, director of Provo’s parks and recreation, in 2017 there were 11 Eagle Scout projects for parks. In 2018, there were nine projects. This year, there are only three that have been completed and two still being worked on.
“We’ve seen a tapering off of Eagle projects since the announcement by the church,” Henderson said. “All of them have been appreciated and it connects the parks to the community.”
In every case, those in leadership are saying they are waiting to see what the LDS Church is going to introduce as their new worldwide program for youth.
On May 8, 2018, the LDS Church announced that after more than a century, it would be ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.
The worldwide growth of the church, and the fact that the church only uses the BSA program in the U.S. and Canada, was part of the provided explanation.
The church announced it intended to design its own youth program for children ages 8 to 17 to be adopted on a global level.
On May 17, the church sent out a letter letting local leaders know that on Sept. 29, the fifth Sunday of the month, a broadcast from President M. Russell Ballard, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, would be made available to all congregations.
Trevyn Smith, Weber State’s career football rushing leader who died on Independence Day, spent his last three days alive in the Salt Lake County Jail.
Police arrested Smith July 1 in downtown Salt Lake City on warrants and he was taken to the jail, where he “suffered a medical incident” July 4 and was transported to a hospital, according to a Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
“It is under investigation at this time and we can’t comment on an active investigation,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Hunter said Wednesday.
The jail, per policy, is doing an internal investigation of the incident. South Salt Lake police also are investigating the death, Hunter said.
Smith’s wife Erica told the Standard-Examiner in other reports that Smith suffered a stroke and heart attack in June 2017, and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
Utah’s county jails have been under heavy scrutiny the past few years after higher numbers of deaths occurred behind bars, including 27 statewide in 2016.
The state launched an oversight program in 2018, requiring counties to submit annual reports on jail deaths and causes. Lawmakers also ordered a focus on treatment of jail inmates suffering drug addictions.
Half a dozen deaths since 2016 have resulted in wrongful death civil suits against jails, alleging insufficient medical care and monitoring of inmates.
Hunter said Utah Highway Patrol troopers assigned to Operation Rio Grande arrested Smith, 32, on outstanding warrants.
The former football star was booked into the jail on warrants to appear in court on charges of use of possession of drug paraphernalia, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, failure to stay on one lane and driving on a denied license, Hunter said.
A UHP report of the July 1 arrest said two troopers saw Smith “standing in the roadway zoning out.”
UHP Sgt. Nick Street said Wednesday the troopers approached Smith and checked his identity, finding a misdemeanor warrant for failure to appear in court.
Street said Smith had been staying at the Road Home shelter at the time of his arrest.
Since 2017, UHP troopers have been assigned to patrol the area of the shelter, where drug use and other crime had escalated as downtown homelessness grew.
Court records show Sandy police arrested Smith on April 7 after they found him asleep in the passenger seat of a car with its windshield broken out. A police probable cause statement said officers reportedly found Smith had syringes and a container of methamphetamine.
In connection with that arrest, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office on June 5 charged Smith with class A misdemeanor possession or use of a controlled substance and class B misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.
Smith’s death became known on July 5 after his former Weber State coach tweeted his condolences to the family.
“Trevyn was one of my favorite people. He will be deeply missed,” coach Matt Hammer said in his tweet. Since that time, community members from Weber State and Springville, where Smith grew up, have shared their memories of him.
Smith’s funeral services will be held at 12:15 p.m. Saturday, July 13, in the gymnasium at Springville High. Family and friends can visit from 6-8 p.m. Friday, July 12, and again from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday prior to the services.
Jacob Scholl and Brett Hein contributed to this report.
The Spanish Fork-Springville Airport’s taxiway is about to feel smoother.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that the airport would receive about $151,000 in grant funds to construct an additional taxiway, improve airport drainage and rehabilitate an existing taxiway.
The funds are part of $477 million in infrastructure grants awarded to 264 airports as part of the FAA’s $3.18 billion Airport Improvement Program.
The grant funds did not come as a surprise for the growing municipal airport.
“We were expecting it,” Cris Child, airport manager, said.
Child said the taxiway improvements are part of a 10-year plan that includes plans for a fencing project, the addition of snow removal equipment, repairing more asphalt and constructing an additional taxiway to the north of the runway.
As the Provo Municipal Airport has gained additional carrier services, Child said pilots have shifted to Spanish Fork to train.
“Our airport has grown significantly over the last few years,” he said.
The number of aircraft at the Spanish Fork airport has doubled in the last decade, and Child said the airport has 180 aircraft and 3,000 takeoffs and landings each month.
Child said the Spanish Fork airport has become a busy general aviation airport, with heavy use from executive travel and private pilots.
That growth has meant the asphalt is getting plenty of wear and tear from aircraft. Child said the grant will be used to refurbish a section of taxiway that goes to and from the airport and will add a new taxiway for a new development coming in, which will include the addition of a company that does synthetic aperture radar.