26 November 2020

  • Lawmakers hear of ‘hurdles’ to state takeover of Utah Transit Authority
    The Utah Transit Authority’s Salt Lake City office building is pictured in 2017. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    But still ‘very early in the process’ of overhauling transit agency

    SALT LAKE CITY — There doesn’t seem to be much interest in a state takeover of the Utah Transit Authority and its $2 billion debt, but some Utah lawmakers aren’t ready to close the door entirely on the possibility it could still happen in the future.

    “I think we are very early in the process,” Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said at a Transportation Interim Committee meeting last week, after criticizing the final report from a consultant on the feasibility of transitioning the public transit district into a state entity for stopping short of making specific recommendations.

    “There’s nothing new. I think there’s some great information, a regurgitation of things already known. Is this report exactly what I wanted? No,” Harper, the committee’s Senate chairman, said, noting it did not address whether UTA should be part of the Utah Department of Transportation or a separate state agency under the executive branch.

    Still, Harper said the 2018 legislative overhaul of UTA that he sponsored appears to be working.

    Lawmakers took action after UTA signed a nonprosecution agreementwith the U.S. Attorney’s Office to cooperate in a probe of the agency’s dealings and submit to federal monitoring. Legislative auditors had previously raised concerns about transit deals, as well as the generous employment contractsfor some top UTA officials.

    “I am very pleased with the changes that I’m seeing. And at this point, I think it’s pretty clear the calls that we made a couple of years ago are working and we need to give those time to run the course,” Harper said. “Right now, I think we’re operating pretty good.”

    However, should that assessment change in the future, he said lawmakers will look to the report prepared for the transit agency and UDOT as well as other information about what bringing UTA under state control would mean and pointed out again that “the report says there’s some hurdles if want to do it but no recommendations.”

    The committee’s House chairman, Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, also noted the report didn’t offer any recommendations. He said he’d like details of what it would take to transition UTA to a state entity, even if “it’s obvious to most of us it’s not a good time to change any more. There may be parts of this we can phase in.”

    Christofferson suggested that may have to wait. He said that in reading the report, he “just felt like there’s too many things that are obstacles right now. Maybe down the road those obstacles can be handled, but that was my feeling.”

    The 52-page report done by Baker Tilly, a Chicago-based public accounting and consulting firm, spells out in the executive summary why no recommendations were made.

    “Considering the broad range of possible approaches in designing a new transit-service delivery model and the uncertainties involved in each approach, it is beyond the scope of this report to identify all risks, challenges and costs associated with a future transition,” it states.

    But the report did detail key issues associated with some form of a state takeover. At the top of the list is the effect assuming the transit agency’s $2 billion in debt is expected to have on Utah’s enviable AAA bond rating that is utilized by school districts and other entities to keep interest rates low when borrowing funds.

    That level of increase to the state’s debt load would downgrade to a lower rating that would increase the cost of issuing bonds because they would be seen as more risky to investors, while retiring or refinancing UTA’s debt would cost the state some $300 million, according to the report.

    Other financial considerations in the report include an anticipated $71 million in additional bonding by UTA through 2024, a costly review of thousands of the agency’s existing contracts and assuming responsibility for addressing revenue shortfalls, such as occurred when ridership plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic.

    The report also pointed out possible human resources, regulatory and governmental issues, including introducing unionized employees into the state workforce, since about two-thirds of UTA employees belong to a union and are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

    The state would also face the expense of explaining a new structure to the public. “Depending on the future organizational model for transit delivery, a rebranding of the new entity may be needed. The costs of such rebranding could prove to be substantial,” the report stated.

    The price tag for rebranding UTA has already been an issue. Changing UTA’s nameto Transit District of Utah was in the 2018 legislation to provide what lawmakers said would be a fresh start for the agency. But the name change was dropped amid a public outcry over UTA’s insistence it could cost $50 million.

    UTA Board Chairman Carlton Christensen, appointed to lead the three-member full-time board that replaced a larger group of volunteer trustees as part of the legislative changes two years ago, made a case for letting the agency continue to run itself.

    “As an organization, we’ve been through a lot. Certainly, there are some chapters that I wish could be rewritten, but I believe we’re heading in a strong direction,” he told the committee, highlighting the agency’s collaboration with UDOT.

    “We feel like we’re in a good place and that the negatives don’t outweigh the positives of staying the course and could request that you continue to give us the opportunity to continue to improve our organization,” Christensen said.

    He said the changes already made require UTA to get the go-ahead from the state before issuing new bonds. While there is a premium for retiring the agency’s debt early, Christensen said some bonds have been refinanced at a lower interest rate, saving about $7 million.

    Some committee members made it clear they see no reason to involve the state more and no action was taken at the meeting on the report.

    “I didn’t see any good reasons to do it. I saw a couple neutral and mostly bad, or difficult, I should say,” Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, said.

    Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, said “the single biggest stumbling block” is the transit agency’s $2 billion debt. “That’s a big deal,” he said, that could have an affect on every school in the state and enough of a reason alone to prevent UTA from becoming a state entity.

    Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, offered support for keeping UTA as is.

    “It needs to stand alone,” Mayne said. “It’s different. It’s complex. To move it any place would just be a catastrophe.”

  • Desert shooting death now a capital murder case as alleged plot is unveiled
    Hakop “Jack” Keshishian, 20, of Sandy, left; Wyatt William Smelser, 20, of Cottonwood Heights, center; and Izaiah Kirkpatrick, 20, of Draper, right, are each charged with murdering Chance Eggett, 21, in a remote area of Tooele County in May of 2020. Charges against Kirkpatrick and Keshishian have now been upgraded to capital murder. | Tooele County Jail

    Sandy man’s Amazon account used a month after he was killed, police say

    TOOELE — Police say an Amazon account belonging to a Sandy man who was shot to death and his body left in a remote area of Tooele County was used in June.

    Now investigators want to know how that person obtained access to 21-year-old Chance Eggett’s account one month after he was killed.

    In May, police say three people lured Eggett to a remote area in Tooele County near Faust Road under the guise of going target shooting — Wyatt William Smelser, 20, of Cottonwood Heights; Hakop “Jack” Keshishian, 20, of Sandy; and Izaiah Kirkpatrick, 20, of Draper.

    Once there, Eggett was shot and killed and his body was dragged into sagebrush off the side of the road, according to charging documents. The three men were each charged with murder, a first-degree felony.

    On Oct. 27, prosecutors filed amended charges against Kirkpatrick, the accused gunman, and Keshishian, the one who allegedly arranged to have Eggett killed, and raised the charges to a capital offense, meaning both men could potentially face the death penalty if convicted.

    Additionally, the two men were charged with obstructing justice and abuse or desecration of a dead body.

    Their next court hearing was scheduled for Dec. 1.

    Keshishian said he wanted to kill Eggett “because he was running his mouth,” according to charging documents.

    A newly unsealed search warrant affidavit reveals more details about a possible motive.

    Early on the morning of May 21, Keshishian asked to borrow another man’s cellphone to contact Eggett. The man said that “he was under the impression” that Keshishian didn’t like Eggett, but Keshishian told him it was “all good now,” the warrant states. Keshishian allegedly claimed he had one of Eggett’s rifles and needed to call him so he could pick up Eggett and take him shooting and return his gun.

    Police say the group picked up Eggett about 3 a.m.

    But the same man also told police that earlier in the evening, Keshishian had said, “It’s happening tonight.” When the officer asked the witness what that meant, he replied, “Jack was mean to Chance. (He) reported Jack had previously beaten him, peed on him, and tied him up to a chair before. (He) said Jack had talked about killing Chance several times in the past,” according to the warrant.

    The witness also said that “Jack had gotten crazy during the past six months and started carrying guns.” Keshishian had also been traveling to California to obtain drugs to sell in Utah, the affidavit states.

    “Recently while driving in a car with Jack, Jack received a call from someone asking to purchase methamphetamine. Jack asked the unknown person on the phone who told him he had methamphetamine, and the unknown person on the phone said Chance was telling people Jack had a large amount of methamphetamine stashed away to sell,” according to the warrant.

    The witness said that’s when Keshishian stated, “It’s happening tonight.”

    After Eggett’s body was found, investigators noted that several of his personal belongings had not been recovered and remained missing at the time the warrant was issued in early November. Eggett’s mother told police her son had a fanny pack containing his cellphone, wallet and credit cards with him that night.

    On June 22 — a month after Eggett was killed — someone used his Amazon account to purchase a digital blood pressure monitor and mosquito net, according to the affidavit.

    Police believe that “someone associated with Chance Eggett’s death may be in possession of Chance Eggett’s cellphone and may possibly be using that phone to access Chance Eggett’s account,” the warrant states.

    Sandy police, who served the warrant, said they collected the information needed and turned it over to the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office to continue the investigation.

    As of Wednesday, it was unknown whether a suspect had been identified. The case is still under investigation, but the sheriff's office said it believes everyone involved in the murder plot has been accounted for.

  • Utah GOP reps raising money in Georgia Senate race to counter ‘cheating’ Democrats
    Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks at an election night event for Republican candidates in at the Utah Association of Realtors building in Sandy on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — Accusing Democrats of cheating in the crucial U.S. Senate races in Georgia, Rep. Chris Stewart is leading an effort among Utah’s congressional delegation to raise money for the two Republican candidates.

    In a video on Twitter, Stewart, R-Utah, says the country is under attack and the Georgia Senate races are the last line of defense. Democrats, he said, are “desperate” to win the two seats, and if they do, they will have “absolute” power.

    “That’s why they’re cheating. They’re encouraging people to move to Georgia. They’re coaching them in how to register and how to vote. They’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into this race. We have to do the same thing,” he said.

    The Stewart campaign intends to hold a virtual fundraiser in December with other GOP members of the state’s delegation for the Georgia Battleground Fund, a joint fundraising committee between the incumbent Georgia Republican senators and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

    The two Senate seats in Georgia went to runoffs after the Nov. 3 election because no candidate won 50% of the vote to secure the seat. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are now facing Democrats the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively, in a Jan. 5 election.

    Control of the Senate is at stake. The GOP currently holds 50 seats to the Democrats’ 48. If Democrats win both Georgia seats, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would have the deciding vote in the event of a tie.

    Georgia is among the states Democrat Joe Biden was able to flip in the 2020 election, though President Donald Trump called for a recount there among his challenges to election results in several states.

    In the days after it was announced the Georgia Senate races would go to runoff elections, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman seemingly encouraged people to move to Georgia to vote for the Democrats.

    “I hope everybody moves to Georgia, you know, in the next month or two, registers to vote, and votes for these two Democratic senators,” he said on CNN.

    Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang tweeted that he and his wife were moving to Georgia to help Warnock and Ossoff win. Yang also is encouraging people to donate to organizations that are working to get out the vote for the two candidates.

    Those comments had people on social media talking about traveling to the state ahead of the election. Most wanted to know how they could volunteer, but a smaller number of people replying to Yang’s tweet floated the possibility of voting in the state, according to Vox.

    But Neither Yang nor Friedman suggested temporarily moving to Georgia or establishing fake residency to vote in the runoff election.

    Moving to Georgia just to cast a ballot in an election with no intention of remaining in the state is illegal.

    Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued a warning to groups that might be helping people move to the state to vote in the election.

    “Make no mistake about it, I will seek to prosecute those who try to undermine our elections to the fullest extent of the law,” he said in a recent statement. “Outside groups who seek to interfere with democracy in Georgia should be forewarned that the consequences will be severe.”

    Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said he has been in touch with the Georgia Democratic Party, but there are no organized efforts in Utah to raise money for Warnock and Ossoff. There are Utahns who are going to Georgia to volunteer with the campaigns, he said.

    “One thing the Democrats are good at is their ground game,” he said.

    Merchant said he hasn’t followed the Georgia races closely but doubts Democrats are flocking there to vote.

    “Obviously, Donald Trump did not play particularly well in Georgia, and to continue to peddle in conspiracy theories, it’s damaging our country. It really is,” he said.

    Stewart said the Georgia Senate races are critical to the nation’s future. He said he would match dollar for dollar donations up to a total of $10,000 for the Republican candidates. His tweet included a link to the Georgia Battleground Fund.

    “I need your help. In fact, America needs your help,” he said.

    Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. John Curtis, retiring Rep. Rob Bishop and newly elected Congressmen Burgess Owens and Blake Moore, along with Stewart, plan to hold a joint fundraiser via Zoom on Dec. 7, said Jordan Giles, Stewart campaign manager. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is not confirmed, he said.

    A Romney source said the senator was not invited to the Utah fundraiser. However, he has been leveraging his own fundraising network to benefit the Georgia Senate candidates, including holding a virtual fundraiser last week for the Georgia Battleground Fund expected to raise more than half a million dollars.

    Giles described the event as a roundtable where the senator and congressmen would ask Utahns to donate to the fund. He said none of the money would stay in Utah but would go to the Georgia GOP candidates.

    In a Facebook post earlier this week, Lee said Perdue and Loeffler need help from across the country, and asked people to contribute to their campaigns.

    “Chuck Schumer and the radical Democrats will stop at nothing to gain control of the Senate majority. Mega-donor Democrats are pouring MILLIONS of dollars into Georgia and we need your help to stop them. Right now is the crucial time where both campaigns are ramping up their field operations, voter outreach, and mass marketing,” he wrote.

    The stakes have never been higher. Senator Perdue and Senator Loeffler are in the battlefield fighting for our...

    Posted by Mike Lee on Monday, November 23, 2020
  • Utah doctor weighs in on mental health: Don’t let 2020 get you down
    Adobe Stock

    Regularly identifying good things can provide benefits for months

    SALT LAKE CITY — In a year that’s been filled with disappointment, loss and uncertainty, a Utah mental health expert said it is important to continue to look for the good.

    “As humans we have evolved to be experts at survival — and we will survive this as well,” Dr. Travis Mickelson, medical director of behavioral health integration at Intermountain Healthcare, said during the organization’s COVID-19 update earlier this week.

    While humans are hard-wired to focus on the negative things in life — things that aren’t going well or that might hurt us — he said looking for the positives is a coping strategy that will get us through.

    “2020 has been quite a year... and as humans, that is not going to be helpful for our mental and emotional health,” Mickelson said, adding that recent surveys show as many as 50% of Utah adults are currently experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

    Loneliness and isolation are also growing issues throughout the nation, with social gatherings limited and events canceled due to increased spread of disease, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

    Studies show that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered socially isolated.

    However, the most vulnerable group, Mickelson said, is Utah’s young people, age 16 to 25, whose lives seem to have been uprooted completely. Behavioral health surveys show that at least 16% of teens and young adults in Utah have had thoughts of ending their own lives.

    And as other states are seeing increased numbers of suicide attempts, that isn’t the case in Utah, Mickelson said, crediting school, church and community support groups for reaching out.

    “The support you are providing each other... is working,” he said, adding that Utah’s young people need good role models — in most cases, that comes from parents and other adults or leaders.

    “It’s important as parents to take good care of ourselves, our own mental health in order to care for others in our families and our friends,” Mickelson said. “Please be good role models. Please ask if you’re concerned (about someone). And, please help us fight the stigma that there is something weak about asking for help.”

    Communities throughout Utah, he added, stand ready to help.

    To help Utah’s caregivers, who have been fighting the novel coronavirus on the front lines for eight months now, and have grown weary and frustrated, Mickelson said, “show them that we’re behind this movement.”

    “We need the community to help us,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, infectious disease specialist with Intermountain. Despite frustrations, though, he said, Utah’s health care workers will continue to “do our best.”

    Research has proven time and time again, he said, that if a person can identify three good things that happened each day for two weeks, the benefits can last up to six months.

    “It can be as powerful at managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety as anything else,” the mental health specialist said.

    Help can also come from various mindfulness activities, including daily meditation or deep-breathing exercises, which work to reduce a person’s heart rate and decrease the level of stress hormone that is released from all of life’s happenings.

    “These are active things we can do to counteract the stress response we are all feeling one way or another,” Mickelson said. He pleads with all Utahns to help slow the spread of disease, which will help everyone get back to a more normal lifestyle sooner.

    Intermountain hosts a free emotional health relief hotline — 833-442-2211 — a toll-free number available seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., where anyone can call and get access to another human who can listen and is trained to provide helpful resources.

    Also, anyone is experiencing thoughts of suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a counselor today.

  • Door-to-door turkey dinners
    Volunteers Derek Storrs, Marcus Cline, Jamen Nelson and Katie Storrs assemble traditional Thanksgiving dinners at the Salvation Army in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020, for 800 needy people throughout the Salt Lake Valley. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

    Volunteers Derek Storrs, Marcus Cline, Jamen Nelson and Katie Storrs assemble traditional Thanksgiving dinners at the Salvation Army in Salt Lake City on Thursday. Thanksgiving looked a little different for many Salt Lake County residents who, along with the rest of the state, were asked to keep to themselves this year. While gathering together is temporarily halted due to the pandemic, the meals still rolled in for nearly 3,200 families. Volunteers with the Salvation Army assembled approximately 800 traditional dinners, with food also provided through various community donations. More volunteers worked to safely deliver turkey and all the fixings, resulting in many grateful hearts and full stomachs.

  • These Utah areas will be more likely to eat Thanksgiving with people outside their homes
    In this Nov 18, 2020, file photo, motorists wait in long lines to take a coronavirus test in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. With coronavirus cases surging and families hoping to gather safely for Thanksgiving, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. | Ringo H.W. Chiu, Associated Press

    The New York Times published a new guide for how many people plan to eat Thanksgiving dinner with others from outside their household.

    The United States will see a number of people eat Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their household, and Utah is (mostly) planning to do the same — though a little below the national average in certain areas.

    What happened:

    The New York Times recently published a map that shows the share of people eating Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their household.

    The data comes from interviews conducted by the global data and survey firm Dynata for The New York Times.

    Overall, the survey found about 27% of Americans plan to dine with people outside their household.

    How does Utah stack up?

    The data showed how Utah areas stack up against the country. Here’s a breakdown of the various areas of the state with the percent of people who plan to eat Thanksgiving outside their home.

    • Coalville area — 14%
    • Hanksville area — 14%
    • Kamas area — 17%
    • Park City area — 20%
    • Evanston area — 20%
    • Magna area — 21%
    • Salt Lake City area — 21%
    • Ephraim area — 21%
    • Price area — 22%
    • Grantsville area — 23%
    • Morgan area — 24%
    • Joseph area — 25%
    • Mount Pleasant area — 25%
    • Clearfield area — 26%
    • Syracuse area — 26%
    • Draper area — 30%
    • Tremonton area — 30%
    • Hyrum area — 30%
    • Ogden area — 30%
    • Springville area — 33%
    • Payson area — 33%
    • Leeds area — 33%
    • Kanab area — 34%
    • Delta area — 34%
    • Stockton area — 34%
    • Midway area — 34%
    • Provo area — 35%
    • Cedar City area — 35%
    • Green River area — 35%
    • Monticello area — 36%
    • Blanding area — 38%
    • Eagle Mountain area — 43%

    Check out The New York Times to see the full map of the country.

  • Piece of public art at Liberty Park doubles as a glass recycling dumpster
    A new glass recycling dumpster at Liberty Park features a hand-painted, wrap-around mural of Utah red rock arches by local artist Josh Scheuerman. | Salt Lake City

    SALT LAKE CITY — What started out as a small idea to beautify one of city’s glass collection sites has become a highly visible statement piece in Liberty Park.

    The new dumpster, unveiled Nov. 18, features a hand-painted, wrap-around mural of Utah red rock arches by local artist Josh Scheuerman.

    The piece brings a splash of public art to a frequently used recycling location, trading the basic blue of the original dumpster for a bright mural paying tribute to Utah’s iconic natural landscapes.

    “As a native Utahn, I feel responsible for the wild and natural places,” Scheuerman said. “I believe it’s vitally important for new technology and information to help increase recycling alongside local art.”

    Momentum Recycling, the city’s glass recycling program contractor, helped residents divert nearly 1,550 tons of glass from the landfill in 2019. The company operates a local glass recycling facility that processes glass from across the region into various sizes of glass cullet. The material is used to make fiberglass insulation at a Utah facility, produce new glass containers, and many different products for construction purposes.

    Residents can take their glass to one of 18 locations throughout the city or subscribe to monthly curbside pickup for $7 per month. Curbside customers can downsize their garbage cans from the standard 90-gallon size to either a 60- or 40-gallon container to save money on their overall bill. A map of glass recycling locations can be found at

    Salt Lake City and Momentum plan to put a mural on at least one other dumpster in the coming months, with the goal of expanding to additional drop-off locations in partnership with local artists if possible.

  • Here’s how you can see the Christmas lights on Temple Square this year
    Jake McElheny, of Layton, carries his daughter, Ella, 2, while his wife, Christi, carries Ella’s twin sister, Grace, as they check out the first night of the annual Christmas lights display at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one year into its massive renovation of the Salt Lake Temple and Temple Square, which is expected to continue until 2024.

    At this point, everything on the north and south sides of the historic temple has been demolished and removed, leaving the pioneer foundation exposed.

    What does that mean for the annual display of Christmas lights and other traditional Temple Square activities during the holiday season in Salt Lake City?

    With limited public access, the church hopes a virtual celebration of the Savior’s birth will still provide the desired inspirational experience.

    Public access to Temple Square and church buildings will be closed with the ongoing construction and the COVID-19 pandemic, but the seasonal lights will turn on in the evening after Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, according to a church statement.

    Lights will also be turned on at temples in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

    With the plaza fenced off and the gates closed, the Temple Square lights will only be viewable from surrounding roads and exterior city sidewalks. The church encourages those walking by to wear masks and practice social distancing.

    Only those driving by in vehicles will be able to view the lights in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

    Although restricted, sister missionaries serving on Temple Square will host a virtual event that includes a guided tour of the Christmas lights. This event will be broadcast live on and the Temple Square Facebook page on Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. This program will be published in 11 languages and available for viewing on demand after the live broadcast.
    Two sister missionaries from the United States greet a small production team while surrounded by Temple Square Christmas decorations in November 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple Square missionaries recorded a virtual tour that will replace the in-person experience for visitors.

    The First Presidency Christmas Devotional will be broadcast from Temple Square on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m., with Christmas messages by church leaders. The program will also feature previous musical recordings of The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. A livestream of the devotional will be available on

    From Dec. 2-23, Christmas musical performances submitted from around the world will be broadcast from Temple Square. These concerts will be broadcast in English but include songs in other languages. The broadcasts can be viewed primarily on and on Tuesday and Friday evenings on the Temple Square Facebook page, starting at 6 p.m.

    As previously reported, the Tabernacle Choir will air its 2019 Christmas concert featuring Tony Award-winning star Kelli O’Hara and actor Richard Thomas. Visit the choir’s website for viewing information during December.

    Other Christmas activities during the month include: