HURRICANE – The man found dead Thursday in a semitruck that went off a 200-foot cliff on state Route 59 near the Hurricane Hill Trailhead sometime during the past five days had served as a judge in Utah for more than 20 years.
The deceased man has been identified as Walter K. Steed, of Hildale, police said Friday. Steed had just turned 70 years old on the day he went missing.
Steed had been a part-time justice court judge in the polygamous border town of Hildale since 1980, serving nearly 25 years before being ousted from the bench by the Utah Supreme Court.
Steed was found to be a polygamist by Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, and the panel issued an order seeking his removal from the bench in 2005. Utah’s high court found his relationships with three women he considered his wives was in clear violation of the law, bringing his judicial office into disrepute.
In 2006, the high court unanimously agreed that Steed’s personal or religious beliefs could not transcend the laws he had sworn to uphold while in office.
“In the case of a sitting judge, it is of little or no consequence that the judge may believe a criminal statute is constitutionally defective. A judge ignores the clearly stated criminal prohibitions of the law at his or her peril,” Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins wrote in a three-page ruling in 2006.
Although Steed’s second and third unions were not legal marriages, Utah law prohibits taking another spouse while still married. Bigamy in Utah is a third-degree felony.
“Judges in this state are expected to abide by all of the laws applicable to them. Civil disobedience carries consequences for a judge that may not be applicable to other citizens,” Wilkins wrote in the ruling. “When the law is violated or ignored by those charged by society with the fair and impartial enforcement of the law, the stability of society is placed at undue risk.”
He began driving trucks shortly after being removed from office.
Steed reportedly left his hometown driving a white 2000 Kenworth semitruck on Saturday evening and had not been heard from since, the Hurricane City Police Department said Friday. He was traveling out of state to pick up a trailer.
When he had not been heard from in several days, Steed was reported missing Tuesday to the Hildale Police Department.
On Thursday, around 10:41 a.m., officers were dispatched to a report of a semi that went off a steep cliff on SR-59, Hurricane City Police Sgt. Brandon Buell said.
“A group of people were checking areas to see if they could find the semi and saw what they believed to be the semi at the base of the cliff” Buell said. “Investigators were able to find tire tracks showing where the semi left the roadway and traveled along the dirt and brush area and then went over the cliff.”
The semi was discovered at the bottom of about a 200-foot ravine, Buell said. Upon approaching the semi, Steed was found deceased inside the semi.
“In very unfortunate circumstances, somebody’s lost their life,” Buell said. “It’s very unfortunate and my heart goes out to their families.”
The crash, including when and why the semi left the roadway, is still under investigation.
A friend’s thoughts
Dee Barlow, a friend of Steed’s, described Steed as a “community father” who was well-known and highly respected throughout southern and central Utah.
“(He) was just and fair as a judge,” Barlow said. “He was industrious and hard working. He lived a life of complete dedication and service to his family, his community, and his many business associates. He had a big heart and a quality character. Walter was sincere and honest.”
Barlow went on to say:
He was a really kind man and wouldn’t hurt even through all the FLDS shunning. He went out of his way to be dignified and kind. Always encouraging to others and especially his family.”
Barlow summed up Steed as “humble, kind, generous and without any trace of animosity towards anyone.”
St. George News Assistant Editor Cami Cox Jim contributed to this report.
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