What’s in a job: Cornfields, murder and big business define 1 deputy’s patrol

Foreground: Iron County Sheriff's Deputy Jobe Peterson. Background photo includes crop circles where farmers grow their goods and the vast landscape of the west end of Iron County that Peterson alone patrols. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Peterson profile photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff's Office; landscape photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – Along a country road about 40 miles west of Cedar City lays charred remnants of a home left over 17 years ago when Danny Desiato lit his house on fire and shot himself after fatally shooting his wife and 11-year-old stepson the same night.

Desiato’s 10-year-old stepdaughter escaped by hiding out somewhere on the property located in Beryl until the police she called, stationed 40 miles away, could arrive on scene.

Crop circles where farmers grow their goods dot the landscape on the west end of Iron County. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News
Crop circles where farmers grow their goods dot the landscape on the west end of Iron County. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

The Desiato murders aren’t the only ones of their kind to happen in this rural area.

Chad Grijalva and Derek Davis were murdered in 2007 by Martin Chris Nelson, who shot the two men multiple times and buried their bodies in a shallow grave under a shed located on his Beryl property.

Law enforcement officials say the west end of Iron County has probably witnessed some of the most dangerous and violent crimes that have occurred in any of the unincorporated areas.

It’s difficult to imagine that beyond the cornfields spanning the countryside, there are facets of inner city crime.

No one knows this better than Iron County Sheriff’s Deputy Jobe Peterson, who spends his days policing the west end of the county.

Peterson’s been employed with the Sheriff’s Office since July 2002. During that time, he’s had various assignments until four months ago when Sheriff Mark Gower transferred him to the west end of the county to fill the position of resident deputy. It’s the first time in more than 10 years a deputy has been assigned to full-time patrol of the area.

In a county that encompasses more than 3,300 square miles, Peterson patrols 1,300 of those by himself – all of it rural.

From east to west, Peterson’s patrol area starts around 30 miles west of Cedar City at milepost 33 extending to the Nevada state line via state Route 56, a stretch that takes two hours to drive in its entirety.

The unbroken highway system of dirt roads Deputy Jobe Peterson uses to get around the west end of Iron County. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News
The unbroken highway system of dirt roads Deputy Jobe Peterson uses to get around the west end of Iron County. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

From the south, the deputy is responsible for everything as far north as the Beaver County line. Every route there is by way of a dirt road and, depending on which one you take, the drive time is a minimum of two hours.

Peterson also patrols the towns and unincorporated areas of Beryl, Lund, Modena, Hamblin Valley and Newcastle.

The closest police backup is often more than an hour away.

“I”m on my own out here,” Peterson said of the remote areas of his patrol. “If I call for backup either: a) They may not ever hear me; and b) By the time they get here it’s a two-hour drive from Cedar. So if I get myself in a situation, I either have to talk real sweet or get things done real quick on my own because backup ain’t gonna be here for awhile.”

During one emergency call, the sheriff allowed Peterson to deputize his brother-in-law who had law enforcement experience to provide him backup on a 911 call where shots had been fired.

One of the remote areas of Iron County where Iron County Sheriff's Deputy Jobe Peterson patrols. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News
One of the remote areas of Iron County where Iron County Sheriff’s Deputy Jobe Peterson patrols. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

“We had one person down and an intoxicated male in the area and the gun’s still unaccounted for,” Peterson said describing the incident. “We don’t know where the gun’s at. We don’t know the status of the gunshot victim. So I’m right there in Newcastle. The call’s not even 5 miles away, I’m gonna be there within minutes. So I call for backup.”

That time, Peterson’s backup was more than an hour away.

“Everybody on the department (sic), including the sheriff himself, is on a major car crash up on I-15 near Summit,” Peterson said.

After deputizing his brother-in-law, Peterson responded to the scene 10 minutes later. As he pulled up, a hostile man came to the doorway of the trailer and Peterson recognized him.

The Hamblin Valley community is one of the remote areas Iron County Sheriff's Deputy Jobe Peterson patrols. It has its own fire department but without 911 and internet access to contact it when a fire occurs, it's often too late. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News
The Hamblin Valley community is one of the remote areas Iron County Sheriff’s Deputy Jobe Peterson patrols. It has its own fire department but without 911 and internet access to contact it when a fire occurs, it’s often too late. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

“I start givin’ him commands, ‘come out of the house, come out of the house. Get down on the porch, get down on the porch.’ This goes on for a few minutes,” Peterson said.

Meanwhile, the man was yelling at Peterson to shoot him.

“I can see his hands so I’m not terribly worried yet,” Peterson said. “But then he started reachin’ in his pocket and I yelled at him again, ‘come down off the porch.'”

At that point, Peterson said, he realized he was going to have to go “one-on-one” with the man. He looked at his brother-in-law; “‘if anything happens,'” he said to him, ‘”grab the AR-15, you gotta back me up on this.'”

“Just as I get to the porch he bolts and goes back in the house where the gunshot victim is and the gun is,” Peterson said. “So I grab him and wrestle him to the ground in the snow.”

Peterson arrested the man, secured the gun inside the house and, with the gunshot victim beyond help, waited.

“I waited,” he said. “I waited there for 45 minutes before I had anybody show up. But that’s how it is. I was minutes away. I had no choice. I couldn’t hang around and wait for backup.”

The west end of Iron County is home to the largest business district in the county. Robert Holt owns the biggest dairy farm in all of Southern Utah. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George / Cedar City News
The west end of Iron County is home to the largest business district in the county. Robert Holt owns the biggest dairy farm in all of Southern Utah. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George / Cedar City News

But even Peterson is sometimes too far away to respond quickly. Aerial photo shots of his entire patrol area show tracts of land that are seemingly infinite and appear to go on forever — this one deputy is responsible to patrol almost all of it.

“If I’m out in Hamblin Valley and someone puts in a call from Newcastle, I’m 45 minutes away at best,” Peterson said.

There are no urban centers, concrete jungles, strip malls, big box stores or interstate highways in close proximity to where Peterson works. Instead, the deputy uses the long forgotten continuous highway system of dirt roads to travel to his destination, all the while enjoying landscapes dotted with sagebrush and farmland backdropped with panoramic mountain views.

“I can go out in my truck at 6 a.m. in the morning and drive in any given direction for hours on a dirt road and not get back until my shift is over at 6 at night,” Peterson said.

The west end of Iron County is home to the largest business district in the county. Deputy Jobe Peterson is responsible for protecting this property and makes it a habit to patrol these areas every time he's on duty. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News
The west end of Iron County is home to the largest business district in the county. Deputy Jobe Peterson is responsible for protecting this property and makes it a habit to patrol these areas every time he’s on duty. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

There are dead zones in the region, places where the deputy is unable to use his cellphone to contact the outside world. While in those, Peterson can drive for hours with the closest contact to life being the prairie dogs and wild horses on the range.

For some, these solitary hours of driving in isolated areas would push them to the edge of insanity but for this deputy, it’s just another day at the office.

“You do a lotta thinkin’ out here,” Peterson said. “It’s not always good to be alone in your head that way, but I enjoy it.”

The rules on the west end of the county are different – as is much of the culture, attitudes and political values that define them.

“Here’s the thing, there’s a reason why people move out this far,” Peterson said. “Some of these people consider themselves sovereign citizens, they’re anti-government, want to live off the grid. They don’t necessarily hate people, they just hate the government. There’s also people who move out in the middle of nowhere because they’re runnin’ from somethin’. Others just plain want to live in the country where they don’t have to deal with the city stuff, like traffic. And I don’t blame them. I mean, I gotta tell ya, I love it out here. I don’t want to move back into town.”

Unlike the city where residents depend on 911 calls and high-priced home security systems to protect their property and person, in the western remote areas of Iron County 911 is unreachable and often only used as a postscript after the fact. As an alternative, most residents defend themselves by relying on God and their guns.

Old Glory, shown here above a POW-MIA flag, still waves proudly in a tiny spot in America where Deputy Jobe Peterson patrols. The people there hold tight to their God, guns and traditional ways of life. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News
Old Glory, shown here above a POW-MIA flag, still waves proudly in a tiny spot in America where Deputy Jobe Peterson patrols. The people there hold tight to their God, guns and traditional ways of life. Iron County, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

Many of the crimes Peterson deals with are exclusive to a rural environment, things such as cut fences, cows that have been run over, underage drinking parties with bonfires in the boonies, and property disputes. There are also the more serious ones involving drug trafficking, methamphetamine production, marijuana grows and organized theft of livestock, equipment and grain.

With the county’s largest business district located in the west end, part of Peterson’s job is to help protect these properties from crimes like theft and vandalism.

“Think about it, most of the businesses that are in the unincorporated areas of the county, meaning they’re not in the city, are located out there on the west end of the county,” sheriff’s Lt. Del Schlosser said.

One of the largest businesses in this region is Robert Holt’s Farm that consists of four different sites of which all but one is in Iron County. Each of these locations encompasses several hundred acres of property.

The deputy has made it a habit to check Holt’s farms and the other businesses daily before ending his shift.

“There are millions of dollars invested out here in some of these businesses,” Peterson said. “Some of the equipment to run the businesses is alone worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Look at the number of cattle, that’s a lot of money sitting there.”

Peterson has many quiet shifts spent traveling the backcountry, making traffic stops and routine property checks but another call to a high-risk situation is always imminent.

Iron County Sheriff's Deputy Jobe Peterson makes felony stop - St. George News
Dash cam footage of Iron County Sheriff’s Deputy Jobe Peterson after a high-speed chase that ended in a felony stop with guns drawn. Aug. 9, 2016 Iron County, Utah | Photo Courtesy of Iron County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News / Cedar City News

“It’s not if – it’s when,” Peterson said. “There will be another call. There always is. I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be called out to handle a situation where my adrenaline is charged and I don’t know what I’m goin’ into. I know that. What I don’t know is when backup is gonna get here.”

About three weeks after Peterson gave his interview to Cedar City News during a reporter ride-along July 19, he found himself involved in a high-speed chase on SR 56 on Aug. 9 that ended with his gun drawn during a felony stop. The suspect, authorities were told at the time, was wanted in Nevada for questioning regarding a homicide in Henderson, Nevada.

On that call, Peterson had backup.

While the deputy initiated the chase without any other police assistance nearby, he later received help from Iron County Sheriff’s deputies and Utah Highway Patrol troopers. Police set up spikes to help bring the vehicle to a stop while Peterson was still in pursuit.

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About the series “What’s in a job”

Labor Day invites us to give “tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the Labor Department.

St. George News and Cedar City News bring this “What’s in a job” series of stories over Labor Day weekend to recognize workers whose contributions may go unnoticed, who may be less visible to the general public than others and to unpack some of what goes into everyday jobs performed by everyday people in our communities. Work is a good thing. We honor it and those who do it.

Other stories in the series:

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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5 Comments

  • Chris September 5, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Interestin’ story. Most of us aren’t aware of what goes on in those remote areas and the sacrifices made by officers like Deputy Peterson. Thank you.

    • Bob September 6, 2016 at 12:44 am

      *interestING………LOL

      • .... September 6, 2016 at 8:51 am

        Get some rest Bob. The Good Lord has a soft spot for people like you. you can sleep tonite Bob. the Lord Above will soften your ignorance

        God Bless you Bob !

  • youcandoit September 5, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Can they give this brave police officer a satellite phone? For extra safety

  • .... September 5, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    It’s nice knowing people like Deputy Peterson are there. ..Praise the Lord

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