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Quick on the Draw

Working remote areas of Utah, Troopers learned to solve problems on their own. Often backup is miles away. Troopers also must make split second decisions. One such incident occurred August 2, 1966, in Grand County. Patrolling east of Crescent Junction on US 50-6, Trooper Scott Skidmore observed an eastbound Pontiac traveling at a high rate of speed and displaying a New Mexico plate. Upon stopping this violator, the driver, Lee Ray Minton, age 32, stated that the vehicle belonged to his boss. Two male passengers in the back said they were hitchhikers, while a third male in the front said he was a friend of the driver. Trooper Skidmore asked Minton to proceed to Thompson for a telephone check. At that point Minton appeared nervous, but agreed to drive ahead of Trooper Skidmore to Thompson.

At Thompson, Scott attempted to call the registered owner, B. A. Backerman, Farmington, New Mexico. He learned that Backerman had moved to Las Cruces, N. M., which obviously surprised Milton. Backerman stated that he had owned the vehicle until a week prior, when he traded it for a newer model. He then added, “I did hear that the car had been stolen from a used car lot a few days ago.”

Trooper Skidmore stepped from the telephone booth and announced to Minton, “You’re under arrest for auto theft.” At this point the front passenger, Joseph Camillo Romero, age 20, pulled a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol from his pocket and said, “Get out your handcuffs and put them on your wrists.” Trooper Skidmore attempted to persuade Romero to give up the handcuff idea by adding, “Put the gun away.” “Do as I say,” Romero answered. Turning to Minton he added, “Get his gun.”

Trooper Skidmore reached for his handcuffs with his left hand and flung them at Romero. Romero fired twice as Scott drew his .357 duty weapon with his right hand and returned fire. Both of Romero’s rounds struck Trooper Skidmore, one in the left side and one in the left leg. At the same time Romero was also struck twice in the chest. One round passed through his heart. He was killed instantly.

Scott then held his weapon on the driver while radioing for help. The other two passengers exited the vehicle and placed the handcuffs on the driver. Scott was transported by ambulance to Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab. When asked if he was scared, Scott replied, “Scared? There wasn’t any time to be. I just followed my reflexes.”

The driver was sentenced to five years in the Utah State Penitentiary by Federal Judge Willis Ritter. The two passengers were later confirmed to be hitchhikers. Trooper Skidmore fully recovered from his wounds and completed 22 years with the Utah Highway Patrol, retiring in 1983 as a Lieutenant.