Carbon County Coal Strike
On December 6, 1977, at 10:30 p.m., Captain John Rogers was advised that a United Mine Workers’ Union strike in Carbon County was becoming increasingly threatening due to 750 to 1,000 picketers at several mines. Carbon County Sheriff Albert Passic requested assistance from the Patrol. By 6:00 a.m. the following day, 25 troopers from the Wasatch Front were in Price ready for duty. During the day, two patrol cars were damaged by picketers at one mine and a bridge leading to another mine was burned. By 8:00 p.m., an additional 40 troopers had responded. By 6 a.m., on December 8th, a total of 90 troopers had responded to Price.
Governor Matheson appealed to “all citizens of Carbon County to maintain cool heads and reasoned thoughts.” He added that the state was not taking sides in the strike, just trying to avert violence.
State Narcotics and Liquor Law agents, working undercover at one mine, reported 500-600 pickets armed with guns, wrist rockets, marbles, and dynamite. The decision was made to close the mine. Four-wheel drive vehicles were driven on back roads to the mine. The working miners were evacuated and transported around the pickets in order to avoid a confrontation.
During another confrontation, three miners had tried unsuccessfully to move a large rock to block the road leading to a mine. Upon arrival of the Patrol, Trooper LaVoy Teuscher, picked up the bolder, and dropped it in the center of the striking miner’s fire. The striking miners backed down without any further confrontation.
On Sunday, December 11th, two Oklahoma jail escapees unknowingly entered Carbon County. James Earl Lewis, 29, and David W. Richardson, 21, had escaped from the Wagoner, Oklahoma jail on November 26th. They were later stopped by Beaver County, Oklahoma Undersheriff Kenny Miller and a passenger Danny Cambern. During this stop the two fugitives killed the undersheriff and his passenger.
The two murderers then picked up a hitchhiker in Kansas. Hearing reports on the AM radio and seeing several weapons, the hitchhiker became suspicious. He called the Utah Highway Patrol when we was let out in Green River, Utah. Trooper Gene Robb spotted the felon’s vehicle as it approached Price and initiated a pursuit. As the speeding felons entered Price, they were pursued by a large number of troopers who had responded to the coal strike. The
suspects drove through Helper, then doubled back to Spring Glen on the old highway. Seeing troopers responding from every direction, the bandits abandoned their vehicle. One entered the home of John Piccioni through the back door.
Armed with a pistol, he ordered Mr. and Mrs. Piccioni to lie face down on the living room floor. He then looked out the window and saw dozens of Utah Highway Patrol troopers armed with shotguns. He surrendered saying, “Where did all the police come from?” Troopers soon captured the second fugitive, hiding near the Price River.
During the first two weeks of the strike, Utah Highway Patrol troopers equipped in full riot gear, escorted non-union workers across picket lines. Troopers were also stationed at the Carbon County Courthouse where negotiations were conducted by union workers. On December 13th, at 4:00 p.m., an anonymous bomb threat to the Carbon County Courthouse, forced the adjournment of a Seventh District Court hearing on the right of striking United Mine Workers members to picket nonunion coal mines. Judge pro tem Don V. Tibbs, Manti, ordered the building evacuated and searched. Troopers and sheriff’s deputies stationed at the courthouse could find no bomb.