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Purple Heart

Trooper Dennis Bringhurst was a 13 year veteran with the Utah Highway Patrol on May 27, 1986. He was working a graveyard shift in Salt Lake County. Shortly after 1:00 am, Trooper Bringhurst’s attention was focused on a white 1968 Ford, northbound on I-15. The erratic movements of the vehicle were obvious indicators of an impaired driver. Trooper Bringhurst followed the Ford as it exited at 1300 South, and attempted to stop the vehicle. The driver turned north on Third West, then right on Paxton Avenue (1180 South), where he finally stopped the vehicle.

Upon approach to the driver, Trooper Bringhurst asked if the driver had been drinking. The driver responded, “It doesn’t matter, does it?” The driver then raised a 12 gauge sawed-off shotgun and shoved the barrel out the driver’s window. Reacting to training and instinct, Bringhurst fell backwards as the suspect fired his weapon. The blast struck Bringhurst in the right side of his head. Two pellets entered 1/4 inch to the side of his eye. The top of his right ear was immediately severed. Several other pellets grazed the side of his head. As he fell, Bringhurst drew his weapon and began to fire into the vehicle. Trooper Bringhurst was able to get off five rounds before his assailant sped away.

Struck once in the abdomen and one in the face, Daniel Lee Johnson, 32, sped away from the scene. He had an extensive criminal history which included burglary and assault with a deadly weapon. Armed with a shotgun and a semi-automatic pistol, Johnson had been in pursuit of his former girlfriend and her new male roommate and had vowed to kill them both. His plans were altered when he was stopped by Trooper Bringhurst. He now increased his criminal status by attempting to murder a police officer.

Salt Lake City Police Officer Ralph Evans saw Trooper Bringhurst make the routine traffic stop. As he turned to assist, Officer Evans heard gunshots and saw Trooper Bringhurst fall. As the suspect vehicle sped away, Officer Evans began pursuit.

Traveling east on Paxton Avenue to 200 West, Johnson attempted to turn north. His vehicle skidded out of control, hit a rise of ground and crashed into a chain-link fence. Officer Evans slid to a stop as Johnson exited from the passenger side. Officer Evans drew his weapon and ordered the suspect to stop. Johnson ignored this command and fled into the darkness. Chasing the suspect eastbound into an alley, Officer Evans caught the suspect attempting to climb a chain-link fence. He took the suspect into custody without further incident.

Trooper Dennis Bringhurst recovered from his wounds and soon returned to duty. He was honored by the Salt Lake Exchange Club and was presented their Blue and Gold Wounded-in-Service Award. He also received the Utah Department of Public Safety Purple Heart Award.

On February 6, 1987, a jury convicted Danny Lee Johnson of attempted murder. On February 19, 1987, Third District Judge Raymond Uno sentenced Johnson to five-years-to-life and then added an additional one-to-five-years consecutive sentence for committing the crime with a firearm. He added that Johnson should serve at least 15 years plus the weapons enhancement because Johnson is a habitual criminal.