First Patrolman Killed in the Line of Duty
During mid-May 1931, two felons escaped from the Utah State Prison at Sugarhouse. The following day a vehicle was reported missing in the Provo area. Fearing that the two incidents may be connected, Patrolman George E. “Ed” VanWagenen began an investigation. On May 23, 1931, Patrolman VanWagenen stopped at the Lake View Beet Slicer, in Provo on the Lakeview Road. (Now Geneva Road, SR 114) He met with a friend, Ira Cobbley, and inquired if anyone new had been asking for employment. He told Ira of the prison break and stolen vehicle and warned him to tell his employees to lock their vehicles. During this conversation, Ed went with Ira to a building on the north side of the beet plant. While he was there, Ed helped Ira adjust the carburetor of an engine that powered a large circular saw. The saw was used to cut railroad trusses for firewood. When they were done, Ed turned, tripped on a piece of lumber and fell on top of the spinning saw blade. A total of three men were in the building at the time, but due to the noise, none of these men actually saw the accident. Ira was the first to see Ed in a slumped position over the frame of the saw. He immediately turned off the engine and helped to remove Patrolman VanWagenen, who was bleeding profusely. The circular saw did not have a guard and had severed Ed’s right side penetrating his liver and lungs. His right arm was stripped of its flesh to the elbow. Cobbley attempted to fashion a tourniquet with a piece of wire and asked Ed what had happened. He said, “I slipped and fell.”
There was no telephone at the Lake View Beet Slicer, so help was summoned via telephone from a nearby farmhouse. The first call was received by the Utah County Sheriff’s office at 3:05 p.m. The incident was investigated by Deputy Sheriff George W. Loveless. The Utah County ambulance transported Patrolman VanWagenen to the Aird Hospital in Provo where he died shortly thereafter, due to loss of blood.
Patrolman VanWagenen was buried in his Utah Highway Patrol uniform at the Provo City Cemetery. Just prior to the closing of the coffin, his badge and .44 magnum service revolver were removed to discourage any would be grave robbers. The funeral was attended by police officers from throughout the state of Utah.
For Johanna, “Ed” VanWagenen’s wife, the following years were extremely difficult. She continued to raise her five sons without any compensation from the state of Utah or the federal government. She never remarried. Johanna obtained employment at the State Mental Hospital in Provo, Utah, in an effort to make ends meet. The early 1930s were difficult times. For a single mother with five growing boys they were almost impossible times. In 1935, tragedy again struck the VanWagenen family. While at work, Johanna was brutally attacked by a mental patient wielding a pair of scissors. In the days that followed, she underwent extensive surgery. Despite the doctor’s best efforts, Johanna died. Her five orphaned sons, ages 20 to 12, were separated and sent to families throughout the country.
A seventh patrolman was hired on August 10, 1931, to replace Patrolman VanWagenen. He was Elmer Carling, grandfather of Utah State Senator and Honorary Colonel Richard Carling.