Dan Roberts won’t measure his upcoming off-highway vehicle trip in terms of miles; he’ll measure it in terms of lives lost.
Each mile along the Utah Fallen Peace Officers Trail Ride is marked to honor a law enforcement officer who died in the line of duty, and when Roberts returns to the trail this weekend, he’ll be thinking of 14 men in particular.
The West Jordan Police Department sergeant called the event a highlight of his life.
This year, it’s even more so. As the 2015 president of the Utah Peace Officers Association, Roberts is spearheading the third annual ride, which will be held on Saturday, April 18, in the Dalton Wells area about 12 miles north of Moab.
“It’s just one of the most wonderful and gratifying things I’ve ever been involved in,” he said.
The daylong ride, which is open to the public, brings fallen officers’ families together with a brotherhood of law enforcement personnel from around the state.
“It’s very, very meaningful for the officers and their families,” he said.
The night before the big ride, Moab Brewery will sponsor a private barbecue for the families of fallen officers. On the morning of the event, the peace officers association will hold a 21-gun salute and a “solemnity walk” to honor them.
The main event is set to start at 10:30 a.m. that morning. The 14-mile trail ride is open to motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and UTVs; Jeep rides will begin at 3 p.m.
Registration costs vary from $20 per motorcycle to $50 per Jeep; proceeds will go toward a scholarship fund that benefits the children of slain officers.
Each $2,010 scholarship is set up to honor Utah State Park Ranger Brody Young, who was shot in the line of duty near Moab in November 2010. Young survived nine gunshot wounds, and today, he works as an assistant boating program manager for Utah State Parks and Recreation, while sharing his experiences with audiences as a motivational speaker.
This year’s event will be held almost two years to the day since the association launched its first ride along the trail, which it developed alongside Young, Ride with Respect, Utah State Parks and other project partners.
Ride with Respect Executive Director Clif Koontz came up with the idea for the trail to recognize law enforcement officers who are there for people like himself.
“I felt that Ride with Respect in particular and all recreationists had benefited from the work by state park rangers like Brody Young,” he said.
At first, Koontz thought that the trail should be named in honor of Young, but the ranger felt that it should honor the greater law enforcement community.
“He wanted to recognize other officers who fell in the line of duty, or those who fell and got back up,” Koontz said.
The list of fallen officers they pay tribute to rotates every year. This weekend, Grand County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard D. Westwood is among the honorees.
Westwood was murdered in 1929, after he and another officer arrested two men for possession of stolen property. They transferred the suspects to an understaffed Grand County Jail, but unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the two suspects stashed a .32-caliber pistol away.
When Westwood returned to the jail by himself several hours later, the two men shot him and escaped from the facility. Authorities eventually recaptured both men, who were convicted of related charges; one of the men died in prison in 1963, while the second man was released on parole.
Westwood, meanwhile, left a large family behind him. The 65-year-old deputy was a married father of 12 children.
In addition to Westwood, other 2015 honorees include Midvale Police Det. Jose Argueta, who died of esophageal cancer in 2006.
While some police organizations have different definitions of what constitutes a death in the line of duty, it is widely believed that Argueta was killed by a disease he incurred on the job.
As a onetime employee of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, and as a SWAT team member, Argueta routinely joined raids on methamphetamine labs.
At the time, Roberts said, law enforcement officers were rarely equipped with the protective gear they needed to shield them from the caustic chemicals that meth cooks use. As a result, they repeatedly suffered from exposure to the volatile and dangerous conditions they encountered.
“Many officers were hurt or injured,” Roberts said.
In order to properly honor men like Argueta and Westwood, the peace officers association depends on volunteers from around the state. Association members are also grateful for the help they receive from local sponsors and partners, including Moab Brewery and the Aarchway Inn.
“We just really appreciate Moab,” Roberts said.
To register for the event, go to www.upoa.org/fallen-trail-ride/registration/. If you can’t make it to the ride, but would like to offer your financial support, go to www.upoa.org/fallen-trail-ride/; scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Anyone who plans on joining the trail ride is strongly encouraged to wear helmets and other protective gear as a precaution, although the course is a relatively easy one.
“We had somebody last year do it in a Honda Pilot, and they did just fine,” Roberts said. “I think that a regular four-wheel drive vehicle off the street can drive it.”
“It’s a fairly simple trail,” he added. “I have no problems with my son driving it.”
Third annual event returns on Saturday, April 18
“It’s just one of the most wonderful and gratifying things I’ve ever been involved in.”
When: Saturday, April 18; non-Jeep ride times start at 10:30 a.m. and will continue to 2:30 p.m., with 30 vehicles per slot every 30 minutes. From 3 to 4:30 p.m., there will be 15 vehicle slots for Jeeps and related vehicles.
Where: Utah Fallen Peace Officer Trail, about 12 miles north of Moab off U.S. Highway 191
Cost: $20 per motorcycle; $30 per all-terrain vehicle; $40 per UTV and $50 per Jeep; proceeds benefit families of fallen officers
Free buses will be available to shuttle participants from the Dalton Wells public parking area to the memorial site. Shuttle buses will run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; they will depart about every 15 minutes throughout the day. The memorial dedication site and solemnity walk will be open to pedestrian traffic only. Free public parking will be available at Dalton Wells; the turnoff is located near mile marker 139.5 on U.S. Highway 191.