If a friend or co-worker ever needed help, they could always count on Patty Barnett. And behind the scenes, Steve Barnett was always there for his wife.
The 68-year-old La Sal man, who died last week in a traffic accident on U.S. Highway 191 south of Moab, is being remembered as a devoted husband who stood by his wife in all she did.
“He and his wife just volunteered for everything,” former Moab City Council member and Red Rock 4-Wheelers special events coordinator Doug McElhaney said.
Family Support Center Director Sherilyn Sowell, who worked with Patty Barnett for about a year, said the couple had a uniquely close relationship with each other.
“I always liked watching the two of them together,” she said.
According to the Utah Highway Patrol, the couple were traveling southbound in their 2006 Dodge Durango near milepost 113 at about 8:35 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, when Steve Barnett passed a slower-moving semi-truck in a double-lane passing zone.
The Utah Highway Patrol reported that their car drifted over into the northbound travel lane, striking another semi-truck head on. Steve Barnett was killed upon impact, while his wife was subsequently flown to Grand Junction, Colorado, for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Ty Roberts said there are indications that one of the tires on the Dodge Durango may have blown in the moments before the accident.
“It’s possible that there could have been a (tire) failure,” Roberts said. “But we’re not absolutely able to confirm that.”
Investigators believe that darkness limited visibility that night, and Roberts said the driver of the semi-truck did not see the Dodge Durango before it moved into the opposite travel lane.
“There was no braking — no nothing — just the car moving over and the impact,” he said.
The occupants of the semi-truck sustained minor injuries during the accident.
In addition to his wife, Steve Barnett is survived by three grown children, who live in Arizona.
La Sal resident Butch Brannan grew up with Steve Barnett in Phoenix, where the two friends went to grade school together.
Years before they both moved to La Sal, they would join others on Jeep expeditions in the Moab area, and Brannan said he has fond memories of their time spent four-wheeling in Arizona and Utah.
“We had a lot of good times together,” he said.
Along with others from the Phoenix club, Brannan moved to southeastern Utah in 1993, and Steve Barnett brought property in the area about three years later, he said.
Before Barnett retired, he worked as a welder and drove school buses, among other professions.
McElhaney said that at first glance, strangers might have trouble relating immediately to Steve Barnett.
“He was a gruff-looking guy and was probably a little bit intimidating if you didn’t know him,” he said.
But many who befriended him over the years formed a more complete picture.
“He was a very nice gentleman,” said Grand County Prevent Child Abuse Director Debbie Thurman, who got to know his wife when she volunteered for the Back to School Carnival.
The couple also led the Easter Jeep Safari First Timer’s Package, where participants spend three days in a row touring scenic trails with the same groups of people.
“Steve loved doing that,” McElhaney said. “The people that went with him, we’ve had lots of comments from them about how much they liked him.”
The Barnetts served together on the club’s trail committee, and behind the scenes, they helped the Red Rock 4-Wheelers line everything up ahead of Easter Jeep Safari events. They also volunteered to monitor trails, and often joined others on Jeep excursions.
“We would just go out and have fun, or work on the trails,” McElhaney said.
For McElhaney, Steve Barnett’s quirky and dry sense of humor was one of his defining traits.
“If you didn’t know him, you weren’t sure if he was joking or not,” he said.
Sowell, meanwhile, remembers a quiet man who always stood by his wife.
Patty Barnett used to work at the Family Support Center as an on-call crisis nursery worker, and throughout that time, Steve Barnett’s commitment to her made a big impression on Sowell.
“He wanted to see her get here safely, and he was always concerned about her,” she said. “I thought that was sweet.”
When people work at agencies like the Family Support Center, their spouses often help out, and Steve Barnett was no exception.
Sowell remembers one example in particular: It was Child Abuse Prevention Month around the state, and the Family Support Center planted blue pinwheels and ribbons around town to raise awareness of the issue.
With Steve Barnett’s help, they planted over 150 pinwheels just around the Family Support Center alone.
“Steve said he never seen so darn many pinwheels in all his life,” she said. “He said he went to bed that night dreaming of pinwheels.”
Red Rock 4-Wheelers treasurer Rex Holman said that while he didn’t know Steve Barnett well, he also remembers Barnett’s commitment to his wife.
“Steve was kind of her right hand,” Holman said.
Sowell, whose husband was killed in a 2009 car accident, said she can understand what Patty Barnett and her family are going through right now.
“I know how much she relied on him,” she said. “I worry about her.”
She said she’ll see what she can do to help, and hopes that others will do the same when Patty Barnett returns home from the hospital.
“She’s really going to need everybody,” she said.
Steve Barnett died in Feb. 2 car accident south of Moab