Saturday, September 29, 2007

Escaped Utah Convicts Juan Diaz-Arevalo And Danny Gallegos Recaptured Near Green River, Wyoming

Update: On June 14th, 2008, KSL reported that Danny Gallegos pleaded guilty to escape and has been sentenced to up to five years in prison, to run consecutive to his current sentence.

Two Salt Lake area families can breathe and sleep much easier tonight, as the two escaped convicts who so brutally affected their lives were recaptured on Saturday September 29th, 2007 after a week-long manhunt. Stories published in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret Morning News, and KSL Channel 5.

Danny Martin Gallegos, 49, and Juan Carlos Diaz-Arevalo, 27, were recaptured near Green River, Wyoming after a police chase which ended in gunfire. Gallegos was wounded in the stomach and taken to a local hospital in preparation for medical evacuation to Salt Lake, while Diaz-Arevalo was booked into the Sweetwater County Jail.

The two had broken into a Daggett County home shortly after 7:30 P.M. earlier Saturday evening. They tied up the occupant - a 79-year old former Salt Lake City police officer, with ropes and duct tape, threatened him with a knife, and stole the keys to his Ford Explorer. They also obtained weapons - including a rifle - from the man's vehicle. The resident freed himself and flagged down a passer-by to call police. A Sweetwater County sheriff's deputy spotted the car and a chase ensued, Blust said. Officers used spike strips to blow out tires.

The saga originally began on Sunday September 23rd, when the two convicts, who, despite being state prisoners, were being housed at the Daggett County Jail on a contract basis because of overcrowding at state facilities, apparently climbed over a fence adjacent to the jail's recreational area sometime around 2:30 P.M. or later. Their absence was not discovered until the 8:00 P.M. headcount. Because Diaz-Arevalo is an illegal alien from Mexico, there was some concern that the two would head south, but apparently the public hue and cry caused them to hunker down in Daggett County until they got desperate enough to make their break. Subsequent interviews with other jail inmates indicate the two had been planning their escape for weeks.

And what about the two families involved? The Snydergaard family hasn't been heard from. They went into hiding after the escape because Gallegos had previously threatened to kill Jerry Snydergaard for helping put him away. Danny Gallegos murdered Jerry Snydergaard's daughter, Tammy, in 1990.

However, Robert and Tessie Seneca, the parents of Lindsey Rae Fawson, who was murdered by Juan Diaz-Arevalo in a domestic dispute in 2005, were ecstatic over the escapees recapture. The Senecas have custody of Fawson's two sons, currently ages 5 and 7, and Diaz-Arevalo also threatened this family prior to his sentencing. After the escape, the Seneca's moved the boys to another location while Sandy police guarded the family's home.

The escape has triggered a week-long bout of debate and soul-searching within the Utah Department of Corrections. The practice of farming out state prison inmates was triggered by overcrowding in state facilities. The Utah state prison system is overpopulated by more than 1,500 inmates, so the state pays county facilities to siphon off the excess after a screening process. Jack Ford, the spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections, previously stated that all inmates are carefully reviewed before they are transferred to county jails, and that the counties could pick and choose the inmates they'll take. Ford further explained that the state couldn't send them management problems, medical problems, or the mentally ill.

However, On Tuesday September 25th, Jack Ford said executive staff decided to re-examine operations in county jails and to possibly remove inmates serving lengthy prison terms. "We're going to review the counties — their security systems and their policies and the way they operate — in all jails," Ford said at the time. This theme was also stressed by Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who has been a strong proponent of constructing a replacement for the Utah State Prison in Draper, during his weekly press conference. The murder of corrections officer Stephen Anderson by Curtis Allgier during a transport earlier this year undoubtedly still sticks in the governor's craw as well.

A column by Paul Rolly in the Salt Lake Tribune airs some other problems in the Utah State Department of Corrections. State prisons have been hurt by high turnover because of comparatively lower pay. The starting wage for a CO at Draper is about $1.50 per hour less than that for a CO at the Salt Lake County Jail. Lack of funding prevented a second CO from accompanying Stephen Anderson when transporting Curtis Allgier.

Before Utah starts spending money on effete luxuries like school vouchers, perhaps it should spend more money on necessities like PUBLIC SAFETY. They may need to use push-polls to convince people to swallow vouchers, but no push-poll is needed to convince people of the importance of public safety. Both the Snydergaard and Seneca families will be glad to convince you.

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