GRANTSVILLE — In the space of a few hours Wednesday, two Utahns' lives were altered and forever linked by Richard Wilson, a violent stranger randomly wandering the West — and leaving tragedy in his wake.
Kimberli Lingard, 17, and Dee Jensen, 59, were going about their normal routines when, in separate incidents, Wilson shot and wounded them. Lingard was working in a Grantsville laundry; Jensen was behind the counter at her Delle gas station and restaurant.
Wilson, 39, a long-time criminal who police say had vowed never to return to prison, shot and killed himself after leading police on a high-speed chase on I-80.
Lingard was listed in critical condition late Thursday at University Hospital after suffering gunshot wounds to her head and chest.
Jensen suffered a bullet wound to her neck, but she was not otherwise seriously hurt. She was at LDS Hospital listed in fair condition Thursday.
Wilson had apparently been wending his way through small towns in Washington and Oregon, allegedly stealing guns and money from residences, a purse from an 81-year-old woman and raping a young woman at gunpoint, investigators said.
"He's had every law enforcement agency in the Columbia River Gorge looking for him," said Frank Rivera, a detective for Sherman County, Ore.
"Agencies here were well-prepared for a violent confrontation" with Wilson.
No one is certain why Wilson brought his crime spree to Utah.
"We really don't have any idea why a person from Walla Walla (Wash.) would drop out of thin air and land in a little community like Grantsville," Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park said.
A criminal history
Authorities in Washington, however, are not surprised by Wilson's demise in a dramatic confrontation with police.
Over the past two weeks, Wilson allegedly stole and then sold more than 20 guns, authorities said.
"I figured we would have problems with him. He told someone his plans were never to go back to prison," Walla Walla County sheriff's detective Mike Skeeters said. "With his history and his problems, he knew as soon as he did the burglary and pawned the stuff that he was in hot water.
"It's a sad tragedy for everybody that he came across."
Wilson was paroled from the Washington prison system in February and had a felony criminal history dating back to 1989, a stretch that includes convictions for drug possession, theft and robbery. In 1995, he was convicted of committing a rape at knifepoint in Vancouver, Wash., and he is listed on that state's sex offender registry, according to a check of Washington State Patrol databases.
Wilson served three different prison sentences, the first beginning in 1996. From June 1998 to September 2000, he was incarcerated for the rape conviction. He returned to prison in August 2002 after a conviction for theft and failing to register as a sex offender.
Since his release from prison, Wilson had been living with his parents in Walla Walla, said Matt Wood, a sergeant with the Walla Walla police department. Walla Walla officers went to the home late Wednesday to notify Wilson's parents of his death, he added.
In May, Wilson had reportedly missed several meetings with his parole officer, and police say that on May 17, he is believed to have burglarized a residence, taking more than $6,000 in camera equipment. He apparently pawned the merchandise in Walla Walla the next day and disappeared, Wood said.
Over the next two weeks, Wilson left tracks not only in Walla Walla but in Goldendale, Wash., Biggs Junction, Ore. — where he allegedly committed the rape — and numerous other small Northwestern towns, Rivera said.
Utah crime spree
Grantsville Police Chief Danny Johnson said Wilson was in the area Wednesday night, "casing a place to rob." Several witnesses reported seeing him at a local grocery store about 7 p.m.
Sometime in the next 30 minutes, Wilson entered the Laundromat where Lingard worked and allegedly shot the 17-year-old twice at point-blank range, Johnson said.
Patrons found the girl, unconscious and lying on the floor.
Wilson got less than $50 from the Laundromat till, Johnson said.
Police believe Wilson then drove to Delle, about 70 miles east of the Utah/Nevada state line, and robbed the gas station/restaurant there and shot Jensen, the owner.
Wounded in her neck, Jensen nevertheless called police herself at 9:30 p.m. She told police that after her assailant emptied the cash register, he forced her to lay her head on the counter and then pulled the trigger, Park said.
Wilson fled Delle at speeds up to 100 mph with the Utah Highway Patrol in pursuit. Troopers used spikes in the road to flatten the tires to slow Wilson's car, which he reportedly bought in Washington with a bounced check.
Stopped 6 miles east of the Nevada state line but unwilling to surrender, Wilson fired a single shot out the passenger-side window as a warning. He then inched the car into the median and, after a brief standoff with police, took his own life.
Police believe the Utah robberies and shootings were random. There is no indication that Wilson was using drugs, Park said.
"He was going somewhere and needed cash," Park said. "His whole motive was for money."
Lingard, a Grantsville High School senior, remains in critical condition at University Hospital, Park said. The teen was shot once in the head and once in the chest while working at the local laundry Wednesday night.
The Lingard family declined an interview but said in a statement that after many hours of brain surgery, "she is doing better than we initially expected and we hope for the best possible recovery for her."
Friends describe Lingard as an easygoing, patient, kind girl who, as one said, "always knew everything was going to work out for the best."
"She was just so beautiful, and I can't believe he would run and shoot her in the back of the head. That's just so cowardly of him," said Kira Peacock, 18, a friend who recently graduated from Grantsville High School. "I just hate him, and I'm glad he's gonna rot in hell."
Eric Bottelberghe, 18, said his older brother, Isaac, is "the closest thing to a boyfriend (Lingard) has." Bottelberghe said his brother went into shock when he heard about the shooting.
The two brothers visited the Lingard family at the hospital Wednesday night but were unable to see Kimberli Lingard. Bottelberghe said he was impressed with how well the family was handling such a tragic event.
The second gunshot victim, Dee Jensen, is in fair condition. Jensen was shot in the neck at a gas station/restaurant in Delle.
Park said Jensen provided critical information to help police track her attacker, including descriptions of the vehicle and her assailant.
Violent crime is not typical for Grantsville. Johnson said Wednesday's shooting was a nightmare for the town of about 6,000.
"Unfortunately, we're catching up with the big cities on the other side of the mountain," Johnson said. "I'd like to see my community go back to a small family community where I open car doors and fix . . . water heaters in the winter, but that's not the case."