clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Father, son charged with murder in killing of UTA worker

Brutality of killing is 'shocking to the soul,' family spokesman says

KEMMERER, Wyo. — A father and son who had been called "persons of interest" in the death of a Utah Transit Authority worker were officially charged with murder Tuesday in Wyoming.

Dereck James "DJ" Harrison, 22, of Centerville, and his father, Flint Wayne Harrison, 51, of Pinedale, Wyoming, were each charged with murder in the first degree in the killing of Kay Porter Ricks, 63, of American Fork. Ricks' body was found in a remote area about 16 miles south of Kemmerer on May 17.

The charges carry a potential death sentence in Wyoming.

The 14-page affidavit filed for each defendant in the Circuit Court of the 3rd Judicial Court in Lincoln County, graphically outlines a brutal death caused over an 18-minute period that included Ricks' face being smashed with a blunt force object to the point he was no longer recognizable and his neck slashed three times before he was dumped under a sagebrush and left to die.

"The sheer brutality of the way in which Kay's life was taken is shocking to the soul. And it's going to take many, many years to process that. And I don't think you ever get that out of your head once you read that affidavit," said Richard Massey, a spokesman for the Ricks family.

"I had some things shared with me before, but nothing like this," he said. "My jaw clenched. My fists clinched, and I was angry."

Massey said Tuesday that he was not looking forward to sharing the details of the affidavit with Ricks' family.

The Harrisons were charged Tuesday with murder in the first-degree for killing Ricks with "premeditated malice," as well as a second count of murder in the first-degree for killing Ricks "while perpetrating the crime of kidnapping," according to charging documents. In addition, they were each charged with kidnapping and wrongful taking or disposing of property.

The Harrisons already face charges in Davis County of kidnapping and assaulting a Clinton woman and her four children the day before they allegedly kidnapped and killed Ricks.

Lincoln County Attorney Spencer Allred said Tuesday that for now, Davis County prosecutors will proceed with their case first before the Harrisons are brought to Wyoming to face murder charges. He declined to comment on whether any federal charges may also be pending.

Investigators say the Harrisons' violent trek began May 10 when they lured a woman and her four teenage daughters to a house in Centerville, claiming they were inviting them to a barbecue. Once there, the men allegedly led the women into the basement where police say they had a shotgun, a baseball bat, zip ties and duct tape already ripped into strips in preparation for their arrival. The women were tied up and beaten before breaking free and calling 911 as they ran out of the house.

After fleeing the Centerville home, investigators believe the Harrisons got a ride to a Ramada Inn, 2450 S. State in South Salt Lake, early on the morning of May 11. On the afternoon of May 12, Ricks and his UTA vehicle went missing. The maintenance truck was last spotted in the parking lot at the UTA's Ballpark Station, 180 W. 1300 South in Salt Lake City, between 5 and 5:10 p.m. that day, but officials could not confirm who was driving at that time.

According to charging documents filed Tuesday, just before 5 p.m. on that day, "a commotion was transmitted" over Ricks' radio, "which was followed by his radio being turned off at 5 p.m."

"The male sounded hurried and higher pitched as if someone was stressed," the charges state.

Investigators believe that after kidnapping Ricks, the Harrisons drove along I-80 and crossed into Wyoming just before 6:30 p.m. Ricks suffered an injury to his right temple that was inflicted "well-prior to his death," according to court documents.

By approximately 7:17 p.m., they arrived in the secluded Muddy Creek area where Ricks was murdered, the charges state.

The UTA vehicle was next spotted about 7:48 p.m. in Diamondville, Wyoming, by employees of a fast-food restaurant. The fast-food employees saw only two people in the UTA vehicle. Other witnesses at the restaurant later identified Flint Harrison as the driver and DJ Harrison in the passenger seat, which was reclined, according to the charges.

The Harrisons had tried to use fluorescent green spray paint to cover the UTA logos on the vehicle. according to charging documents.

Flint Harrison was arrested near his home in Pinedale, Wyoming, on May 14 after surrendering to authorities. DJ Harrison was spotted and arrested later that night about 10 miles away in the Half Moon Lake area.

Ricks' body was located on May 17.

"It appeared K. Ricks had sustained significant impact trauma to his head, which rendered the nose, eye sockets and facial features indistinguishable," according to charging documents.

Investigators also noted that it appeared as though Ricks' body had been moved under sage brush "to conceal his location."

"A blood covered utility knife was recovered from under K. Ricks' left foot. The knife was of a folding style with a replaceable blade," the charges state.

A Utah medical examiner concluded that Ricks was killed by "severe crushing facial injuries" caused by three or four blows to the face by a rigid object, according to the charges.

The next day, the UTA truck was located about 100 miles away in the Half Moon Lake area. Approximately 92 items of evidence were seized from the vehicle, police say, including DNA evidence. The DNA evidence was collected in the area where Ricks' body was found as well as from the Harrisons themselves after they were arrested.

Allred would not say Tuesday whether he would seek the death penalty if the father and son are convicted.

Massey says the Ricks family is not concerned about what penalty the Harrisons receive, just as long as they are never free again.

"The family is not hoping or searching for anything. The family has expressed that their only wish is that whoever is responsible for this, who we believe for the time being is those two men, that they never see the outside of a jail cell ever again. How that is chosen to be accomplished by law enforcement, the family is in full support of that," he said.

Massey praised the efforts of investigators and the sensitivity they have shown the family. He noted one example of Wyoming authorities driving all the way to American Fork to visit with the family for 30 minutes to make sure they knew what was happening with the case.

No one from the Ricks family attended Tuesday's announcement of criminal charges, and Massey said it is unlikely they will attend any of the court proceedings in Utah or Wyoming. The family is having a "difficult time" with the death, he said, adding that they do not want the likely lengthy court proceedings to be another "burden" in their lives.

"With something like this you don't have closure," he said.

In the Centerville case, the Harrisons each face five counts of kidnapping, a first-degree felony; five counts of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony; possession of a controlled substance, a class A misdemeanor; possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor; and three counts of interrupting a communications device, a class B misdemeanor.

Flint Harrison is also charged with use of a firearm by a restricted person, a second-degree felony. Dereck Harrison faces the same charge, but as a third-degree felony. Dereck Harrison recently entered not guilty pleas at an arraignment after waiving a preliminary hearing earlier this month. He is next scheduled to appear in court Aug. 22, almost two weeks after an Aug. 9 preliminary hearing is scheduled for his father.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam