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Utah homicides skyrocket in 2016

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's homicide rate appears to be on a disturbing upward shift.

In 2016, 90 people died as a result of homicide in Utah, according to statistics kept by the Deseret News. That's up significantly from 73 in 2015 and 79 from 2014.

Nineteen people were shot, stabbed or beaten to death in Utah in just the past six weeks, bringing an end to what was an extraordinary violent year in the Beehive State.

The high number of killings during the last six weeks of the year mirrored the statistics from July when at least 11 people died in Utah as a result of homicide. According to statistics kept by the state Bureau of Criminal Identification, Utah detectives investigated the most homicides in a single month since October 2007.

That year-end count of 90 homicides — the killing of one human being at the hands of another — can also fluctuate, as new homicides are discovered, for example, or as victims die in one calendar year from injuries suffered the previous year.

More coverage: The circumstances surrounding each of the homicide victims killed in Utah during 2016

Many knew well the people who killed them; others saw their lives end suddenly and at the hands of complete strangers. At least 10 people died over some kind of robbery, at least two over road rage. At least three people's deaths were connected to gangs; two were accidentally shot to death. Ten of the homicides had obvious connections to drugs, although drugs were likely factors in several other cases, too.

Nine of the 90 victims were shot by police officers. That number is down from the past two years when 10 people died in officer-involved shootings in 2015; 14 in 2014. The actions of those officers have been determined or are expected to be determined to be legally justified in order to defend themselves or others.

But at least five other homicides last year came as a result of people claiming they had to kill in self-defense, although some of those cases are still being investigated.

A firearm was used in the majority of the 2016 homicides, sometimes being pulled out with a seemingly cavalier attitude or with complete indifference toward the victim. At least 54 of this year's homicides, or 61 percent, were shooting deaths.

More than a quarter of the 2016 homicides are tied to domestic violence, including the killing of prominent Salt Lake restaurateur John Williams, 72, who died after police say his estranged husband trapped him by setting fire to his Capitol Hill home. Craig Crawford has been charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense, and aggravated arson.

Six cases were part of murder-suicides or attempted murder-suicides, although a couple of those are still being investigated.

The Deseret News does not count automobile homicides, which usually stem from drunken drivers, in its statistics. However, six of this year's homicides were the result of car crashes that ended in murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide charges being filed:

• One woman died after she hit a tree while being forced off the road by a man who was chasing her and trying to repossess her car in Pleasant Grove.

• An Orem mother was charged with negligent homicide after her 4-month-old baby she was allegedly holding on her lap died in a crash in which the driver was charged with DUI.

• Three teens were charged with murder after their car allegedly swerved toward a police officer and killed him.

• Another driver was charged with murder after he hit and killed a Centerville woman while fleeing police.

• And two people were killed in Roy when police say a teen driver purposely rammed her vehicle into theirs while going 100 mph. The 16-year-old driver is charged as an adult with murder.

Several of the homicides remained unsolved at the end of the year, including:

• The case of Cristhian Marquez, 33, who was at a Salt Lake car wash in October when he was gunned down. Police believe the attack was completely random and that Marquez did not have any prior association with the gunman.

• Paris Gustin, 16, was shot and killed while sitting in the front passenger seat of a vehicle with two other teens. The group had been driving around and "egging" other vehicles in the Fairpark neighborhood when someone in a white Nissan Sentra fired several shots at them.

• The body of Alejandro Reyes, 26, of West Jordan, was found wrapped in heavy plastic and dumped in Butterfield Canyon. He was reported missing Oct. 1. His body was found by a hiker on Oct. 5. Reyes died from blunt force trauma.

Three police officers were killed in the line of duty during 2016. One of the deaths resulted in murder charges being filed:

• In January, Unified police officer Doug Barney, 45, was shot and killed while responding to a car crash involving Corey Lee Henderson. Henderson was shot multiple times by pursuing officers whom he also fired on, and died at the scene. Unified police officer Jon Richey was wounded in the melee.

• In November, West Valley police officer Cody Brotherson, 25, was hit and killed while trying to lay tire spikes at the intersection of 4100 South and 2200 West to help other officers stop a fleeing vehicle. Three boys — ages 14, 15 and 15 — were arrested and charged with murder in juvenile court.

Two of the most high-profile homicides of 2016 originated in Utah, but the killings are alleged to have happened in another state so they were not included in this year's grim tally:

• In May, Utah Transit Authority worker Kay Porter Ricks, 63, of American Fork, was kidnapped in Salt Lake City and taken to a remote area outside of Kemmerer, Wyoming, where he was killed. Dereck James "DJ" Harrison, 22, of Centerville, and his father, Flint Wayne Harrison, 51, of Pinedale, Wyoming, were each charged with murder. The Harrisons were trying to escape after kidnapping and assaulting a Clinton mother and her daughters in Centerville. Flint Harrison committed suicide in prison. DJ Harrison is expected to be extradited to Wyoming to stand trial in 2017.

• In June, David Heisler, 30, was kidnapped from his Santa Clara home in Washington County, allegedly by the mother of his 6-year-old daughter and the woman's boyfriend. Heisler had been awarded custody of the child, which police say upset the mother. During a custody hearing, boyfriend Francis McCard said to Kelley Perry, 'I will fix this,'" according to a search warrant. Heisler's body was later found near Mount Trumbull, Arizona, along the Arizona Strip. No Arizona murder charges have been filed in the case, but McCard, Perry and Tammy Freeman face kidnapping and other criminal charges in the case.