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Man dead after shootout at remote hazardous waste facility in Tooele County

SHARE Man dead after shootout at remote hazardous waste facility in Tooele County

ARAGONITE, Tooele County — A man was reported dead Sunday morning following an officer-involved shooting at a hazardous waste disposal facility in a remote area of west Tooele County.

The man died after being shot when he refused to cooperate with responding officers, according to a statement from the Utah County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the incident.

Eyewitnesses say the man had two guns — a handgun and a rifle — and he fired at police before the officers fired back.

The Tooele County Sheriff's Office, Utah Highway Patrol and a bomb squad responded to a call about 6:30 a.m. from the Clean Harbors Incineration Facility in Aragonite, about 60 miles east of Wendover.

The facility reported a "suspicious person" was making threats to "blow up the propane tanks" at the facility, said Tooele County Sheriff Paul Wimmer.

"Reports were that he was outside of their facility, making possible bomb threats, that he wanted to blow up the facility," Wimmer said.

A Tooele County deputy and a UHP trooper "confronted the suspect," the sheriff said, "at which time he presented a gun and the officers fired."

"At that point, the (man) crawled under his vehicle, at which time we thought we had a barricaded situation that was slow to resolve," Wimmer said. "Upon resolution of that, we found the individual had passed away."

Asked for more details of how the man was killed, Wimmer said the incident is still under investigation.

"It's still very early in the investigation, and we hope a lot of the details will come to light at a later time," he said.

The Utah County Sheriff's Office will be conducting an outside investigation, according to protocol for officer-involved shootings, Wimmer said.

Later Sunday, Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the man had entered the facility's secure perimeter by "following in some contractors coming in to do some work."

"During the course of that, these contractors tried to tell the guy he had to leave, and there was a minor altercation between those contractors and this individual," Cannon said. "He made some threats to them, they saw that he had a gun, and that information was reported to the dispatchers at Tooele County."

Cannon said when the trooper and deputy responded, they saw the man had a gun and a rifle.

"He threatened them with those firearms, and they shot at the suspect," he said. "He crawled back toward his truck and appeared to be trying to manipulate the firearms, and the suspect was killed. He ended up dying near or underneath his truck."

Cannon said it's still under investigation as to whether the man shot at police, but witnesses Iosefo Mareko and Fred Auelua — workers who were leaving after a night shift at the facility — said they saw the man fire at police.

"He just showed up. We didn't know what was going on. He didn't work there. We've never seen him before," Mareko said, adding that police had ushered them back into the building before the action unfolded.

"All we really saw was him walking back to his truck and pull out the gun, then his rifle from the back of his truck and then start to fire at the cops," Mareko said. "That's when they shot at him."

Auelua said the man was acting "crazy" and at one point kneeled on the ground in what appeared to be a prayer.

"Then the next thing you know, he pointed one gun, reached to the back of the truck and pulled out another gun and just started going at it," Auelua said. "I mean, it was scary."

The workers said they were glad the officers arrived when they did.

"I hate to say this, but I'm glad the police did what they had to do, because he could have probably turned around and shot us," Auelua said. "That's not a good way to go out, but we don't know what was going through his head. … It's sad seeing someone die like that."

"I feel bad for the guy," Mareko said. "I've never seen anything like that."

Investigators Sunday afternoon were still trying to determine if the man was an employee or has any other tie to the Clean Harbors facility.

"We don't know a lot of history about him yet. That's part of the investigation, to see what his history is, what might have motivated him to come out here in the first place and then motivate him to react the way he did when the law enforcement officers arrived," Cannon said.

The man was from Salt Lake County, Cannon said, but he had no other details about his name or age, pending notification of his family.

"It's still very early in the investigation, and we hope a lot of the details will come to light at a later time," Wimmer said.

Cannon said police were investigating, but they believe the man acted alone.

As a precaution, a bomb squad responded to the scene to investigate the possibility of an explosive device at the facility, but nothing was found, Wimmer said.

Employees were evacuated to a parking lot about 2 miles east of the facility.

No other injuries were reported.

Detectives had some "brief interviews" the with officers before they were sent home, Cannon said.

"They obviously weren't going in there intending to shoot anybody. That's the last thing in the world they wanted to happen," he said. "But they had to be prepared for that eventuality because information was reported that the suspect had threatened the people there and the facility itself. So they were prepared when they went in."

Cannon said Clean Harbors was working to provide resources to employees affected by the incident.

"We've got some employees out here, some contractors who were pretty shaken up," he said. "You don't go to work expecting to see somebody threaten law enforcement officers and then end up dying right in front of you."

Cannon said the man's body was transported to the medical examiner's office in Salt lake City to conduct an autopsy Monday.

Calls to Clean Harbors' corporate office were not immediately returned Sunday.