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1 killed in assault as politicians prepare to discuss downtown 'lawlessness'

SALT LAKE CITY — One person was killed and three others were injured Tuesday in a series of assaults among homeless individuals near a freeway overpass on 500 South.

It was another instance of violence in Salt Lake City's infamous neighborhood, fueling House Speaker Greg Hughes' call to end the chaos and lawlessness surrounding the Road Home's downtown homeless shelter.

Hughes called the attack yet "another tragedy" in the Rio Grande neighborhood. But, to him, the violence has long been out of control.

“I’d just like to ask out loud and publicly — do we have a list (of) issues or incidents or crimes that will occur here in this area that will be the tipping point, where enough is enough? I hit that a while ago now,” Hughes said.

“It’s to a point where the state of Utah has to say collectively that we aren’t going to take this any longer.”

Earlier this month, the speaker's frustrations reached a boiling point after the Fourth of July holiday when Salt Lake's problems made national news stemming from a homeless man attacking and injuring Las Vegas 51s Triple-A pitcher Joshua Cruz at 500 S. West Temple and a woman crashing into six pedestrians, killing one, on a sidewalk just north of the Road Home.


Police received reports that a man had assaulted two people near 600 West and 500 South shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday, then continued moving east through the area, Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking said.

At 500 West and 500 South, another attack occurred, followed by a final, fatal attack with a large paver stone, Wilking said.

Police arrested Kepedro Kegler, 43, for investigation of murder and assault.

All four victims were transported to area hospitals.

Kevin Joseph McCann, 55, died of apparent blunt force trauma following the attack. Three others remained hospitalized Tuesday — two in serious condition and one in good condition, according to Wilking.

The four victims and Kegler were all experiencing homelessness and were frequently in the area, he said. The area of the attacks, near Rio Grande Street and the Road Home shelter, is known for its burgeoning and visible homeless population.

Wilking said the four attacks appear to have been random and unprovoked, noting that it does not seem that the individuals knew each other.

The fatal assault on McCann was "a surprise attack," the detective said, noting that McCann was sitting on the ground unaware of what was happening when he was hit by the large paving stone that weighed "upwards of 50 pounds."

Police have had prior encounters with Kegler, said Wilking, but he declined to go into detail. He said police still don't know whether mental illness, substance abuse or other factors fueled the attack.

"We don't know why this took place," he said.

A search of the Utah courts system revealed no criminal records for Kegler.

Police were able to locate McCann's family to notify them of his death and offer their condolences.

Action plan?

The attack came the day before a meeting planned between political heavyweights, including Hughes, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and other stakeholders to perhaps hash out a plan to combat the lawlessness in the Rio Grande area.

But what that plan could entail or if there will be enough political agreement to make that plan a reality remains unknown — although spokesmen for Hughes and Herbert were hopeful.

“What’s happening down there cannot be acceptable to anyone, and we all have to be willing to do what it takes to change the trajectory,” Hughes said.

The meeting is scheduled to take place Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at the state Capitol. The governor and others are expected to address members of the media at a news conference slated for roughly 10 a.m. or after the meeting ends.

Wilking said he expects the fatal attack will be brought up, along with other incidents in the downtown area.

"I'm sure that's a factor in all of the discussions surrounding that area, that there is a certain level of violence that is taking place," he said.

However, if lawmakers try to point to Tuesday's fatal attack as representative of the situation downtown, that would concern Wilking.

"Certainly it's part of the ongoing story of that area, that these things are happening, but to sensationalize this one event, I think, would be unfair," he said.

Moving forward, police will continue their efforts to maintain a presence and disrupt illegal activity in the Rio Grande area, while understanding that not everyone experiencing homeless is involved in crime.

Wilking said he hopes "long term solutions" come out of the governor's meeting.

Paul Edwards, Herbert's deputy chief of staff, said he expects there will be "significant agreement" around some sort of plan to coordinate "how state resources can start to better supplement local efforts."

"Everyone is aware that there are some very good long term plans in place for (homelessness)," Edwards said, referring to plans from the county and city to shut down the troubled downtown shelter by June 2019 and open three smaller homeless shelters at scattered sites. "But before we get to that point, we are dealing with a very serious public safety issue in the Rio Grande area."

Edwards said the meeting is meant to "pull together' the conversations Hughes has been having with various homeless and law enforcement stakeholders over the past few weeks.

Hughes hasn't elaborated on the specifics of the plan — and has warned that he may not be able to go into detail of it if one is announced Wednesday, saying, "I can't have the bad guys we're after understanding what we're going to do." But he has said that its aim will be to reduce the "anonymity" in the area that has "allowed for crime to breed."

Though Hughes says he has "high hopes" for Wednesday's meeting, he's not sure whether there will be enough agreement on all government fronts to make it happen.

"If we aren't able to muster the political will, I'll probably tell you," Hughes told a reporter Tuesday. "I don't want to create a false expectation. I'm out here, I'm on a limb. I'm either going to fail miserably at this or we're going to succeed at doing something special and something that hasn't happened before."