Mountain & Trail News

    Deadly Booby Traps Discovered on Popular Utah Hiking Trail

    A U.S. Forest Service (USFS) law enforcement officer is credited with discovering and removing dangerous booby traps set in the Big Springs area of Provo Canyon in Utah. Two men were arrested and pleaded guilty to setting the traps after officers located the suspects through Facebook. The traps were discovered one day after they were set and no one was hurt.

    On April 16, 2012, U.S. Forest Service Officer James Schoeffler was on foot patrol on the trail above the Big Springs Trailhead parking lot when he came across one of the booby traps set by Benjamin Steven Rutkowski, 19, of Orem, and Kai Matthew Christensen, 21, of Provo. The men were arrested on April 21, 2012.

    Mug shots. Christensen is on the left, Rutkowski on the right

    Officer Schoeffler had extensive experience with identifying booby trap devices due to his time in the military. He was on foot patrol when he noticed what appeared to be a trip wire near the ground at an entrance.

    The press release from the Utah County Sheriff’s office details the findings:

    “Upon further investigation he discovered that the trip wire led to a booby trap device which was made with a large rock, sticks sharpened at both ends, and was held together with rope. This device was situated in such a way that when contact was made with the trip wire it would swing toward an unsuspecting hiker or camper. It was hung where it would most likely swing to and hit the head or face of the hiker or camper. In a second entrance to the shelter Officer Schoeffler found a second trip wire. This wire was configured so as to trip a person, possibly causing them to fall forward onto sharpened sticks placed in the ground.”

    The officer and deputies with the Sheriff’s Office used Facebook to contact individuals familiar with the shelter. They were helped by a witness who saw the information on Facebook and who was familiar with the shelter. Once suspects were identified, they both confessed their involvement and told deputies the traps were placed there on April 15, 2012. Rutkowski and Christensen were booked into the Utah County Jail on one charge of reckless endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor. Both were released on bail within a few hours of their arrest. Their first appearance to enter a plea in court is scheduled for May 21st.

    When asked what their motive was, the men told the Sheriff’s Department that they intended to target wildlife. Public Information Officer for the Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the department didn’t believe them for a number of reasons. Mainly because of the multiple entrances into the traps, the fact that the traps, or shelters, were built for people by people and that there isn’t a lot of large wildlife in that area. “The shelter… is near a trail that’s frequented by people. When people aren’t there, a squirrel might run through,” Sgt. Cannon said. “A reasonable person would know that people are targeted.”

    Photos: Utah County Sheriff's Department

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