SALT LAKE CITY — The 20-pound spiked boulder was rigged to swing at head-level with just a trip of a thin wire — a militarylike booby trap set on a popular Utah canyon trail.
Any unsuspecting hiker exploring the makeshift shelter, just a half-mile from a busy trailhead, could have fallen prey.
“Who goes up this trail thinking, ‘I’m going to have to look out for booby traps?’” Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. “A kid could say, ‘Oh cool, a shelter,’ and run right across the trip line.”
Two men arrested over the weekend on suspicion of misdemeanor reckless endangerment told authorities the traps were intended for wildlife, but investigators don’t believe the story.
“This is a shelter put together by people, visited by people — anything that would be impacted by their device would have to be humans,” Sgt. Cannon said. “It took some time to build these traps. They took rope, heavy-duty fishing line, and they intended what the traps were going to do.”
U.S. Forest Service Officer James Schoeffler came across the trip wires last week while on routine patrol on the popular Big Springs hiking trail in Provo Canyon about 50 miles south of Salt Lake City. Having had previous military training in hazardous-device detection, Officer Schoeffler immediately knew it was a threat.
If not disabled, both devices — one set to swing down at head-level, the other designed to trip a passer-by into a bed of sharpened wooden stakes — could have been deadly.
The structure built by the two suspects was easy to see, Sgt. Cannon said, but the booby traps could have been overlooked by everyone except a military-trained officer like Officer Schoeffler.
“A lot of people go up there after dark, as well,” Sgt. Cannon said. “We’re very, very fortunate that it was Officer Schoeffler who found it.”
Authorities said Officer Schoeffler disabled the traps after taking photos and video of the site.
Days after Officer Schoeffler made the discovery, a tipster alerted authorities about comments on Facebook that mentioned the traps and the shelter. Detectives then tracked down the suspects, Sgt. Cannon said.
Benjamin Steven Rutkowski, 19, of Orem, and Kai Matthew Christensen, 21, of Provo, were booked in the Utah County Jail on Saturday and released on bail.
Prosecutors think the misdemeanor reckless-endangerment charges were the strongest claims they could pursue without anyone being injured. Charges have not yet been filed.
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