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Booby traps along Utah hiking trail targeted humans, officials say

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times –

LAS VEGAS — In a case that stunned authorities with its ruthlessness, two Utah men have been arrested in connection with a pair of deadly booby traps along a popular hiking trail outside Provo.

One of the traps featured a tripwire meant to send a 20-pound spiked boulder swinging into an unsuspecting victim. The other was designed to trip a passerby into a bed of sharpened wooden stakes.

The suspects, Benjamin Steven Rutkowski, 19, and Kai Matthew Christensen, 21, were arrested last weekend on suspicion of misdemeanor reckless endangerment and have been released on bail. They told investigators the traps were intended for wildlife.

But authorities discounted that explanation.

“When you look at those things, you just get chills down your spine,” Utah County sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. “One sends a rock the size of a football speeding at your head. The other is even more nightmarish. Walk into that trap and either you get the worst headache of your life or a stick through your eye.”

He added: “There’s no question these traps were set for humans and that these suspects knew their deadly potential.”

The booby traps were set at entrances to a popular makeshift wooden shelter used by local hikers as a sleepover and campfire site, Cannon said. The traps took time and energy to erect, he said, and involved rope and heavy-duty fishing line along with rocks and sticks.

The traps were discovered earlier this month by James Schoeffler of the U.S. Forest Service, an officer with military training in Iraq and Afghanistan who was patrolling Big Springs Trail in Provo Canyon outside the city of Provo.

He noticed the tripwires not far from a popular trail head and suspected they were designed to catch hikers walking in the dark, Cannon said. “He has experience … that told him something didn’t look right,” he said.

Said Schoeffler in an interview Wednesday: “There was a large children’s birthday party that day and there were kids running up and down the trail. … The possibility of one of them finding the fort (and setting off the trip wires) was a very real possibility.”

Schoeffler disabled the traps after taking photos and video of the site. He said that the traps lacked in sophistication, but were deadly nonetheless: “They were extremely rudimentary, but it works.”

Cannon said investigators received a tip from a local hiker who told authorities the men had posted comments on Facebook.

“This area was popular with families, children, people out to have a good time, and look what awaited them,” Cannon said. “These two suspects tried to convince me that these traps really didn’t have risk to people, but I don’t buy it.”

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