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Former Scout leaders charged in destruction of Utah rock formation

Laws and LegislationCourts and the JudiciaryCrime, Law and JusticeState ParksScienceJustice SystemGeology

It took 20 million years of wind and water erosion to form an eye-catching, mushroom-shaped boulder in a Utah state park. Heaving the stone off its perch took a man just 10 seconds, and the action sparked international disgust.

A pair of former Boy Scout leaders who said they destroyed the rock formation to protect people from being crushed by it were charged with felony mischief this week, Utah state parks officials announced.

In October, David Benjamin Hall, 42, taped Glenn Tuck Taylor, 45, pushing the stone to the ground. They posted the video on Facebook and quickly drew outrage, and even death threats.

“We have now modified Goblin Valley,” Hall says in the video, referring to the name of the state park, after Hall heaves the large, wind-eroded sandstone off its pedestal. “A new Goblin Valley now exists with this boulder down here.”

The Utah National Parks Council of Boy Scouts America expelled both men from scouting, citing violation of the organization’s “Leave no trace” principle.

Hall was charged with one count of felony aiding and assisting in criminal mischief and Taylor with one count of felony criminal mischief. They both face up to five years in prison, though the Emery County district attorney told reporters that he would seek a plea deal.

In the video, Glenn Taylor flexes and grunts as Hall appears to explain their rationale.

“Some little kid was about ready to walk down here and die, and Glenn saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way, so it’s all about saving lives here in Goblin Valley,” Hall says.

No child is depicted in the video, but the men told media after the incident that a family had walked by a few minutes before. Hall told the Salt Lake Tribune in November that when he was 10, his uncle was killed by a falling boulder.

Parks officials and geology experts responded that every rock could eventually fall, but tourists had no right to topple them before their time. The mushroom-like formations that fill the state park are variously known as hoodoos, goblins and fairy chimneys.

The charges filed are the lowest of three degrees of felonies in Utah, meaning the rock formation was valued at $1,500 to $5,000. In the immediate wake of the incident, prosecutors had said charges could range anywhere from a simple misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.

The valuation seemed low to Marjorie Chan, a geology and geophysics professor at the University of Utah. She said Saturday that state parks officials consulted with geological engineers to determine the value.

Chan has previously suggested that the  Goblin Valley formations be cataloged to see how they change over time and at what rate they might becoming more tipsy.

“Cataloging would probably be quite an effort, although satellite imagery could provide some baseline,” she said by email.

The act of geo-vandalism wasn’t explicitly covered by Utah state law. Since the incident, lawmakers have begun searching for ways to more clearly punish such vandalism.

Taylor’s attorney, Scott P. Card, did not respond to a request for comment. Hall was unreachable.

The two men are due in a Utah state court March 18.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Laws and LegislationCourts and the JudiciaryCrime, Law and JusticeState ParksScienceJustice SystemGeology
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