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Shooting unsettles Utah neighborhood

Before the shooting, David Serbeck and Reginald Campos were pillars of their community, living at opposite ends of an unfinished development here at the edge of Salt Lake City’s sprawl.

Serbeck, a genial 37-year-old father of two and former Army sniper, welcomed new arrivals to the neighborhood by offering to help install their sprinkler systems or work on their yards.

Campos, a 43-year-old CPA and father of four, tried to forge a community in his neighborhood by warning new residents about a spate of mailbox thefts and lobbying authorities to investigate the incidents.

The two men did not meet until one night last July, when Serbeck was patrolling the area in his SUV, looking for whoever was behind the thefts.

Campos was in his SUV too, looking for a suspicious car, and nearly collided with Serbeck. Both men were armed. Shots were fired.

Now one man is in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down. The other is scheduled to stand trial in July, charged with attempted murder.

“It’s divided people and changed a lot of people’s lives,” said Trevor Roberts, 40, who lives near Campos but is also friends with Serbeck. “It’s just a tragedy for both of them.”

An agricultural town turned bedroom community, Bluffdale has a mix of newer homes and older houses with cows and chickens in the yards. On its south end lies the 190-acre Parry Farms development.

Buffered by scrubland and reached via narrow onetime country lanes, Parry Farms consists of large split-level homes on curlicued streets carved out of the bluffs above the Jordan River. Many houses were never occupied or fell into foreclosure, and the area is dotted with vacant lots.

“It’s super-secluded,” said resident Kevin Swensen. “You’d have to get lost to find this place.”

The Serbecks were among the first families in phase one of the development. They moved in three years ago, and David Serbeck quickly began greeting the young families that followed.

“He seriously has been the glue in our neighborhood,” said Amanda Groff, 29, who lives across the street.

When he wasn’t helping out in yards or on cars, Serbeck, whose wife is a Salt Lake County sheriff’s deputy, was often seen tooling around the winding streets on his motorcycle or taking his ATV off on some excursion. So it seemed natural that Troy Peterson, his neighbor and president of the homeowners’ association, turn to Serbeck for help patrolling the night of July 21.

Both Serbeck and Campos declined to be interviewed. But according to court records, Peterson told Serbeck that there had been a rash of home burglaries, and residents feared the perpetrators could be living in some of the empty, foreclosed homes.

A friend of Peterson’s at the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department had given him surveillance photos of cars that authorities thought could be tied to local criminals. The two hopped into Serbeck’s Chevy Tahoe and began to patrol the streets, looking for the cars.

They had to stop abruptly, however, to avoid hitting two teenage girls who suddenly walked out of some brush and into the street. Serbeck testified at a hearing last year that he simply told the girls, “Be safe going home.”

Minutes later, the pair spotted a light-colored car that seemed to match the photos of suspicious vehicles. They began to follow it.

Serbeck testified that he tried to edge close enough to see the license plate number but that the driver played “cat and mouse” with them -- speeding up, slowing down and weaving through Parry Farms’ twisty streets. When the car eventually sped onto one of the main streets of town, Serbeck and Peterson decided not to give chase and returned to their block.

Later that night, Serbeck was tinkering with his motorcycle in his driveway when he saw the light-colored car go by again. He called out to Peterson and they climbed back into Serbeck’s car. This time, Serbeck brought his .45 pistol, for which he has a concealed weapons permit.

“It was dark,” Serbeck said in court. It was just before midnight.

Serbeck drove to phase two -- the newer part of the development, separated from his part by a small hill. A Toyota SUV suddenly pulled up from behind, swerved around him and stopped, cutting him off.

A man jumped out with a gun in his hand, Serbeck testified. It was Campos.

Campos had bought his 9-millimeter pistol more than 20 years ago when he was applying for jobs with the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, a career track he later abandoned. The gun had “been buried since then,” said his brother, Conrad Campos.

But events in the prior weeks had led Reginald Campos to bring the weapon out of storage. First there were the mailbox break- ins. Then someone broke into the Campos’ garage. While the family slept, the burglar forced open three cars and stole credit cards, and later used them at local stores.

Then, late on July 21, Campos got a call from his 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie, according to court records. A strange man in a car was chasing her.

Stephanie and a friend had left a party on Serbeck’s block earlier that night when they were cut off by an SUV as they walked home. Stephanie was disturbed by the exchange with the driver.

When she reached her house, she took the family’s light-sky-blue Chrysler Sebring and drove back to the party to pick up two more friends. The same SUV began following her, and Stephanie only shook the car by heading to one of the main streets.

She called her father, who told her to come home, then join him as he set out looking for the offending vehicle, court records show. “He just wanted to defend himself, his family, his neighborhood,” Conrad Campos said of his brother.

When Campos jumped out of his SUV, Serbeck, the former sniper, got out as well. Serbeck’s body was partly shielded by the driver’s side door, which also concealed the gun he held in his hand.

What happened next is in dispute.

Serbeck testified that Campos angrily asked why he and Peterson were following his daughter. Serbeck replied that he was with neighborhood watch and that he was going to put his own gun down. He testified that he held the gun by the barrel, pointed down, dropped it to the pavement and kicked it away.

“Let’s talk,” he said, according to his testimony.

Serbeck said he then heard a girl in Campos’ SUV screaming: “Don’t listen to him! He’s lying, he’s lying!”

“And then, from that point on, he looked at me and said, ‘How stupid do you think I am?’ ” Serbeck testified. “And then I just heard gunshots.”

A tape of the 911 call Campos placed described a very different encounter: “He got out of his car, pulled a gun on me and cocked it, and I let him have it.”

Campos later told investigators that he had emerged from his car with his gun in his back pocket. He drew and fired at least twice, Campos said, when he heard Serbeck rack his own gun in preparation to fire.

One bullet passed through Serbeck’s lung and pierced his spine. He was evacuated by helicopter, and sheriff’s deputies arrested Campos. He was charged with attempted murder and held in jail for a week until he posted $100,000 bail.

In court documents summarizing why Campos was held, prosecutors noted that Serbeck’s gun was found with its safety on, meaning it could not have been racked or fired. However, during a court hearing in October, detectives acknowledged that the weapon had a bullet in the chamber, implying that it had been racked earlier. But exactly when and how that happened is unclear.

Peterson has testified that he never saw Serbeck point a gun at Campos and that Campos emerged from his SUV with his gun already drawn.

“We were presented with two scenarios,” said Alicia Cook, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office. “The scenario by Mr. Serbeck was the one that was more substantiated.”

If convicted, Campos could be sentenced to life in prison.

But Campos’ attorney, Greg Skordas, contends that the real guilty party is Utah’s gun culture. Many residents own firearms and believe in their right to use them for protection.

“Both men jumped out and both had guns, which I suppose was the worst thing,” Skordas said. “If you and I jumped out of our cars [unarmed], we shove each other, maybe walk away embarrassed. But they had to make a decision.”

It’s been an awkward and painful time in Parry Farms since the shooting.

Serbeck’s and Campos’ children attend the same schools. The Campos children trick-or-treated on Serbeck’s block on Halloween. Campos’ wife attends homeowner association meetings, where Serbeck’s neighbors try to give her a wide berth.

In phase one, Campos’ name is met with scowls. “People in the neighborhood all hope he hangs for this,” said Reed Atkin, a neighbor of Serbeck’s.

Other neighbors look with dismay at what happened to Serbeck. “He was just a guy who lived life to the fullest,” neighbor Lisa Madden said. “Of all the people to put in a wheelchair.”

Escalating the tensions is a lawsuit that Campos’ attorney filed on behalf of a 19-year-old woman who says that Serbeck seduced her when she was 16 and threatened to kill her friends if they learned of the relationship. Serbeck has told neighbors the claim is false. Still, when they criticize Campos, Serbeck urges sympathy, they say.

“Dave says, ‘Oh, he’s protecting his daughter,’ ” Madden said. “Dave’s not said bad things. But we are all pissed off.”

In phase two, many residents have sympathy for Serbeck. But some are also standing by their own neighbor. “My heart and prayers went out to Dave and his family, but he’s not the only victim here,” said Campos’ next-door neighbor, KanaMarie Poulson.

Poulson said that she was surprised to learn that Campos owned a gun. “You don’t look at Reggie and think he’s a hunter or a gun-toting NRA member,” she said. “He’s just quiet and reserved.”

The thefts have stopped at Parry Farms. Federal authorities say that, partly thanks to earlier reports from Campos, they are close to indicting four suspects.

At a recent homeowners association meeting, residents talked about trying to start a neighborhood watch program that would be more formal than Serbeck’s and Peterson’s improvised late-night patrol. But the conversation was brief.

“We just moved on,” Madden said.

nicholas.riccardi@ latimes.com


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