Year in review: Southern Utah’s most read and notable stories of 2021

A snapshot of Southern Utah's top news stories in 2021 | Composite image, St. George News

FEATURE — St. George News had a remarkable year in 2021, reflective of both a rapidly growing region whose population is hungry for information and a team of reporters and editors dedicated to bringing timely, credible local news to the Southern Utah community.

While we consider every story we publish to be a worthwhile read, some topics and events clearly stood out for our readers. Join us in taking a look back at the year’s most compelling stories.

Top story

The report of a roadside ammunition business in St. George that was halted by a cease and desist order became our most-read story of 2021.

X-Truder hybrid hollow-point ammunition, St. George, Utah, March 22, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

During the nationwide ammunition shortage, local entrepreneur Brendan Dalley and a friend created their own brand of ammunition, obtained a business license and set up shop on an undeveloped lot at the intersection of Mall Drive and Dino Crossing. Dalley told St. George News that the business was thriving, with sales between 2,000 and 5,000 rounds per day.

However, Dalley soon became aware of negative feedback from nearby business owners. He also received a call from a St. George Police officer, who informed him of mounting complaints but assured him he wasn’t in any trouble.

Until he received a cease and desist order from the city of St. George.

“The letter said I had violated an ordinance,” he said. “I thought, ‘Okay, fine. But why wasn’t I told this when I applied for my business license?’”

Homes ablaze on Diagonal Street 

During the afternoon of May 21, fire broke out in a residential area on Diagonal Street in St. George between 300 West and 500 North. High winds quickly stoked the blaze, prompting evacuations and creating a towering column of smoke that was seen throughout the valley.

Smoke from a house fire on Diagonal Street, St. George, Utah, May 21, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Dylan Westover, St. George News

Burning debris carried by the wind created safety hazards in the surrounding neighborhood. Flare-ups in numerous yards were reported, some more than 1,000 feet from the fire.

One month after the blaze, investigators told St. George News the cause was still a mystery. However, they were able to determine that it started in the backyard of the home at 443 N. 300 West.

Along with that home, two others were completely destroyed, two units of a multifamily structure were extensively damaged and another home was damaged, while several other garages, sheds or other structures were either damaged or destroyed. No one was injured.

Manhunt startles Rockville residents

Travelers on state Route 9 near Zion National Park were placed in jeopardy by a police pursuit on Oct. 6. After brandishing a weapon during an argument at the Dairy Queen in Hurricane, the fleeing suspect reportedly exchanged gunfire with law enforcement while driving.

A car seen after it was shot at during a pursuit between police agencies and a suspect on SR-9, Rockville, Utah, Oct. 6, 2021 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

Multiple police agencies from federal, state and local agencies were involved in the pursuit and ensuing manhunt. Witnesses said the suspect shot at multiple vehicles during the pursuit, including a car where the window on the driver’s side could be seen blown out.

Police deployed a spike strip near Grafton, and the suspect fled on foot after crashing his vehicle. Rockville residents were ordered to shelter in place while officers searched the town.

The manhunt concluded nearly three hours after the incident was first reported when the suspect was located, hampered by what appeared to be a gunshot wound, and taken into custody.

Zion shatters visitation records

Tourism at Zion National Park hit an all-time high in June, with approximately 670,000 people entering Southern Utah’s most prominent natural attraction.

Long lines of visitors await the shuttles inside Utah’s Zion National Park, June 3, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Parks across the National Park Service, including Utah’s Mighty Five, reported large increases in visitation in 2021 as many COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted. The unprecedented crowds continue to be a source of frustration for some visitors.

Zion spokesperson Amanda Rowland told St. George News that park officials hear daily from people with ideas for how to reduce the congestion, ranging from moving to an advance reservation system to get into the park to ending annual passes.

Starting in 2022, the popular Angels Landing Trail will be switching to a reservation-based system to limit the number of daily hikers.

Drought impacts Lake Powell

The ongoing effects of a 20-year historic dry spell disrupted recreational boating on Lake Powell as low water levels necessitated the closure of several launch ramps at the start of the season. Houseboat rental companies were forced to cancel bookings, leaving tourists and business owners scrambling.

Visitors carry a kayak up a newly exposed cliff face beneath the closed Antelope Point launch ramp on Lake Powell near Page, Ariz., July 31, 2021 | AP photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Fluctuating water levels have long been a staple of Lake Powell, but National Park Service officials say the usual forecasts weren’t able to predict just how bad 2021 would be.

In August, water levels reached a record low of 3,553 feet as the first-ever Colorado River water shortage was declared. Government officials started releasing water from sources upstream to keep the lake from dropping low enough to threaten hydropower supplied by Glen Canyon Dam.

The last 10 years of extreme drought reflect the effects of a changing climate in the Colorado River basin, and the Bureau of Reclamation forecasts that Lake Powell water levels will continue to drop in 2022.

The pandemic rages on

Any review of 2021 can’t ignore the story that once again dominated the news not only in Southern Utah but the rest of the world as well: the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the first positive test in March 2020, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department has reported over 46,000 cases leading to more than 2,500 hospitalizations and 495 deaths total.

Staff at Intermountain Medical Center prepare to attend to a COVID-19 patient by donning protective gear, Murray, Utah, July 2021 | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

Approximately 45% of Southwest Utah residents are now fully vaccinated as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly and boosters are becoming readily available.

In a September interview with St. George News, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said his message to Southern Utahns is that the COVID-19 situation remains direr than they may think, but that he can’t do anything else to fix it. He puts that responsibility on them.

“We all have a part to play in getting rid of this and keeping each other safe. We’re so close,” Cox said, referring to the vaccine. “It really is incumbent on everyone to do more and keep yourself safe; keep your neighbors safe. We just desperately need you to help.”

Crime watch

Mother stabs young son at St. George motel

An attack on a child, who was reportedly screaming for help and telling bystanders his mother wanted to kill him, drew a large law enforcement response on Aug. 26 at Motel 6 in St. George. According to police, Megan Michelle Stewart, 28, admitted to stabbing her 10-year-old son in the throat with scissors, saying “I had to.” She was charged with attempted murder and child abuse, among other offenses.

Stitches the pony, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jeremy Vogel, St. George News

Internet-famous pony shot dead in Leeds

Stitches, a pony that achieved internet fame for riding in a Lamborghini in a series of viral videos, was shot and killed in Leeds over the third weekend in August. Owner Calvin Jessop told St. George News that the pony was found dead in her pen with a single bullet wound to the chest. He offered a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the responsible party.

80-year-old woman pulls gun on her husband

On Jan. 7, a St. George woman was arrested after allegedly pulling a gun on her husband during an argument over politics and the state of the nation. 80-year-old Constance Brower told police she had been drinking and took her frustrations out on her spouse, who was not injured during the incident. Brower faced felony charges of first-degree aggravated kidnapping and third-degree aggravated assault as well as three misdemeanors.

Scene of a head-on crash on northbound Interstate-15 in the Virgin River Gorge, Mohave County, Ariz., Sept. 8, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire & Ambulance, St. George News

Wrong-way I-15 crash results in arrest

A head-on collision in the Virgin River Gorge in the early morning hours of Sept. 8 left a Henderson, Nevada, woman trapped in her vehicle with life-threatening injuries. Medical crews worked quickly to extricate, stabilize and airlift her to St. George. The driver of the wrong-way vehicle had reportedly fled on foot after the crash and was ultimately apprehended by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Fires, flooding and wild weather

Flash flooding swamps Springdale

Crews work to clear Zion Park Boulevard after flash floods swept through Zion National Park and Springdale, Utah, June 29, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

A flash flood resulting from torrential rainfall tore through Springdale on June 29 and prohibited access to Zion National Park. State Route-9 was closed at Rockville as heavy flooding tracked more than a foot of mud down Zion Park Boulevard from the park entrance to Blondie’s Diner. Although no injuries were reported, many vehicles and buildings sustained extensive water damage.

Runaway blaze closes the Virgin River Gorge 

On July 12, a rapidly spreading wildfire forced the closure of I-15 in both directions through the Virgin River Gorge overnight. Fueled by dry brush and erratic, gusty winds, the Lime Fire grew to over 2,000 acres. More than 100 responders, both on the ground and in the air, were dispatched to battle the blaze.

Dust storm causes massive pile-up on I-15

Scene from an accident near Kanosh, Utah, July 25, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

On the afternoon of July 25, a dust storm dropped visibility along I-15 near Kanosh to almost zero and triggered a deadly 22-vehicle pile-up. Eight people were killed in the incident, which involved both passenger vehicles and semi-tractor-trailers. The southbound lanes remained closed for several hours, snarling Pioneer Day traffic despite detour efforts.

Enoch slammed by heavy rainfall 

A severe thunderstorm swept through the rural community of Enoch on Aug. 1, bringing with it torrential rain that overwhelmed drainage systems and flooded homes. The downpour came on the heels of a week’s worth of heavy precipitation. City officials declared a state of emergency in the aftermath of the storm, which dropped almost 3 inches of rain in a matter of hours.

Remembering those we’ve lost

Commissioner Dean Cox

Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox, 66, died on July 7 due to ongoing complications with cancer, several weeks after announcing his resignation from the commission due to “personal and health reasons.” Cox had fought multiple myeloma, a cancer that attacks bone marrow, since 2019. He was survived by his wife, LeRene Cox, and their children and grandchildren.

Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox, St. George, Utah, Jan. 7, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Local political figures expressed their sorrow at Cox’s passing, including Washington County Commission Chair Gil Almquist, with whom he had been friends for over 40 years.

“Nobody loved Washington County more,” Almquist said. “He was in every corner of this county.”

Beginning with a part-time volunteer role in emergency communications and management, Cox served Washington County in various capacities for nearly 30 years. He was elected to the Washington County Commission in 2016 and re-elected in 2020. Prior to his time on the commission, he worked as the Washington County Administrator starting in 2009.

Mayor Tom Hirschi

Hurricane’s longest-serving mayor, Tom Hirschi, died of natural causes on Aug. 23 at age 77. Hirschi was a native of the Hurricane Valley and loved his town, said Nanette Billings, his niece and the current mayor of Hurricane.

Former mayor Tom Hirschi speaks at a special Hurricane City Council Meeting at Hurricane High School, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“He stood for the citizens,” she said. “He would always listen and follow up with people. He was always very good about praise and encouraged people in what they did, whether it was large or small.”

Hirschi served as Hurricane’s mayor for three consecutive terms between 2002 and 2014 and spent two years on the Hurricane City Council prior to his election. Before then, he was a member of the city’s planning commission for nine years and was also on the power board for three years.

Outside of public office, Hirschi was known as a barber who ran “Tom’s Clip Joint” on State Street. He also spent 31 years as a bus driver for the Washington County School District. After stepping down as mayor, he closed his barbershop and largely left the public eye.

Dr. Craig Booth

St. George native Dr. Craig Booth, who played a pivotal role in the development of hospital services for the Southern Utah community, died on June 5 at age 77. He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Maureen, and their five children and 15 grandchildren.

Dr. Craig Booth discusses the history of St. George Regional Hospital, St. George, Utah, May 17, 2016 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

Booth’s 43 years as a member of the staff of what is now St. George Regional Hospital is unrivaled. He served as its first medical director when the facility – then at 400 South – was renamed Dixie Regional Medical Center in 1990 and remained in that capacity from 1988 until 2002.

Although he officially retired from his medical practice in 2016, Booth donated his time and expertise to the Doctors’ Volunteer Clinic and helped establish the Booth Wellness Center at Dixie State University. In a 2002 article in St. George Magazine, Booth admitted he was guilty as charged as far as staying involved in his patients’ lives after they left the hospital.

“People sometimes talk about patients falling in love with their doctors. In reality, doctors fall in love with their patients,” he said.

Debbie Zockoll

Debbie Zockoll, a beloved teacher and runner who holds the all-time participation record in the St. George Marathon, died March 1 at age 65 following a battle against cancer of the lymph nodes. Her long history with the disease started with a breast cancer diagnosis in 2005.

Debbie Zockoll runs in Southern Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Michelle Zockoll, St. George News

Zockoll completed 298 marathons in her lifetime, most notably every St. George Marathon from 1977 through 2019. She is the only runner to accomplish that feat.

She ran it as an inexperienced youth and as a veteran marathoner. She ran it while seven months pregnant, in the rain and in the blistering sun – and she ran it while undergoing treatment for cancer.

Zockoll worked as an elementary school teacher in Washington County for 30 years and retired in 2007, only to embark on a second career as a hiking guide. She also volunteered with the Huntsman World Senior Games for decades.

Officer Adam Ashworth

St. George Police Officer Adam Ashworth, 39, succumbed to complications from COVID-19 on July 22. Ashworth was admitted to the hospital shortly after testing positive and battled the virus for two weeks. He left behind a wife, Bobbi Anne Ashworth, and three children.

Officer Adam Ashworth shows a young child his police bike, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the St. George Police Department, St. George News

An outpouring of community support included over $43,000 raised for the family via GoFundMe. On a bluff overlooking the St. George valley, flowers, notes, Diet Mountain Dews and Monster energy drinks covered a police cruiser decorated as both a memorial for Ashworth and a tribute to his service.

Ashworth spent most of his 11-year law enforcement career in the bike patrol unit. At the time of his death, he was also working as a field training officer. His family and colleagues remembered him as having a special place in his heart for the youngest residents of St. George.

“If there was a police officer that needed stickers, they knew to call Adam because he always had stickers for the kids,” Bobbi Anne Ashworth said. “He loved the community.”

All of us at St. George News/Cedar City News and our parent company, Canyon Media, would like to thank you, our readers, for your support in 2021. More than just reading and sharing our articles, you are often also the catalysts for our content, whether it’s telling us about your experiences in our region and giving us story tips or sending us your letters to the editor or photos from out and about in Southern Utah.

We have worked to be your No. 1 source for local news, offering a wide variety of viewpoints and coverage, and with your help and support, we look forward to continued improvement in bringing Southern Utah exclusive, multimedia news coverage in 2022.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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