Former sheriff helped usher in new era
It was a wild ride, but Summit County Sheriff Fred Eley managed to stay in the saddle for five terms. As the county’s population tripled and its economic mainstays shifted from small-town mining and agriculture to global tourism and swanky real estate, voters repeatedly chose Eley to handle their evolving law enforcement challenges.
Eley, who was the county’s top lawman from 1982 to the end of 2002, died Friday at the age of 77 and will be laid to rest in the town where he was born. Services are planned for Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Park City Community Church, followed by interment at the Park City Cemetery.
According to Eley’s longtime friend and fellow law enforcement officer Pat Pirraglio, "He had a heart that extended to everybody and he made a big difference in the county." As chief investigator for the Park City Police Department, Pirraglio said he and the sheriff worked hand in hand on many occasions.
"Law enforcement was different back then. That was when you were part of the community and we wanted to be sure everyone was safe. Now it’s a paycheck," he said.
Perhaps the toughest case of Eley’s career was brewing while he was still a deputy but exploded into a national news story soon after he was elected.
During his predecessor’s tenure, the fundamentalist Mormon John Singer had been shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies while resisting arrest. Ten years later, Singer’s children and the radical fundamentalist Addam Swapp took revenge by setting off a bomb in the LDS Stake Center in Marion and then barricaded themselves in their home.
For Eley, Pirraglio recalls, it was a wrenching situation.
"It was a horrible time that was completely misrepresented in the media. No one mentioned how many times Fred had gone out there to meet with them to resolve it," he said.
The standoff, which eventually involved federal agents, ended in a hail of gunfire and the death of a state law enforcement officer.
But the challenges didn’t end there. According to Pirraglio, both the city and the county were operating with small staffs of undertrained and underequipped personnel who had to deal with an ever-changing population including: waves of hippies in the 1970s, transient oil workers in the 1980s and tourists and seasonal workers in the 1990s.
And in a turn of events that Eley likely never imagined when he first joined the sheriff’s department, he capped his career by helping to oversee law enforcement and security during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
In a response to the community’s changing needs, Pirraglio credits Eley with spearheading the effort to build the county’s justice center at the Silver Creek Industrial Center.
"He went to bat to get that done even though there was resistance," said Pirraglio, adding that the new facility included a crime lab and other equipment that Kamas and Park City police departments could use as well.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Department is planning to send an honor guard to Saturday’s memorial and the public is welcome to attend. (Please see obituary on page A-10.)
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Park City leaders next week plan to showcase a City Hall workforce or otherwise restricted housing development in Old Town, highlighting one of what is expected to be a series of significant municipal projects in coming years.