Marine veteran struggled following deployments until shot by deputy following car chase

Donald Wayne Ball and Rachelle Rigler remained close over the years.
Courtesy of Rachelle Rigler

In the early hours of Thursday morning near Kamas, a Summit County sheriff’s deputy saw a vehicle registered to a man with an open warrant in Wasatch County and signaled for him to pull over.

He didn’t, and instead led the officer on a chase that ended when he crashed on Bench Creek Road.

“The driver exited the vehicle and advanced towards the deputy wielding a large blunt object,” the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office reported.

The deputy shot him, and the man known to some as a killer, to others a lover and to many as troubled died at the scene as the deputy and others tried to save his life. 

The impact Donald Wayne Ball left on his loved ones, his involvement in what some call the Nisour Square massacre, and his history with local law enforcement leave a long, winding trail through a life cut short to 41 years.

Later that morning, two investigators with the Utah Attorney General’s Office stood at Rachelle Rigler’s doorstep. She burst into tears.

“It was awful,” she said. “It was the worst news I’ve ever had.”

The man who loved her and she him was dead. To make matters worse, the investigators couldn’t answer her questions but had plenty of their own — what was his behavior like, did he have issues with the police, how did he feel about them?

Ball, she said, wouldn’t hurt a fly. 

Rigler first met Ball when the two were new to adulthood. He had joined the U.S. Marines shortly after he graduated from high school, and they had dated for four or five months before he proposed to her at a Marine Corps ball in front of hundreds of people.

She described the moment like it happened last week. 

He was in his dress blues as hundreds of his peers bore witness while he surprised her with a moment she’d imagined for years.

“I went for it,” she said. “I said absolutely. Yes.”

The union never would happen. Ball went on to see other people and Rigler to have kids with other men. Still, the pair would be close until his death and often discussed their future as though they waited for the right time. 

“We just understood each other,” Rigler said. “It just wasn’t in our path right then.”

He went to Iraq on three deployments with the 1st battalion, 5th Marines regiment. 

His platoon leader, Darvy Perez, remembered when he first crossed paths with the young Marine.

“This guy was something else,” he said. Then he laughed and added, “In a good way.”

Perez said Ball wasn’t boastful but had a drive to be the best, and the urge served him well as he polished his skills.

“He wanted to be a leader,” Perez said. “He was very proud to be a Marine, and he was a Marine’s Marine.”

Despite some of the combat-ridden areas Ball was deployed in, Perez said he never noticed a big change in him.

“We obviously got wiser, we got smarter, we got a little older,” he said. “Didn’t see a lot of change in anybody, really. Of course, it doesn’t hit until later on.”

The call Perez received early Friday wasn’t the first time he’d picked up his phone to learn about the death of one of his past platoon members. Still, he was shocked. 

“He was a big teddy bear,” Perez said.

After his deployments, Ball worked for Blackwater, a private military contractor now known as Academi.

He returned to Iraq to help provide security to U.S. officials.

In 2007, he was one of six men who killed at least 14 innocent Iraq civilians in Nisour Square.

The nuances of the incident have been discussed and debated across international headlines, in U.S. Federal Court and by investigators from several countries.

Four of the six men received prison time before being pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2020.

Though indicted, prosecutors dropped any charges against Ball in 2013 after his attorney, Steven McCool, wrote a letter in which he suggested Assistant United States Attorney Kenneth Kohl brought false evidence to a grand jury.

Despite his charges’ dismissal, Rigler said, Ball never quite moved past the saga.

It continued to sting like a knife in his back, and the former Marine’s beliefs about the country he’d served swayed.

“That’s what really changed him,” she said. “He started losing faith in the government.”

He was deaf in one ear and traumatized by distant rifle shots during hunting season. The toll of it all weighed heavily on his shoulders, Rigler said.

In 2018, he was arrested for criminal mischief after he cut wires on broadcasting towers.

The arrest affidavit says Ball was convinced the towers were being used by the government to track him. 

“Donald admitted to cutting the wires to get the feeling in his head to stop,” the affidavit states. “He admitted to cutting the wires but wanted to explain he did it to stop what was going on.”

When the officer asked Ball if there was anything else he wanted to talk about, the conversation shifted in a direction that once again highlighted his personal experiences.

“He started telling me about how many vets die a day because of the government and the things the vets were put through in the war,” the affidavit states. “I told him I wanted to make sure we got him help.” 

Though he was initially determined to be incompetent to stand trial, Ball received help from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and The Department of Human Resources and was eventually sentenced to a fine and jail time he’d already served. 

His beliefs, Rigler remembered, were hard for him to explain to other people.

Still, she said he worked to try to heal from what he’d been through. He participated in meditation, enrolled in impact training and read books by wellness author Deepak Chopra. He reconnected with his siblings and found peace at his secluded cabin in the Wasatch Back, though he did not pay his property taxes.

He lost respect for the idea that one has legal authority over another. Rigler said he crafted long, blunt metal objects to help him with breathing exercises, and they became a comfort object for him, something he carried everywhere.

This object — she believes — is likely what the deputy saw him hold as he exited his vehicle last week, the object the deputy saw in the moment as a threat.

Though they were trying to get in touch and meet up in recent months, Rigler had her last real conversation with Ball in September.

“We’ve always had these talks about how things were supposed to be, how they could have been, how they’re going to be,” she said. “He’s just waiting for me to come back to him.”

Donald Wayne Ball greets his dogs at his cabin.
Courtesy of Rachelle Rigler

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office declined to release the name of the deputy who fired the fatal shot and would not answer questions about the deputy’s service history. 

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