Utah Highway Patrol trooper’s 20 year career, included service on State Highway 91 and Interstate 15
As a youth growing up in St. George, I remember one of the persons I looked up to, besides my parents, was my neighbor down the street on 600 East, George Lang.
At the time I got to know Georg e Lang, he was working as a Utah Highway Patrol
trooper, patrolling Utah Highway 91 over the dangerous Utah Hill route that connected to
Littlefield, Ariz. I attended school with George and his wife, Carma’s sons, Curtis and Steve. Their older son, Doug, was the same age as my sister, and while I didn’t get to know their oldest son Ben, very well as a youth, I later had the privilege of working cooperatively with Ben Lang when he became a Utah Highway Patrol trooper and I was working as a local newspaper reporter.
In July 2004, I had the opportunity to interview George Lang after he had long since retired and had moved to live in Hurricane, Utah. It was then that I had a chance to learn more details about his long and successful career in law enforcement.
George Lang was born in St. George in 1928, with three brothers and five sisters. He grew up in “Sand Town,” and became interested in law enforcement partly because of his good friend Blaine Jones, who was a St. George Police officer. In 1959, Lang became a reserve officer with the St. George Police Department.
Back then, the Police Department issued a new officer a service revolver and a badge, and the officer started to work. Officers at that time, were not required to attend a state peace officer training academy as they do today, Lang said.
Lang received no in-service training until he became a fulltime police officer.
On his first day as a police officer in 1959, he relieved Police Officer Blaine Jones, whose work shift was ending. Jones took him to Cannon Mortuary and then to Spilsbury Mortuary to see the bodies of a number of children and their parents who had
died in an auto accident between Santa Clara and St. George. “When I saw all those people, it kind of got to me. That stayed with me,” Lang said.
On another occasion, Lang was just going off duty when he heard of a report of a male suspect stealing a Cedar City Police car in Iron County, and was headed toward Newcastle and Enterprise area. Then the red-haired suspect pulled a farmer over and took his vehicle. West of Modena, the suspect’s stolen vehicle ran out of gas. The suspect began running for a railroad track. Previously, he had told friends or authorities he would not be taken alive.
Three officers, including Lang, were following his tracks. Later, an airplane joined in the search. Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Gordon Farnsworth from Parowan, kept leapfrogging ahead of the others as they tracked the suspect. Then when Lang saw a large rock and brush around it, Farnsworth yanked the suspect out of his brushy hiding place, got the suspect’s gun and spread his legs apart before handcuffing him.
When authorities began questioning the suspect about the theft of the patrol car, all he told Iron County Sheriff Otto Fife was, “You’re a cop, you take care of your business and I’m an armed robber. I’ll take care of that business.”
During the Civil Rights era, Lang said he got a call about a teenager at Woodward School hitting another kid. Lang picked up the juvenile suspect and put him in the patrol car, without handcuffing him.
But when the suspect cocked his fist like he wanted to fight, Lang took the juvenile to the Washington County Jail. At the jail, Lang called Charlie Pickett, who was serving as city attorney. “I said, ‘I don’t know how far to go with this kid (in questioning him) because of all this Civil Rights stuff.” About four minutes later, Pickett showed up at the jail and took hold of the kid’s shoulders and sat him down in a seat.
“You son of a gun,” Charlie told the kid, “Sit there or I will shut you up.” Looking back during that period of time, Lang said, “All of us in law enforcement liked Charlie. He always supported us.”
Lang said Justice of the Peace Jay I. Ricketts, along with Washington County Sheriff Evan Whitehead and Sheriff’s Deputy George Andrus were all great to work with. Law enforcement officers in Washington County also worked well with officers in Iron County.
“We had a good comraderie,” Lang said. “Back in those days, we had to (work well with other law enforcement agencies) because there were so few of us.”
One night, Lang was investigating an accident and finishing up a report, when another report was put out that an armed robbery had occurred and a description of a suspect vehicle was then given. Lang subsequently saw the vehicle and stopped the driver. Checking the suspect for weapons, Lang found a .38 caliber revolver with no pistol grips on the handle. Lang emptied the gun. About 4 a.m., just as Police Officer Joe Hutchings came on duty, the suspect pulled a glove out, revealing lead in the glove’s fingers. He swung the glove at Hutchings. At that point, Hutchings and Sheriff Whitehead attempted to subdue the suspect. Lang said he hit the suspect in the head with the suspect’s own gun, and that temporarily incapacitated the suspect.
After officers got control of the suspect, they took him to the Dixie Pioneer Memorial Hospital to get the suspect treated for injuries, and then taken back to the jail.
Lang worked 18 months as a police officer and then applied to get on with the Utah Highway Patrol and was hired in 1961.
Lang remembers when the UHP Port of Entry was in Santa Clara on State Highway 91. It was later moved to Middleton along the highway. During the first part of Lang’s tenure with the Highway Patrol, he patrolled State Highway 91 through Washington County, especially as it wound its way over Utah Hill and over the Beaver Dam Slope south to Littlefield, Ariz.
It was during that time, that my father asked and got permission from George Lang for me to go for a ride-along with Lang during one of his day time patrols on State Highway 91 over Utah Hill. I remember how dangerous and difficult it was to pass another car in either direction, because of a number of winding curves and the heavy traffic on that twolane road. But riding with UHP Trooper George Lang, I never worried. In fact, it was a pretty exciting trip for someone like myself who was used to working at my dad’s dairy after school.
Back in those days, cars northbound from Littlefield, had a tendency to overheat as they climbed the slope headed over Utah Hill and into Santa Clara.
As a result, Lang regularly packed five gallons of water in his patrol car for auto emergencies. Many times, he would advise stranded motorists to face their cars south so the vehicle’s radiator could take advantage of a regular upward wind draft from the south.
It wasn’t uncommon for motorists to pack water bags on the front of their cars
in case their radiator overheated on the Beaver Dam Slope.
At Castle Cliffs on Highway 91, a sweeping curve resulted in a number of truck and auto accidents. Besides investigating accidents, Lang also had his share of handling criminal cases.
One day while patrolling Utah Hill, Lang, who regularly monitored Las Vegas
law enforcement radio traffic, picked up an all points bulletin (APB) on a kidnapping incident. The suspect vehicle was described as a yellow pickup.
“I no more than heard that, than here he (the suspect vehicle) came,”
Lang said. Lang radioed St. George Police that he was going to pull the suspect vehicle over. Lang, with a revolver in his hand, told the driver to get out of the car with his hands up. The driver complied but then suddenly said he would not get down on the ground, and said Lang would have to shoot him before he complied with any other orders.
Just then, a truck driver pulled up to the scene and stopped to help. At that point, the suspect reached down on the ground and grabbed a rock in his hand.
After a further warning from Lang, the suspect dropped the rock. Lang then said, “All right, you get in the car and I won’t handcuff you.”
In the meantime, the girl who had been reportedly kidnapped, got out of the suspect’s car, and walked over to Lang’s patrol car. Lang was able to transport the suspect into St. George without any further incident.
During those early years, there were only two UHP troopers in Washington County – Don Best and George Lang. Later, Lang worked with Hyrum Ipson and Paul Blackburn. He also worked with Iron County Sheriff Otto Fife and later Sheriff Ira Schoppmann. In Iron County, there were two troopers and a sergeant.
One day, Lang responded to a fatal incident on Utah Hill. A Greyhound bus was headed southbound when a male passenger, carrying a switchblade, came walking up the aisle of the bus, then dove right into the front windshield, which buckled, and the male passenger fell part way out of the bus, before another passenger and then the bus driver, had grabbed a leg. But the passenger, who was half way out of the bus, kicked himself loose from their grasp and fell onto the roadway and was run over by the bus. He was killed instantly.
Because the victim’s wallet was shredded, it was difficult to get a positive identification. But when a positive ID was finally obtained, Sheriff Roy Renauf was asked to notify family members, which he did.
On another occasion, Lang had pulled over a vehicle south of St. George on the southbound lane of Interstate 15 and was writing a ticket. Just then, a truck passed him, narrowly missing Lang by no more than a foot.
Lang got back in his patrol car and gave pursuit, eventually stopping the truck. He told the truck driver, “You tried to brush me.”
At that point, the trucker apologized, and Lang decided not to issue the truck driver a ticket.
On yet another day of patrolling, Lang had stopped another vehicle for a traffic violation and the driver had agreed to follow Lang into St. George to see Judge Jay I. Ricketts. But then the driver of the vehicle took off, with Lang in pursuit. St. George Police Officer Blaine Jones joined in the pursuit, with the suspect vehicle leading them through Washington City where the driver ran through stop signs. The driver then turned left on to a wide driveway but had nowhere to go.
Lang stepped out of his patrol car with a shotgun and at that moment, two guys in the suspect vehicle got out of their vehicle. Lang told them to get down on the ground. All of a sudden, one of the suspects said, “Go to hell. I just came from Vietnam and the shotgun (Lang was holding) doesn’t scare me. Pull the trigger and you will burn in hell.”
But with help from Jones, Lang was able to arrest the suspect without incident and took him to jail and called Judge Ricketts. Ricketts said, “Lock those sons of guns up.”
After checking the National Crime Information Center, Lang learned the two suspects were both federal fugitives with a stolen vehicle and that neither had been in the Vietnam War.
The FBI picked up the suspects.
On many other occasions, Lang assisted stranded motorists on both State Highway 91 and Interstate 15.
“That’s what makes you feel good,” he said.
Lang retired from the Utah Highway Patrol in 1983, a year after I started working for the local newspaper. He died Nov. 8, 2011. I believe my life is richer because I was given the opportunity to get to know and see someone who gave a life time of service to his community through his work as a law enforcement officer, and through his and his wife’s service as LDS missionaries at the Employment Center and at the St. George Temple.
My life is also richer because I also got to know and work with (from the newspaper side of reporting on accidents and law enforcement investigations) his son, Ben Lang, who followed in the footsteps of his father, by also becoming a Utah Highway Patrol trooper.