Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

County Commissioner Sentenced for Controversial ATV Ride

U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer sentenced San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman to ten days in jail and three years of probation. The charges stem from leading dozens of ATV protestors into an archeologically rich canyon last year that the federal government had closed to motorized vehicles.

Lyman had no comment after the sometimes emotional hearing. But his attorney, Peter Stirba, complimented the judge’s approach.

“He was obviously very thoughtful and reasoned in what he did,” Stirba told reporters outside the courthouse. “Aside from that, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment further, and needless to say, Mr. Lyman is happy it’s over.”

Codefendant Monte Wells received a sentence of five days behind bars and three years probation for his role. He and Lyman were also ordered to pay nearly $96,000 in restitution.

Lyman’s supporters had sent the judge letters requesting a light sentence, and they jammed the courtroom Friday. They included a legislator, a representative of Gov. Gary Herbert’s office and other rural leaders. The lengthy hearing capped what’s become a politically charged struggle between the federal government and rural Utah leaders over public lands.

Yet, U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said the case wasn’t about politics but sending a message about the consequences of breaking the law.

“Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum there are consequences to violating the law,” said Huber in a news conference after the sentencing, “and this office will prosecute you when you do that.”

Huber said he was pleased with the sentence. Lyman’s attorney refused to say whether the defendants will appeal.

12-20-15 This story was updated to reflect a corrected term of probation for Mr. Lyman. 

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.