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Youth rehab worker killed by teen attempting to run away, sheriff says

SALT LAKE CITY -- A teenager accused of killing a staff member at a youth treatment center and injuring another worker carried out the attacks because he wanted to leave the ranch, not because of a grudge against either person, a Utah sheriff said Wednesday.

The 17-year-old suspect from Arizona was checked in last week to the Turn-About Ranch in Escalante, Garfield County Sheriff James Perkins said.

The teen used a weapon to hit Jimmy Woolsey, 61, multiple times Tuesday, Perkins said. Woolsey died from blunt force trauma to the head, Perkins said, declining to say what kind of weapon was used. 

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The Turn-About Ranch in Utah. KUTV

Officials said a witness ran to a nearby building for help and a woman, also a staff member, who confronted the attacker, CBS affiliate KUTV reports

Officials said she was protecting the occupants and was attacked and injured during the confrontation, suffering a head injury. The teen then took a staff member’s vehicle and headed toward the city of Escalante.

Two deputies, responding to the scene of the attack, saw him driving erratically and at high speed. They pursued the suspect and used a pit maneuver, causing the suspect vehicle to crash. The teen was taken into custody.

Woolsey was trying to prevent the teenager from leaving, he said.

“It was a vicious, brutal, violent murder,” Perkins said. “He was obviously tying to leave the program. Why he thought he had to murder Mr. Woolsey, I can’t answer that.” 

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Escalante, Utah KUTV

Perkins says his agency has responded a few times over the years to reports of young people leaving he treatment center but said it is usually a peaceful place. The working cattle ranch for troubled youth has operated for 25 years.

He says the teen will likely be charged with murder and could be prosecuted as an adult since he is almost 18. His name has not been released because of his age. 

The teen was arrested after deputies on their way to the ranch spotted him driving a worker’s stolen car into nearby Escalante, about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Woolsey is survived by his wife and a 10-year-old daughter, Perkins said, calling Woolsey a jovial, well-liked man. Program leaders said Woolsey was dedicated to young people in the program and had a positive impact on many students.