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Current Case: Setting Hiking Trail Booby Traps Reduced to Misdemeanor Offense

Provo Canyon is a popular destination for hikers, whether they want a strenuous climb or a moderate hike. All hikers need to be aware of potential dangers and take precautions: watch for changes in the weather; carry sufficient drinking water; and stay on the marked hiking trails. Those are obvious safety issues.

But avoiding deadly medieval-style booby traps is usually not on the agenda. An alert military-trained Forest Ranger officer who was patrolling the area noticed some trip wires and disabled two dangerous booby traps on the Big Springs Trailhead last spring before anyone got hurt.

One device consisted of a 20-pound cluster of sharpened sticks that could have hit an unsuspecting hiker in the face. The other trip wire could have sent someone sprawling onto sharpened sticks set into the ground. Shortly after the discovery, law enforcement officers arrested Benjamin Rutkowski, age 19, and Kai Christensen, 21, who confessed to installing the devices.

The young men were initially charged with third-degree felony assault, but later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless endangerment. They denied that the traps were designed to injure any hikers. The lawyer representing Rutkowski described the incident as, “Just a couple of boys fooling around.”

Rutkowski was sentenced to 20 days in jail, a $760 fine, and probation for a year. Christensen received 30 days in jail, a $793 fine, and 18 months’ probation. It is not clear why the two men received different penalties. However, third-degree felony assault charges could have resulted in five-year prison sentences and $5,000 fines.

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