SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – It was an image that Clint Pierson will never forget.
The deputy with Garfield County Sheriff’s Office was 8 years old and returning from school. Pierson’s father was a Utah Highway Patrol trooper in 1978, and he was headed to work.
“He smiles and waves, that was so comforting to see him,” said Pierson.
The next day, Trooper Pierson was gunned down during a traffic stop on State Road 20 near Panguitch.
The trooper was following a pickup truck with Montana license plates. He turned on his lights and the driver stopped and pulled over. Inside the pickup was 18-year-old Brian Stack.
“Stack just stuck the gun out the window and turned it backwards and pulled the trigger and hit my dad right in the heart,” said Pierson.
Before dying, Trooper Pierson managed to fire six times and radioed for help.
A passerby found Pierson and called for help. According to the UHP website
Deloy Emmett from Cedar City used the police radio to broadcast what he came upon.
“This is Deloy Emmett from Cedar City. I am about three miles west of US 89 on highway 20,” said Emmett. “And there is an officer bad shot here and it looks like he might be dead!”
That triggered a manhunt in south-central Utah.
Authorities set up a roadblock at Paragonah in Iron County. But as the suspect approached he made a U-turn and headed to Beaver.
Shots were fired as the driver continued towards Beaver. Another roadblock near the community was set up and the driver made no effort to stop. As he approached a patrol car at that roadblock officers fired. The suspect vehicle then ran off the road and coming to a stop at a fence.
Inside the vehicle was 18-year-old Brian Stack. He was a fugitive from Illinois and had stolen a pickup truck in Montana. Prior to the shooting he left Cove Fort without paying for gas.
He was arrested and authorities later counted 87-bullet holes on his pickup. One bullet grazed his head but was not seriously injured. Stack was arrested and charged with capital murder.
Later that month, hundreds turned out for Trooper Pierson’s funeral. His son was 8 years old and was in a vehicle at the head of the long procession.
“I remember getting up in that seat and turned around and looked at that long procession,” he said. “There were a lot of blue lights as far as I could see. I couldn’t even see the end of it.”
Forty years later, Stack remains in prison. He’s been there since cutting a deal to avoid the death penalty. But he’s up for parole and Tuesday appeared before a Board of Pardon’s hearing officer.
“There are not sufficient words to at least express the sorrow and pain I’ve caused,” he said in a prepared statement to the hearing officer.
Trooper Pierson’s son was also there listening to Stack’s plea and opposed his release.
“He made a deal with the state of Utah and he says if you won’t seek the death penalty against me, I’ll serve my life in prison,” Pierson said. “And now he wants out. He wants to renege on that deal.
The hearing officer also wanted to know why he deserved to be released.
“I am no longer the 18-year-old kid whose thoughtless actions caused so much pain in so many people’s lives,” he said.
Stack claimed while in prison he found religion, gained an education and learned skills.
Pierson and his family will have to wait to learn Stack’s future. A three-member panel of the Utah Board of Pardons will review this latest hearing before deciding if Stack should be released.
UHP’s top brass also showed up for the parole hearing and accompanied Pierson to the hearing.
“It was really cool that the troopers always consider us family,” said Person. “Even though dad was gone, we were still part of the highway patrol family.”
Pierson followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. He’s now a deputy for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and patrols the area near Panguitch, his hometown.
He said life without his father was difficult. But he grew up in hopes of making Trooper Pierson proud of him.
He took out a photo from his wallet. It was a picture of him at a very young age. His father was holding him up with his arm wrapped around him.
“That picture goes to work with me everyday,” Pierson said. “It’s in my coat pocket and I keep it in my patrol car to remind me how fragile life can be.”