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Shooting unsettles Utah neighborhood

In the Salt Lake City suburb of Bluffdale, two neighbors on the lookout for troublemakers find themselves in a standoff, with guns. Now one is paralyzed and the other is facing trial.

March 20, 2010|By Nicholas Riccardi
(Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake…)

Reporting from Bluffdale, Utah — Before the shooting, David Serbeck and Reginald Campos were pillars of their community, living at opposite ends of an unfinished development here at the edge of Salt Lake City's sprawl.

Serbeck, a genial 37-year-old father of two and former Army sniper, welcomed new arrivals to the neighborhood by offering to help install their sprinkler systems or work on their yards.

Campos, a 43-year-old CPA and father of four, tried to forge a community in his neighborhood by warning new residents about a spate of mailbox thefts and lobbying authorities to investigate the incidents.

The two men did not meet until one night last July, when Serbeck was patrolling the area in his SUV, looking for whoever was behind the thefts.

Campos was in his SUV too, looking for a suspicious car, and nearly collided with Serbeck. Both men were armed. Shots were fired.

Now one man is in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down. The other is scheduled to stand trial in July, charged with attempted murder.

"It's divided people and changed a lot of people's lives," said Trevor Roberts, 40, who lives near Campos but is also friends with Serbeck. "It's just a tragedy for both of them."

An agricultural town turned bedroom community, Bluffdale has a mix of newer homes and older houses with cows and chickens in the yards. On its south end lies the 190-acre Parry Farms development.

Buffered by scrubland and reached via narrow onetime country lanes, Parry Farms consists of large split-level homes on curlicued streets carved out of the bluffs above the Jordan River. Many houses were never occupied or fell into foreclosure, and the area is dotted with vacant lots.

"It's super-secluded," said resident Kevin Swensen. "You'd have to get lost to find this place."

The Serbecks were among the first families in phase one of the development. They moved in three years ago, and David Serbeck quickly began greeting the young families that followed.

"He seriously has been the glue in our neighborhood," said Amanda Groff, 29, who lives across the street.

When he wasn't helping out in yards or on cars, Serbeck, whose wife is a Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy, was often seen tooling around the winding streets on his motorcycle or taking his ATV off on some excursion. So it seemed natural that Troy Peterson, his neighbor and president of the homeowners' association, turn to Serbeck for help patrolling the night of July 21.

Both Serbeck and Campos declined to be interviewed. But according to court records, Peterson told Serbeck that there had been a rash of home burglaries, and residents feared the perpetrators could be living in some of the empty, foreclosed homes.

A friend of Peterson's at the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department had given him surveillance photos of cars that authorities thought could be tied to local criminals. The two hopped into Serbeck's Chevy Tahoe and began to patrol the streets, looking for the cars.

They had to stop abruptly, however, to avoid hitting two teenage girls who suddenly walked out of some brush and into the street. Serbeck testified at a hearing last year that he simply told the girls, "Be safe going home."

Minutes later, the pair spotted a light-colored car that seemed to match the photos of suspicious vehicles. They began to follow it.

Serbeck testified that he tried to edge close enough to see the license plate number but that the driver played "cat and mouse" with them -- speeding up, slowing down and weaving through Parry Farms' twisty streets. When the car eventually sped onto one of the main streets of town, Serbeck and Peterson decided not to give chase and returned to their block.

Later that night, Serbeck was tinkering with his motorcycle in his driveway when he saw the light-colored car go by again. He called out to Peterson and they climbed back into Serbeck's car. This time, Serbeck brought his .45 pistol, for which he has a concealed weapons permit.

"It was dark," Serbeck said in court. It was just before midnight.

Serbeck drove to phase two -- the newer part of the development, separated from his part by a small hill. A Toyota SUV suddenly pulled up from behind, swerved around him and stopped, cutting him off.

A man jumped out with a gun in his hand, Serbeck testified. It was Campos.

Campos had bought his 9-millimeter pistol more than 20 years ago when he was applying for jobs with the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, a career track he later abandoned. The gun had "been buried since then," said his brother, Conrad Campos.

But events in the prior weeks had led Reginald Campos to bring the weapon out of storage. First there were the mailbox break- ins. Then someone broke into the Campos' garage. While the family slept, the burglar forced open three cars and stole credit cards, and later used them at local stores.

Then, late on July 21, Campos got a call from his 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie, according to court records. A strange man in a car was chasing her.

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