The San Juan County news that clicked in 2020

COVID-19 and its impact dominated the news in San Juan County, with half of the Top Ten stories in 2020 connected to the virus.

For our year-end review, the San Juan Record looks at our top stories of the year determined by views each story received on the San Juan Record website at

The San Juan Record website was revamped and launched in March of this year.

The new website averages more than 10,000 visits every day and has had more than 18 million hits in just nine months.

The website carries some of our main stories every week, in addition to all obituaries and a number of photos.

Links to these stories can be found on under the Our Biggest Stories tab.

Travelers entering Utah asked to provide declaration form
Using the website criteria, the biggest story of the year came in early April, near the beginning of the pandemic.

At the time, the State of Utah announced its intention to ask those entering the state to fill out a COVID-19 travel declaration.

The survey included a number of questions primarily focused on the respondent’s health history, including if they were symptomatic, had had a COVID-19 test, and where they had traveled over the past two weeks. The survey also asked for name, birthdate, and contact information.

The state used geo-tracing on cell phones to ping people entering the state, but that aspect of the program was quickly scrapped after residents on border towns in the state received incessant emergency communications. The rest of the program also went away within weeks.

Two men sought for shooting at officers in Aneth
Officers were preparing to serve a warrant to Gary Lee Jr and Cecil Vigil on April 30 at a home in Aneth when multiple shots were fired at the officers. No one was hit by the shots. A massive search went underway before the two were ultimately found and captured.

The two were suspected of being involved in a shooting at the Mexican Hat 7-11 earlier that week. No one was injured in that shooting.

Three Blanding men killed in car accident on road to Lake Powell
The tragic death of three Blanding men was the third most clicked story of the year. On July 1, Cameron Palmer, Kyle Bailey, and Parker Palmer were driving to Lake Powell to fish. On the way the driver apparently swerved, likely to avoid a cow, resulting in the vehicle rolling.

COVID-19 spreads to 25 residents and staff at care facility in Blanding
On June 28, a staff member at the Four Corners Regional Care Center in Blanding tested positive for COVID-19. Despite aggressive efforts to stop the spread of the virus, it spread to many of the staff and residents at the center, with some residents at the center later passing away.

A secure wing of the facility was designated to care for and treat residents who tested positive separate from the rest of the residents. The area was later used to help care for other COVID patients in the county. The care center residents and staff have been COVID free for several months now.

COVID-19 claims life of Monticello native
On May 12, Monticello native Felix Montano passed away in Flagstaff, AZ. Montano had moved away from Monticello a few years earlier but was a familiar face in the community.

Montano’s last Facebook update said “I can’t stay home, I’m a grocery store worker.”

By the end of the year, 34 San Juan County residents would fall victim to the disease.

Navajo Strong – Navajo Nation residents receiving essential supplies
The story appeared in a May issue, highlighting the work of #NavajoStrong, one of several grassroots organizations that organized relief for members of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County and beyond. Throughout the year food boxes, hygiene kits, firewood, and other needed items were donated by a variety of people and organizations.

The work was also recognized by Time magazine, with Utah Navajo Health System employee Pete Sands featured on the cover of the magazine.

Monticello Police Department disbanded
At a June 9 meeting, the Monticello City Council voted to disband the city police department and contract police services through San Juan County. City officials said they faced a number of issues that resulted in the decision, including increasing costs and the challenge of recruiting, training, and retaining officers.

Sexual assault was just the beginning of the nightmare for local teenager
The story is about a young woman – a victim of sexual assault – who suffered from “slut-shaming” while she waited for the juvenile justice system to adjudicate her case.

The San Juan Record has a policy of never naming names in juvenile cases, and the story was shared anonymously. The story was shared in part because the facts of the case speak to the growing problem of sexual assault in San Juan County and of the public shaming of victims.

Woman dies in head-on crash on Highway 191
On May 10 a woman was killed in a three-car crash on Highway 191 north of Monticello.

Zuhra Samadi, age 26 of Salt Lake City, was killed while attempting to pass – in a no-passing lane – a Ford F-350 that was pulling a 25-foot enclosed trailer.

Her vehicle collided head-on with a pickup traveling in the opposite direction. All other drivers and passengers suffered minor injuries.

Five county residents diagnosed with COVID-19
In March, the diagnosis of five county residents was the 10th most clicked story of the year. Since then, 1,300 more residents have contracted the disease.

The arrival of a vaccine brings hope for an end to the pandemic. Frontline health care workers in San Juan County received the first vaccination at the end of the year.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
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