SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Former Utah congressman Bill Orton died in an ATV accident when his machine flipped over on a sand dune at Little Sahara Recreation Area. He was 60.
Juab County Sheriff Alden Orme told The Associated Press that Orton died almost immediately of his injuries about 4 p.m. Saturday.
Orton, a Democrat, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 1997. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for Utah governor in 2000.
Orme said Orton was riding alone when his all-terrain vehicle crested a sand dune and the machine crashed, flipping over on him.
His body was taken by ambulance to Central Valley Medical Center in Nephi. An autopsy is pending.
Orton, who was wearing a helmet, was among thousands of four-wheel enthusiasts at the popular park, "a fun but dangerous place to ride," the sheriff said.
"Out there, it's a lot of rolling hills. He went off a sand dune without realizing how far down he was going," he said.
Injuries are common. Orme said several other riders Saturday were involved in crashes or collisions, and more than two dozen were injured last weekend, when five had to be airlifted by medical helicopters to hospitals.
Former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, a Republican, said in a statement that he joins the state of Utah in mourning the death of Orton, who he met nearly 40 years ago.
"Outside the glare of politics I had occasions to observe him as a missionary, father, husband and lawyer. He did them all in a noble and gentlemanly way," said Leavitt.
Leavitt served as Utah's governor from 1993 to 2003 and defeated Orton in his bid for the governorship in 2000.
University of Utah law professor Scott Matheson, a Democratic figure who knew Orton well, called his death "shocking and tragic."
"Bill was very smart and capable. He was a dedicated public servant and continued to have much public service to offer," Matheson said. "Voters in the most Republican district in the country thought so much of his talents that they elected him as a Democrat to Congress three times. He worked hard and effectively on their behalf."
Orton is survived by his wife, Jacquelyn, and two sons, Will and Wes.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Jacquelyn and the Orton children at this difficult time," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement late Saturday.
"He was a dedicated public servant who worked to serve his constituents to the very best of his ability. He loved his family greatly and he also loved our wonderful state. He will be missed by many for his knowledge and experience, including me," Hatch said.
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