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Health forces DPS commissioner to quit

Published: Thursday, Jan. 22 2009 12:12 a.m. MST

Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Scott Duncan abruptly resigned his post after a bizarre incident in southern Utah raised questions about his health. In a statement released Wednesday by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Duncan resigned for "health reasons."

"Scott has been an outstanding public servant and professional for the department for more than 30 years," Huntsman said. "We wish him the very best. Scott has long looked out for the well-being of all Utahns, we support him as he now takes care of himself and his family."

Duncan's sudden departure was brought on by an incident last week in southern Utah. Duncan traveled to St. George for a meeting but apparently forgot about it and was returning to Salt Lake City when he was pulled over.

"He was not able to keep his lane of travel," DPS Sgt. Jeff Nigbur told the Deseret News on Wednesday.

Duncan was pulled over by a Washington County sheriff's deputy.

"When he got up to him, he recognized it as a law enforcement vehicle," Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said. "He asked him if he was with law enforcement and he said, 'I work for DPS.' "

When asked why he was swerving, Smith said Duncan told the deputy he was listening to an audiobook and had been distracted.

"The deputy talked to him, looked in his eyes, there was no smell, no signs of obvious impairment," Smith said.

As he pulled away, authorities said Duncan swerved again and the deputy notified the Utah Highway Patrol. A trooper stopped the commissioner's car again.

Something was apparently wrong, Nigbur said, and the trooper took Duncan to a hospital in Cedar City where he was examined. Duncan was released from the hospital and was driven to Salt Lake City for a speaking engagement Thursday night. Duncan's demeanor was described as "very lethargic, somewhat forgetful."

"It's just not the Scott Duncan we know," Nigbur said. "It is not in character."

DPS would not say if Duncan had been diagnosed with any ailment. In a statement, Duncan did not mention his health problems but said it had been "an honor" to serve as DPS commissioner.

"The men and women of public safety are some of the most dedicated public servants I've ever had the opportunity to work with," he said. "I know the department will continue to be committed to the safety of everyone in our state."

Huntsman appointed Utah Highway Patrol Col. Lance Davenport to serve as acting commissioner until a new appointment is made. DPS employees were stunned by the news of Duncan's resignation.

"If you look up leadership in the dictionary, Scott Duncan's name is the definition," Nigbur said. "He ate, breathed and slept public service. He's well-known and well-respected."

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