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Man killed in crash was accused drug dealer who had case dismissed

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24 2013 4:25 p.m. MDT

James Randall Wilkes, 43, was killed instantly Friday afternoon when the SUV he was driving veered across three lanes of traffic and plowed into a concrete pedestrian crosswalk near 5200 West and 5000 South.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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KEARNS — The driver killed in a crash Friday that also injured a female passenger, had ties to the West Valley City Police Department's embattled Neighborhood Narcotics Unit.

James Randall Wilkes, 43, was killed instantly Friday afternoon when the SUV he was driving veered across three lanes of traffic and plowed into a concrete pedestrian crosswalk near 5200 West and 5000 South.

The female passenger, in her 20s, had to be extricated from the vehicle using the Jaws of Life. She was flown by medical helicopter to a local hospital in critical condition. By Saturday, however, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said she was doing "much better" and was expected to be released from the hospital soon.

What caused the vehicle to cross over all those lanes of traffic and crash was unknown Friday afternoon. The report from the Medical Examiner's Office, including a toxicology, was not available Saturday.

Last December, Wilkes was charged in 3rd District Court with drug distribution, a second-degree felony. A search warrant was served on Wilkes' truck and shed, where more than 50 grams of methamphetamine were found.

The search warrant was written by West Valley Police detective Shaun Cowley.

According to a West Valley police report, detectives made at last two undercover drug buys from Wilkes, who told officers he hadn't had a real job since getting out of prison in 2009 and was selling meth both for his own habit and to support his young son, according to the report.

Federal and state prosecutors have dismissed 124 cases linked to the former narcotics unit because of what they perceived as credibility issues. Wilkes' case was dismissed in April.

It's unknown if Wilkes would have been incarcerated Friday even if the charges were still pending. But Brent Jex, president of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, wanted the public to know that some of these dismissed cases weren't minor.

"These cases that were dismissed weren't just of little drug users around the valley. They were violent criminal gang members and dangerous to the public. There doesn't seem to be anything contained in the reports that would justify a dismissal of the charges," he said.

Cowley and detective Kevin Salmon have been on paid leave since November pending the department's internal investigation into the fatal officer-involved shooting of 21-year-old Danielle Willard. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill recently ruled the shooting by the officers was not justified.

Last week, about 50 people, including family members of the two officers, joined in a rally to protest Gill's decision, arguing that they believed Cowley and Salmon were doing their jobs and had justification for using deadly force.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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