PRICE — A Helper man whose body was found Tuesday in the burned out basement of an alleged drug house had been kidnapped and beaten before his death, according to investigators.
On Thursday, Price police announced the arrests of four people in connection with the case.
"We believe we know all of the people involved, and we've taken steps to round those people up," Capt. Bill Barnes said.
James William Pendleton, 39, has been booked into the Carbon County Jail for investigation of aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, conspiracy, possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and obstructing justice.
Ashley Ann Platt, 21, has been booked for investigation of aggravated kidnapping, conspiracy, possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and obstructing justice.
Michael John Dees, 38, was booked for investigation of aggravated kidnapping and conspiracy. Amee Lavon Averett, 23, was also booked for investigation of giving a false written statement to police.
Investigators believe Pendleton, Platt and Dees kidnapped Brian William Swink and locked him in the basement of the house where Pendleton lives, 423 S. 200 West. Pendleton is also suspected of assaulting Swink.
Swink, 32, was still locked in the basement when a fire started there about 11 a.m. Tuesday. A man who identified himself as Pendleton called 911 to report the fire, telling dispatchers that a man he had beaten up in a fight was locked inside the burning home, Barnes said.
When firefighters reached the house, Pendleton told them the man locked in the basement was armed with a handgun, the captain said.
"That was a false report to us at that time, and it certainly delayed the efforts of (firefighters)," Barnes said.
While firefighters waited for police to secure the house, Pendleton broke through the locked basement door, but smoke and flames made entry impossible, according to investigators.
Swink's body was later found in the basement by firefighters searching for hot spots. The state medical examiner's office determined that the Helper man died of asphyxiation from smoke inhalation, police said.
Barnes declined Thursday to say who started the fire or how it was set. He also would not discuss how severely Swink had been injured before the fire began or a possible motive for the alleged kidnapping and assault.
"We want to withhold that information at this time because the investigation is still active," the captain said. "We're still questioning people and so we want to get pure information from them without tainting what they know."
Court records show Pendleton, Platt, Dees, Averett and Swink were all well-known to Carbon County law enforcement.
Pendleton has a rap sheet that includes dozens of arrests and convictions for offenses that include possession of a controlled substance, failure to stop for police, attempted burglary, attempted forgery, criminal mischief and violation of a protective order.
In late March, he was arrested after a man told Price police Pendleton attacked him with a baseball bat without provocation. The victim was "savagely beaten," according to investigators, and had to be hospitalized in an intensive care unit.
When police pulled Pendleton over after the alleged baseball bat assault, Platt and Dees were in the car with him. Officers said they also found drug paraphernalia and almost 10 grams of methamphetamine inside the car. Pendleton was arrested but posted bail and was released.
Court records for Platt show convictions for unlawful acquisition of a financial transaction card, illegally obtaining identifying documents of another person, possession of drug paraphernalia and DUI.
Dees has convictions for attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor, attempted burglary, theft by receiving stolen property and interfering with an arresting officer, according to court records, while Averett's record shows misdemeanor convictions for exploitation of a vulnerable adult, drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Court records show Swink had prior convictions for aggravated robbery, attempted burglary, assault, drug possession and criminal mischief. At the time of his death, he had two cases pending in Helper City Justice Court, where he was charged with making a threat of violence, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
"These are people who have grown up in the community," Barnes said Thursday. "We've known them their whole lives. They've just chosen a life path that has taken them down this route, and here we are today."
Contributing: McKenzie Romero
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: GeoffLiesik