SALEM — Was it intentional or an accident?
That's the key question Utah County sheriff's investigators want answered regarding the weekend death of a 17-year-old boy whose body was found in the middle of a road following a party.
An autopsy concluded that Nathan Tyler Haun, 17, of Spanish Fork, died as a result of being hit by a car. His body was found by a passer-by early Saturday at 2000 W. Arrowhead Trail, an area east of I-15 between Salem and Payson.
But was he hit on the dark road by accident because the driver didn't see him, or did someone who was still angry at him from an earlier argument hit Haun on purpose?
Detectives said Monday that either scenario is plausible.
"We don't know anything definitively to say, 'Yes, this person was killed intentionally,' or 'It was clearly an accident,'" said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon. "We don't have any information telling us strongly it's one or the other right now."
The only thing investigators can say with some certainty is that someone knows what happened.
"We have a hard time believing that someone could have hit him and not know it. We also find it hard to believe there's not some damage (to their vehicle)," Cannon said.
Haun's father, Preston Haun, said the impact of the collision crushed his son's femur.
In retracing his steps, detectives believe Haun went to one or two parties late Friday and early Saturday. At one of those parties, there was an argument over a girl.
"We do know there was some disagreement or argument between Nathan and at least one other individual over a common romantic interest. We don't know if the discord there was enough to cause one person to want to do this to another," Cannon said.
Specific details about the argument, such as how heated it became, what time it happened and whether Haun decided to walk home afterward, were not being released Monday. But Cannon said detectives were looking at whether ill feelings may have resulted in an intentional hit-and-run.
Yet investigators also noted that Haun was wearing dark clothing on a poorly lit street when he was hit. There were no skid marks indicating that someone attempted to brake, Cannon said.
"We can't read too much into that because there was no street lighting in this area. It was an almost moon-less night — and it's a dark road. There's no shoulder on it, it's narrow."
The collision could have been an unfortunate accident by a driver who simply didn't see the teen, Cannon said. Pieces of car trim were found in the road near Haun's body. But Cannon said it was unclear whether that was from the vehicle that hit the boy or old debris. There was still no information Monday about a possible driver or a type of vehicle.
About a dozen people, all between 16 to 19 years old, are believed to have attended one or both of the parties and may have had interaction with Haun. But complicating the investigation more for detectives is the fact that some party-goers and their parents aren't talking to law enforcement.
"We have had some, either on their own or under their parent's direction, who are refusing to talk to us," Cannon said. "So that's making it a little bit difficult to try and paint a clear picture as to eliminate people who might know anything, or say this person can at least help us figure out a timeline when Nathan was last seen."
Cannon said his office didn't know why certain people were refusing to cooperate. He said some have had dealings with police before, possibly explaining why they are a little less friendly to deputies. Others, detectives believe, are afraid of implicating themselves by admitting they were at a party where alcohol was being served.
But while underage drinking is taken seriously by the sheriff's office, in this case it takes a back seat to a dead teen.
"We take action against that under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances," Cannon said. "I don't care if you drank a six-pack. If you know what happened here, tell us."
While some party guests were being quiet to police, several have been vocal on Facebook about the incident, purporting to know exactly what happened.
Preston Haun has been monitoring some of that activity.
“There's still so much chatter. We're getting all kinds of stuff on there," he said. "Rumors, speculation, you know. Truths, half-truths, I don't know."
The Utah County Sheriff's Office has also been monitoring the comments being posted on social media. Cannon cautioned that posting too many unconfirmed rumors could hurt the investigation.
"We don't want somebody saying something that will discourage people from talking to us or that will give people an idea of what happened that is really not accurate," Cannon said. "There's a lot of red herring posts that we've seen, people claiming to know exactly what happened."
At least one person police looked at online claimed to know exactly what happened to Haun. But based on what little evidence they had, Cannon said law enforcers knew it wasn't true.
Preston Haun said he was told his son was separated at 2 a.m. Saturday from the person he originally went to the party with and got a ride with some other kids who dropped him off about a mile from where he was hit.
The Utah County Sheriff's Office announced a $5,000 reward for information about the teen's death that could lead investigators to the driver or the vehicle that hit him. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at 801-851-4010.
Contributing: Sandra Yi
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