Plaque installed on bench in memory of man killed in park over 40 years ago
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REXBURG — On a bright summer day over 40 years ago, David Fogg Peterson went to enjoy a lazy afternoon at Porter Park. A short time later, his life suddenly came to an end because of a group of young men and their unbridled rage.
“It’s a situation that you just don’t want other people to go through,” Ray Peterson, David’s older brother, recalls.
Now, because of that tragic incident on June 4, 1978, David is being remembered through a plaque recently installed on a park bench. His family hopes it will deter others from acting out in violence and prevent victims from a similar fate.
“It affected so many people in so many different ways,” Ray says. “David was probably the only person that had ever been killed on a Sunday afternoon in Porter Park.”
The plaque was placed on the bench last month thanks to Ray. It reads, “In Loving Memory of David Fogg Peterson (June 10, 1955 to June 4, 1978) who was killed in an act of violence just a few feet from here.” It continues with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “I object to violence because the evil it does is permanent.”
That permanence is something Ray and his family felt after losing David.
“When people get angry, things always happen. Sometimes it’s a permanent situation that affects many families,” Ray says.
Ray remembers that day vividly. He was supposed to meet up with his brother some 30 minutes after the attack happened.
Hundreds of pages of police and court records, obtained by EastIdahoNews.com through a public records request, detail the events that rocked the small Rexburg community.
Documents show that a vehicle passed David as he was speaking with two young women in the park. One of the people in the car yelled out a crude phrase at the women.
According to a police report, the car turned around and came back to where David was standing. The same man who hollered while driving past “didn’t like Peterson’s face when he (the perpetrator) yelled.”
Five people were inside the vehicle. Ricky Edwards, 19, and Ruben Vela, 18, exited the car and began fighting with David.
“Peterson was supposedly grabbing Edwards around the waist. At this, Vela, who supposedly had been egging the fight on, punched Peterson three times in the face. After the third punch, Peterson started to fall back at which time Edwards pulled Peterson’s feet out from under him,” court documents say.
The two women at the scene told police Vela’s punches looked “extremely hard, and then (Peterson) hit the ground very hard when his feet were pulled out from underneath him.”
The women told police David did not try to get up and he “lay there gasping for air.”
Autopsy reports later revealed hemorrhaging on both sides of the airway tubes and that “a blow had definitely been struck in the neck area causing this hemorrhaging.”
David’s cause of death was suffocation after being punched in the throat. He was rushed to Madison Memorial Hospital where he was declared dead.
A Sugar City resident was eating at the R&B Drive-In directly across from the park on South 2nd West. In a written statement to police, she wrote, “Several of the boys left in a hurry. One guy was laying on the grass and did not move until the ambulance attendants moved him.”
Standard Journal newspaper articles from 1978 show Vela and Edwards were initially charged with voluntary manslaughter. The charges were then amended to second-degree murder for Vela and involuntary manslaughter for Edwards. Both suspects were from Sugar City.
Vela and Edwards were both sentenced to prison. They have completed their sentences and are no longer in state custody.
Since the fight decades ago, Ray says his brother’s death is still painful to think about, but he doesn’t hold malice toward the men responsible. For that reason, he wanted to keep the plaque in his brother’s honor simple as well as a statement against violence.
“I didn’t want to embarrass the boys that are now grandfathers,” Ray says. “The past for us as a family is ugly, and for the families of the boys that were involved — it was ugly. I don’t want to dwell on the ugliness of all of that – it was terrible. I want to focus on the positive.”