Murder charge filed in troubled-kid ranch attack; suspect from Arizona

Posted at 11:58 AM, Dec 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-09 17:06:09-05

An Arizona teenager was charged with aggravated murder and other counts Friday in the brutal slaying of one worker and the assault on a second staffer at a southern Utah ranch for troubled teens.

Clay Brewer, 17, hit the counselor 10 times with a metal stick after "losing his mind" because of an addiction to pills that led him to be sent there, show charging documents.

Brewer told investigators that he woke up Tuesday morning feeling "heartless" and that drug addiction had taken over his life and was controlling him. He said the night before he had tried to kill himself by drinking bleach amid feelings that his parents didn't love him and had betrayed him. He grabbed a metal fire stick from inside a cabin while nobody else was there.

The next morning, he was outside at a camp fire sitting in a circle where he wasn't allowed to talk to anybody else when counselor Jimmy Woolsey, 61, came out to check them. Brewer told investigators he liked Woolsey but wanted to escape.

"When you're coming off of drugs and tobacco like I was, you lose your mind," Brewer told investigators after the incident. "That's where I was at. I lost my mind."

Brewer, who had arrived just days earlier, decided he need to run after realizing what he had done. He grabbed Woolsey's keys from his body but couldn't get the truck started. He came back and attacked another worker, Alicia Keller, who survived. Authorities say Keller kept him from getting inside the cabin where other kids were. Keller threw him her car keys after he threatened to break a cabin window and he left in her vehicle.

Brewer was arrested after deputies en route to the ranch spotted him driving Keller's car into nearby Escalante at 60 mph in a 25 mph zone as parents were dropping kids off for school, according to the documents.

Prosecutors filed eight charges Friday that also include attempted aggravated murder and robbery. He was charged directly as an adult under Utah laws allowing serious cases against older teens to bypass juvenile court.

The teen's grandfather Coleman Brewer said by phone that the family is heartbroken by what happened. He said the family sent Brewer to the Turn-About Ranch because of drug problems.

"He's always been a really good kid, he just got mixed up in some drugs," said Coleman Brewer, of Snowflake, Arizona. He declined to say more, saying the attorneys told the family not to talk.

It was not immediately known which attorney is representing Brewer. He is being held at a juvenile detention center in Richfield, authorities said.

After the attack began, the other teens rushed inside to a cabin nearby where they sleep and told Keller. She was injured as she struggled with the teen when he tried to force his way in the cabin. She held her ground despite bleeding profusely from a head wound, Garfield County Sheriff James Perkins said.

Woolsey died from blunt force injuries to the head. He is survived by his wife and a 10-year-old daughter, Perkins said. He described Woolsey as a jovial, well-liked man.

The ranch was featured in a 2010 episode of Dr. Phil, which includes Turn-About Ranch on its list of recommended treatment centers.

State regulators say the ranch hasn't any major violations or violent incidents since it was first licensed in the early 1990s. It's one violation since 2012 happened after teens at the ranch were discovered having consensual sex, according to officials who provided the oldest documents immediately available in response to a public records request. The ranch addressed the issue and the state didn't take corrective action, regulators said.

The working cattle ranch says on its website that it doesn't accept kids who have shown aggressive, psychotic or suicidal behavior but do offer to help kids with anger issues.

Teens there spend their days in a highly supervised, closely structured program in which they do chores while also doing school work and meeting with counselors and juveniles usually stay for about 100 days. Pictures on the website show teens riding horses, chopping wood and milking cows.

Perkins said his agency has responded a few times over the years to reports of young people leaving the treatment center but said it's usually peaceful.