Burned car victim was U student

By Michael McFall, Staff Writer

DNA testing confirmed that the body Washington County Sheriff’s deputies found in a torched car near Zion National Park on April 2 is Zach Ruble, a freshman in bioengineering at the U, the third in a series of deaths that might be connected.

The state medical examiner made the announcement Friday, several days after submitting the body’s DNA for testing. A confirmation normally takes weeks, but police and Ruble’s family received their answer after only a matter of days, likely because the case’s prominence bumped it up on the schedule, said Detective Nate Abbott with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“We were surprised to get it this fast,” Abbott said. He also said his office is in communication with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the U Police Department about the possibility that Ruble’s death is related to two similar incidents in the past month. Police found bodies in burned cars on March 9 and March 20 in different locations in Utah.

The victims’ families suspect that the first two deaths might share a connection. Both victims were providing aid, or related to someone providing aid, to domestically abused women and children. As far as can be determined, Ruble, 19, does not share the similarity.

The first case is a U alumnus, 28-year-old Lorin Fischer, who spent his last few years working with abused and troubled youth.

Police found Fischer’s body in his torched car at a remote Big Cottonwood Canyon campground on March 9. Fischer graduated from the U in 2000 and was news editor of The Daily Utah Chronicle. He wrote a wide variety of stories, ranging from campus life to student government to crime.

Dan Fischer, who also aids the abused, said he suspects that his son’s death was murder. Dan Fischer defected from polygamy with his second wife and children in 1995. He used a fortune he earned by inventing a tooth whitener to create a charity called Diversity that provides shelter for abused teenagers and helps other defectors from polygamy who have been abused.

Michelle Nelson said her ex-husband, 37-year-old Gregory Nelson, found dead on March 20 inside his torched car near Saltair, might have also been murdered because of his involvement in defending those who couldn’t defend themselves.

Gregory Nelson, who Michelle Nelson said was occasionally delusional, was worried that assailants he never specifically named would be “coming and burning and torturing him,” as well anyone else who opposes “them,” referring to the same undefined assailant.

Gregory Nelson might have been referring to men who domestically abuse their wives or children. Before he died, Gregory Nelson was organizing the Truth and Light Foundation, a charity to help abused women and children, including those afflicted in a Fundamentalist Latter-day Saint Church community, a polygamist group. Gregory Nelson was concerned he might face repercussions from the abusers, his ex-wife said.

Michelle Nelson said her ex-husband pulled her aside last February to tell her something important.

“If anything happens to me, I want you to promise that you will let our son know that I was doing really good things. I was making a difference. I was fighting the bad guys,” were his words, she told KSL. Gregory Nelson did not specify if “the bad guys” meant any person or organization in particular.

Gregory Nelson also had a history with drugs but had quit before his death, his ex-wife said.

The Salt Lake County and Washington County Sheriff’s Offices said they don’t have enough evidence to say whether the three deaths are related or enough to rule any of them as homicides, suicides or accidental deaths.

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