WEST VALLEY CITY — A routine check on a West Valley house turned deadly for a city code enforcement officer Thursday when police say the homeowner shot and killed her.
In addition to shooting Jill Robinson, 52, police believe the man who lived in the home set fire to her city truck and a neighboring home. The couple who live next door said through a spokeswoman that they think their 64-year-old neighbor sought to kill them.
Kevin Wayne Billings, 64, was booked into jail for investigation of aggravated murder, aggravated arson and arson, according to West Valley police. Investigators provided no details about a motive.
Robinson arrived at 4102 W. Wendy Ave. (2925 South) about 10:20 a.m. Thursday as part of a follow-up investigation.
"She was just out here doing her job today," West Valley City Councilman Steve Buhler said of Robinson, who worked for the city for 10 ½ years.
"This is something we would not anticipate and expect to have happen in our city," Buhler added.
Robinson was following up on a previous call to the home, where there was a history of code enforcement "action," according to West Valley Deputy Police Chief Matt Elson.
"It was a routine code enforcement call," Elson said, adding that he did not know if any citations had been issued in the past to the man who lives there.
“That’s something we’re looking at," Elson said, "to find out the exact history that led to this confrontation."
The neighbors, Steph Sheen and Ryan Luke, escaped their burning home, but it was declared a total loss and their six dogs and two cats died in the fire, said Pam Nichols, Sheen's boss and a spokeswoman for the family.
"They think he was trying to kill them," Nichols told the Deseret News Thursday. She described the neighbor as paranoid and "not mentally well."
About a week ago, Billings confronted Sheen, yelling at her and accusing her of working for the city and reporting him for a code violation, according to Nichols. When Sheen denied the claim, Billings said he didn't believe her, she added.
Luke was home at the time and ran outside after hearing a gunshot and an explosion, Nichols said, then rushed to save their pets, but they wouldn't leave the home. Sheen is a veterinarian who adopts older animals, according to Nichols.
The pets "were their kids, and they're just devastated. They're just so sad," Nichols said. She said donations for the pair could be made to any Key Bank.
Police told the pair they won't be allowed to return home for three to five days because it's a crime scene.
The couple, she said, is "just in shock."
Brittan Keane, who was on the street at the time of the incident, said he saw a man in a blue shirt with a walker make his way behind a white utility truck covered in flames.
"He came across and walked behind the truck, and I was like, 'He's going to get burned, oh my gosh, oh my gosh' — pulls out a gun and shoots her," Keane said.
Police officers who saw smoke and responded to the fire arrived to find Robinson had been shot. Billings surrendered in the driveway when police arrived and drew their weapons, Elson said.
Salt Lake police detectives are investigating the shooting and Unified Fire Authority is investigating the fire. Both outside agencies were asked to conduct investigations because the incidents involved a West Valley employee.
Photos taken at the scene appear to show where the shooting occurred on the sidewalk next to the driveway and near the burned city code enforcement truck parked on the street. They also depict a charred building and a burned side of a home.
The shooting occurred at the suspect's home and the fire occurred at the neighboring house at 4112 W. Wendy Ave., Elson said.
Elson was not sure how many times Robinson was shot but confirmed she died at the scene. A sheet covered a body on the sidewalk, with an apparent trail of blood visible across the driveway.
Nate Reese, who lives nearby, said he was watering grass and taking dogs outside Thursday morning when he saw smoke, a body on the ground and a truck on fire down the road. Several people were in front of the house, some with guns, before police arrived, he said.
Reese said he heard one gunshot, then heard tires pop in the fire.
"It makes you kind of scared," he said.
City spokesman Sam Johnson described Robinson as friendly and quick to smile or wave to others.
"I just know she was a terrific woman who worked hard and made our city proud," he said.
In the hours following her death, city officials recalled her as a grandmother with a great smile who cared deeply about her job and loved softball. They said the tragedy was a "horrible surprise."13 comments on this story
Code officers are responsible for addressing violations of city code that deal with property upkeep, abandoned vehicles and other nuisances, he added. After a warning, a code officer can issue a notice, and if the problem still is not fixed in a certain timeframe, the issue goes to court.
"They are unarmed, and they are civilians," Johnson said, adding they generally are very skilled in dealing with different types of people. If someone becomes hostile and the officers need help, the city advises them to leave and call police, he said.
After Thursday's shooting, all of the city's code officers were pulled from duty, according to Johnson. A chaplain and other resources were brought in to support the woman's co-workers.
Contributing: Ladd Egan