2 accidents, 2 airlifted; I-15 collisions near Virgin River Gorge

VIRGIN RIVER GORGE, Arizona – Traffic backed up for several miles on northbound Interstate 15 approaching the Virgin River Gorge Tuesday afternoon after a two-vehicle collision resulted in two people airlifted via medical helicopter to the hospital. After traffic was nearly cleared, another collision near the entrance of the gorge, involving a motorcycle, backed up traffic again.

The first collision involving a Ford F-150 and a Kia Forte occurred at approximately 1:30 p.m. MDT (Utah), or 12:30 p.m. MST (Arizona) on northbound I-15 around Arizona mile post 9 near Littlefield, Arizona, and the mouth of the Virgin River Gorge, Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. John Bottoms said.

Two-vehicle collision in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, July 29, 2014 | Photo by Sgt. John Bottoms, for St. George News
Two-vehicle collision in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, July 29, 2014 | Photo by Sgt. John Bottoms, for St. George News

The Kia Forte had stopped or was stopping in the left traffic lane because traffic was backed up entering the Gorge, Bottoms said, and the Ford F-150 didn’t see the traffic was stopping ahead and rear-ended the Kia.

The driver of the Ford F-150, Daniel Bragg, 20, of Bakersfield, California, only suffered an injury to his hand, while his mother, Carolyn Bragg, 52, also of Bakersfield, was transported by Mercy Air to University Medical Center in Las Vegas for treatment of her injuries.

“Carolyn Bragg went for chest pain and I think they were concerned about her cardiac condition,” Bottoms said. “She had pains in her back and chest so they were fearful that maybe she was having a heart attack or that maybe she had some prior medical heart problems, so they took her directly to a Level I trauma center in Vegas.”

The driver of the Kia Forte, Lacey Celani, 29, of St. George, was transported by Beaver Dam Ambulance to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George for acute whiplash, while her passenger, Coalette Bedke, 38, of St. George, suffered the most serious injuries and was airlifted via Life Flight also to Dixie Regional Medical Center.

“She had such a traumatic injury to her face and head,” Bottoms said, “It’s a very deep laceration. She was in surgery when I talked to Officer McBride who was at the hospital. But she’s going to survive, it’s just going to be a long road of recovery for her.”

Two-vehicle collision in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, July 29, 2014 | Photo by Sgt. John Bottoms, for St. George News
Two-vehicle collision in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, July 29, 2014 | Photo by Sgt. John Bottoms, for St. George News

After seeing a car seat in the backseat of the Kia, officers said they were fearful there was a child in the vehicle.

“We were trying to reach through all of that crushed metal to see if we could feel a child’s head sitting in it and luckily that car seat was empty,” Bottoms said, “but then we’re thinking, ‘well if there’s a car seat, maybe there’s another kid and there was no way for us to get in there.’”

After one of the women, disoriented from the crash, kept asking where her daughter was, emergency crews got a crowbar and started to pry metal to create a small space to look in.

“She kept saying ‘where’s my daughter? Where’s my daughter?’ and we said ‘was your daughter in the car?’ and she said ‘I don’t know, where is she?’ So we looked and looked; we were fearful that her daughter was in there. We got a hold of one of their mothers that said ‘no, her daughter is here with me,’ so we were very relieved.”

Officers stopped northbound traffic so that the two medic helicopters could land and traffic backed up from about Arizona mile post 10 to about mile post 8. Interstate 15 was closed and traffic was routed up the old highway to keep traffic moving until about 2:45 p.m. MDT, 1:45 p.m. MST.

“We opened the highway back up and traffic cleared out in about 30-45 minutes,” Bottoms said, “and then there was another wreck that happened in the Gorge right at the entrance to the gorge that backed up traffic again for about a mile.”

The second collision was unrelated to the first and involved a motorcyclist who drifted off the edge of the road to the left against the median wall and his tire got stuck in the little groove in the asphalt.

“He dumped his motorcycle and ended up with a substantial laceration to one of his elbows,” Bottoms said, “but he was treated and released at the scene and picked up the motorcycle and drove off.”

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

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  • lp July 29, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    That is scary. I am so very glad that the drivers daughter is safe.

  • Real Life July 29, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    I think it’s safe to say, judging by the pictures, that the 20 year old driver of the truck was a) not paying attention b) driving way too fast c) exhausted d) inexperienced, or e) all of above. That Kia got nailed hard. Either way I wish all well.

  • that guy July 30, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Two questions.
    1. Just how fast was the drive of the truck going ?
    2. Did he even hit his brakes?
    If he was going the speed limit, and tried to stop. It sure makes KIA’s look like a death trap. After seeing those pictures I know I will never ride in one.

  • SSfreeze July 30, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Does that look like a beer bottle on the ground in one of the pictures of the Kia? Why no pictures of the F-150?

    • My Evil Twin July 30, 2014 at 11:26 am

      Yes, that looks like a beer bottle. Unfortunately, nothing unusual about that, the roadside is littered with all kinds of trash. No reason to believe that bottle came from this accident.

  • Paul July 30, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Good thing it didn’t explode with the fuel tank ya how fast was that guy going to hit that car so hard

  • Bernie July 30, 2014 at 10:39 am

    I was writing right in front off the motorcycle accident they were such a big hurry to get around our car when the third motorcycle pass us we were inches away from hitting him he came out of nowhere that guy who lost control off his bike went way off to the side and lost control his buddies jumped off their bikes immediately to help him and he lost control again fell off his bike landed on his foot I was in total shock watching the whole thing he looked like he was dehydrated and had no strength to hold the bike his friends and buddies were right there to help him

  • Mark July 30, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I think it is safe to say, that even if that was a Ford Explorer he hit, if going at high speeds and not even attempting to stop, it would be obliterated. Not just a Kia. I have one and picked it specifically because of the safety reviews and lack of recalls. That is a straight on hit…no attempt to even turn by the truck. That is bad. So lucky they survived. And no babies in the car.

  • Beerbelly July 30, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    The speed limit drops to 35 mph right before the Gorge for the construction zone. There are several signs including a digital flashboard warning drivers to slow down and be prepared to stop. There is no excuse for this. Hang up your phones, put down the food and drinks, put out your cigarettes and DRIVE!!!

    • Tracie July 31, 2014 at 11:49 am

      My thoughts exactly. There are multiple warnings that traffic is slowing and there is major construction.

  • Ken August 1, 2014 at 12:57 am

    The Kia was two cars behind me. I heard the impact the truck made with it, and saw it in my rearview mirror skidding across the freeway onto the other side. The officer at the scene told me that the truck hit the KIA while traveling 75 MPH. To respond to another commenter, no, he did not hit the brakes at all. He was reaching down on the floor of the truck for a bag of chips. So he didn’t even see the slow up coming. It was a miracle that the accident did not cause a chain reaction. If anyone has any questions for me, please let me know and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can. I was at the scene and filled out a witness form given to me by one of the officers, Officer McBride I believe.

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