ST. GEORGE — Two travelers from California escaped serious injury after a crash on Interstate 15 several miles into the winding route through the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona early Thursday morning.
Emergency personnel were dispatched to northbound I-15 several miles south of the Cedar Pocket Exit on a single-vehicle crash shortly before 8 a.m. MDT. They arrived to find the driver uninjured, while the occupant sustained an injury to her knee but declined to be transported to the hospital.
Arizona Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Bottoms told St. George News the 2020 Nissan, a rental car the pair was traveling in, was found on the shoulder of the roadway heavily damaged.
At the time of the crash, the driver was heading north on I-15 and shortly after entering the Virgin River Gorge, the driver fell asleep, Bottoms said. He was awakened by the vehicle as it slammed into the concrete barrier, causing the driver to lose control of the car, which at some point made it off the road and onto the shoulder.
“Both front wheels were destroyed, so we’re not sure how that car made it to the shoulder,” he said.
Several seconds after the crash, a second vehicle traveling behind the Nissan ran over the debris left in the path of the collision, which may have caused damage to the undercarriage of that vehicle.
All airbags deployed upon impact, which likely contributed to the fact that neither occupant sustained any serious injuries when the car collided with the barrier. The location of the crash was also a factor, since the driver made it over at least two narrow bridges before falling asleep, Bottoms said, explaining that otherwise the crash could have been much worse.
“Somehow that Nissan was out of the roadway pretty quickly — or it could have easily been struck by a semi or other vehicle had it been disabled in the middle of the road,” Bottoms said.
While running a check on the driver, Bottoms discovered the man was driving on a suspended license, and when asked about the rental vehicle, the driver explained it was rented by a third party in California, where both occupants live.
Prior to the car being towed, officers found plastic baggies and a jar containing a crystal-like substance consistent with methamphetamine, along with what appeared to be marijuana and several pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia, Bottoms said.
The driver received a number of citations, both criminal and civil, that included driving on a suspended license, having no operator’s license, possession of a controlled substance and paraphernalia, among others.
Due to COVID restrictions at the jail, Bottoms said officers were unable to take the man into custody, and instead he was cited and released at the scene.
Relating to the second vehicle that ran over debris, Bottoms said the driver was on her way to work in St. George at the time and didn’t realize there was any damage until after she arrived. The woman also mentioned she ran over a large tire tread similar to the treads left along the roadway by semitractor-trailers at around the same time, which could have played a role in the damage to the vehicle.
Traffic was impacted for less than an hour.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety, Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire and Ambulance and the Arizona Department of Transportation responded to the scene.
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