Utah Highway Patrol identifies ‘very bad’ driving behaviors contributing to deadly weekend on state roads

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Highway Patrol recently held a press conference to address the spike in the number of fatalities reported on Utah’s roadways, including six occupants killed over the previous weekend alone.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich speaks about a deadly weekend on the state’s roadways during a press conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah, Aug. 9, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

The weekend was particularly deadly for motorists in Utah, with six people killed in five crashes, Utah Highway Patrol Colonel Michael Rapich said.

“It just seemed like the weekend wouldn’t stop,” he said.

Moreover, the collisions that resulted in fatalities were not confined to a specific highway or area — they were reported all across the state — from Morgan County in the north to Washington County in Southern Utah. While the incidents are still under investigation, troopers identified several factors that played a major role in each of the deadly collisions. 

The first crash was reported on Saturday shortly after 1 a.m. on Interstate 70 in Sevier County involving a single vehicle that veered off the roadway and rolled multiple times, killing a 37-year-old woman from Colorado. The passenger crawled back to the roadway and flagged down help. Authorities said impairment was a possible factor in the crash.

At around the same time, there was a second crash on Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City involving a wrong-way driver who struck another vehicle head-on at freeway speeds. The driver, by all indications, Rapich said, was very impaired at the time and then reportedly stole a pickup truck from one of the motorists who stopped to help.

A passenger vehicle is destroyed after a crash with a wrong-way driver on Interstate 15 that killed the driver, Salt Lake City, Utah, Aug. 7, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

The driver of the vehicle struck head-on, a 26-year-old mother of three, Angelica Jimenez, was killed in the crash, just hours after her wedding. Following the wedding reception, Jimenez and her niece were driving to drop off the wedding dress and gifts at her house and then grab something to eat. After they picked up the food, Jimenez switched places with her niece and was the driver when they were hit.

“The crash was horrible,” Rapich said, adding that the devastation left behind was unbelievable.

Later that same day, a motorcycle rider on Interstate 84 was killed in Morgan County shortly after 3:30 p.m. when his bike went off the road and collided with a cable barrier.

On Saturday night, there was a crash on state Route 6 in Utah County involving a Mazda with two occupants that crossed into oncoming traffic and struck an Audi head-on. Both women in the Mazda were killed in the crash, while the driver and passenger in the Audi were transported to the hospital with serious injuries.

The fifth fatal crash was reported on I-15 near milepost 40 in Washington County Sunday morning allegedly involving a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. The vehicle drifted to the right and struck the rear driver’s side tires of a commercial vehicle pulling a cargo trailer before coming to a stop in the middle of the road.

Another commercial vehicle also pulling a cargo trailer attempted to slow down to avoid colliding with the car, while a Nissan following behind failed to slow down or stop and then collided with the rear trailer of the second commercial vehicle. The 77-year-old driver of the Nissan was killed in the collision, while the 78-year-old passenger was transported to the hospital with serious injuries.

Nissan Rogue is destroyed in fatal crash on Interstate 15 in New Harmony, Utah, Aug. 7, 2021 | File photo courtesy of Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

Early indications are that fatigue played a major role in the crash, Rapich said.

He went on to say the primary cause in each crash was directly related to “very bad” driving behaviors that troopers are seeing during accident investigations, including speeding, DUIs and motorists who push the limits and end up fatigued.

There were also deaths that were completely unnecessary and preventable, he said, if only the occupants had been wearing their seat belts.

Regardless of the cause, the crashes still left six people dead and is cause for alarm, Rapich said, as is the number of fatalities along Utah’s roadways, which have climbed over the past few years.

This year, the number of people killed was up more than 50% from 2020. And last year’s numbers were up from the year before that. As of Monday, 188 people have been killed in 2021 in Utah in 164 crashes — a 63% hike over last year.

“The deadly trend is only getting worse,” Rapich said.

Rapich said these incidents aren’t “just another traffic collision” or highway statistics.

“Fatal crashes are horrible. They’re devastating. They’re violent. And they result in devastating impacts and consequences for family members to victims and communities throughout the state,” he said.

“In the state of Utah, we’re seeing more high speeds,” Rapich continued. “We’re seeing more intoxicated drivers. We’re seeing more distracted driving … and we need to change the curve on that. It’s important. Driving is serious business, and it needs our attention.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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