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Westbound I-215 lanes reopen following fatal morning crash

Posted - Aug. 18, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.


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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- A car heading the wrong way on westbound Interstate 215 crashed into a semi just after Knudsen's Corner, killing the driver. It happened around 9:45 Wednesday morning.

The Utah Department of Transportation has reopened all but one of the southbound/westbound lanes of I-215 near 6200 South. There were partial lane closures on the eastbound/northbound side of I-215 for several hours, but those closures have also been lifted.

Witnesses say driver may have been confused

The Utah Highway Patrol says the elderly driver of a red Camry, believed to be in his 80s, got on westbound I-215 at 1300 East, then somehow got turned around. Three minutes after the first calls reporting the wrong-way driver came into dispatch, his car collided with a semi truck coming around the corner.

"At first calls, he was going pretty fast in the median area, and then he slowed down to about 10 miles an hour and tried to get across, and that's when the collision happened," said UHP Lt. Robert Anderson. "So, he was going about 80 [mph] down by 13th East and slowed down to about 10 miles an hour right near the area of the impact.

Witness Todd Smith was traveling in the eastbound lanes and says, at one point, he was traveling parallel to the Camry on opposite sides of the median.

"When I'd look over at him, he would just -- he had both hands on the wheel. He was just driving. He looked calm to me. He didn't look like he was nervous or he was trying to get out of traffic," Smith said.

Unified Fire Authority Capt. Clint Smith said when the man's car collided with the semi truck, the truck rolled, and then both vehicles burst into flames.

"With the spill of the fuel on the road, it also started a fire that started to move into the brush and up the hill toward the homes. So we had multiple scenarios playing out at the same time," Smith said.

Matt Arnold sent video of the crash to KSL. He said he heard two explosions.

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"It looked like the whole freeway was on fire, you know, just flames everywhere," Arnold said.

He also said the explosions sent debris everywhere.

"It was amazing, craziest thing I have ever seen," Arnold said.

The driver of the semi truck sustained serious injuries in the accident, including a punctured lung and a cut to his head. He was transported to a local hospital.

Emergency responders believe the elderly driver of the passenger car was killed instantly.

Fire from crash threatens nearby homes

High school students working in the area heard the crash and ran to see what happened.

"First I saw the black smoke, and then we came over later and that whole side [of the hill] was just engulfed in fire," witness McKay Nielsen said. "We heard this big boom, and then a tree just lit up."

"Huge; it was black. You could not see through it," said witness Hailee Wiest. "And you could see it was going into the person's house; 'cause it's just a fence, it's not cement, so it was going into their backyard."

The fire threatened homes in the Eagles Landing Cove neighborhood. McCade Miller was reading a book inside his home when he heard the crash. He was talking to firefighters about it when flames started coming toward his house. He got out a garden hose to try to douse the blaze.

"I was pretty close to them," he said. "I mean, it's not smart, but you gotta keep it from getting worse; and I didn't want my vehicle or anything else being damaged."

Miller also got some help.

"Several of the neighbors ran over and just were pulling hoses from the other parts of the house," he said.

Luckily, crews were able to put the fire out before any homes were damaged. Miller says a neighbor's car was damaged, but the fire didn't make it much past his property line.

UHP is continuing its investigating to determine exactly what happened to cause the crash.

Stay tuned to KSL.com, KSL Newsradio 102.7FM/1160AM and KSL TV for the latest updates.

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Story compiled with contributions from Nicole Gonzales, Sandra Yi, Mary Richards and Cleon Wall.

Home video courtesy Matt Arnold and Steve Saxton.

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