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SALT LAKE CITY — A veteran trooper had three fingers severed and suffered a serious injury to his arm Wednesday when he was sideswiped by a vehicle while investigating a separate accident.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Chris Dunn, 47, was hospitalized Wednesday in critical but stable condition after suffering "extensive trauma" to his left arm and hand. UHP Lt. Steve Winward said the trooper's pinkie, ring and middle fingers were severed in the accident and he also suffered damage to his forearm.
Dunn underwent surgery Wednesday and doctors were working to try and reattach the man's fingers.
The incident began just before 6:30 a.m. when a slow-moving semitrailer going east on I-80 was rear-ended by a van near the Lambs Canyon exit. There were no life-threatening injuries in that accident, said UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson, but a medical helicopter was called as a precaution.
While investigating that accident, Dunn went to retrieve a measuring device from his car and was leaning in on the driver side, bracing himself with the door, when he was hit by a utility truck, Johnson said. Dunn's arm "took the full force of the impact."
The limb was apparently caught between the trooper's car door and the car itself, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. That accident happened about two hours after the first accident.
The 21-year-old driver of the truck was having trouble shifting gears and looked down as he attempted to shift, veering off to the right in the process and sideswiping Dunn with the bed of his truck, Hoyal said.
He was flown by AirMed to University Hospital, where he was initially listed in extremely critical condition, Hoyal said. He was later upgraded to serious condition when he entered surgery.
A constant concern
Many troopers have similar stories. Lt. Winward is Dunn's friend and colleague. He arrived on scene right after the crash. Lt. Windward had a very close call himself a couple of years ago as he wrapped up a traffic stop.
"I just had this distinct feeling that I needed to get back in my vehicle," Winward said. "I jumped in my vehicle, and as I shut the door, this vehicle took the door right out of my hand. Had I been standing where I was, I wouldn't be here today."
Last December, a trooper was hit for the second time in one year. And back in 2009, 15 troopers were hit in just two months. Dunn is the fifth UHP trooper to be hit by a vehicle so far this year, Johnson said.
"If (drivers) see the red and blue lights, they need to slow down and move over," Winward said. "We deal with dangerous people every day unfortunately. It's some of the drivers that we're more worried about."
"A matter of inches, or a matter of seconds, (Dunn) could've lost his life," Winward said.
Hoyal said the accident likely could have been much worse had traffic not been slowed a bit by the earlier crash. The incident still serves as a reminder for motorists to slow down and move over.
"The bright spot in all this is Sgt. Dunn is still with us, but he's got a long recovery ahead of him," Johnson said. "This is a crash and an injury that should not have happened."
Contributing: Emiley Morgan.