SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Highway Patrol officers who were hit by vehicles Thursday during an onslaught of freezing rain and major freeway pileups say they are lucky and grateful to escape with their lives.
Troopers Kristopher Cope, David Brooke and Sterling Clark were each hit along I-15 and trooper Joshua Porter was hit near 1900 West in Farr West during some of Utah's worst road conditions in memory. Each officer was hit while attending to accidents that had been caused by slick conditions.
None experienced life-threatening injuries, but each spent Friday recovering and urging motorists to slow down and give them more room at crash scenes.
Cope was thrown 15 feet after responding to a crash on southbound I-15 near 1300 South. He had just exited his car to assist the driver who had hit him from behind when another car slammed into the pileup.
"I remember seeing glass and car parts flying past my head, and then the force of the car taking me with it," Cope said. "The only thing I could think of was how I had said goodbye for the day to my wife and my little daughter 20 minutes before that had happened."
Cope and his wife, Megan, had welcomed their first child just 12 weeks earlier, just shortly after he began work as a trooper on Oct. 15.
"I turned on my phone and it was going crazy. … I called him immediately. It was a relief to hear his voice," Megan Cope said. "I'm just glad that he's alive."
Cope was ordered to stay home and recover, but he will be back to work by Tuesday.
"I have a bunch of bruises on my right side, (but) other than that I'm good to go," he said. "I have a little bit of a limp but nothing that's going to keep me down. "
Brooks, a 16-year UHP veteran, has been hit while on the job four times prior to Thursday, when he was hit in his car near the southbound 5300 South exit. He said he feels lucky to have avoided serious injury on each occasion.
"I really just have a bit of a sore neck and back," Brooks said. "I did go to the hospital but just out of precaution."
Not only do drivers put our lives at risk but they put their lives at risk. It's better to go slow and make it there safely rather than not make it there at all. -- Trooper Steve Winward
Brooks said he wishes drivers would recognize the risks of not adjusting their speed to the weather.
"We find it very frustrating to see people going these speeds and not giving us the room we need," he said. "We're very vulnerable out there on the side of the road. … We all have families we'd like to get back home to."
Trooper Steven Winward said commuters drive recklessly close to shouldered vehicles on a daily basis along the main corridor of I-15.
"Not only do drivers put our lives at risk but they put their lives at risk," Winward said. "It's better to go slow and make it there safely rather than not make it there at all."
Drivers who fail to shift lanes to move farther from trooper vehicles are subject to a misdemeanor fine under Utah's "Move Over" law.
"I'm always worrying," Megan Cope said. "I just wish people would put themselves in my shoes and slow themselves down."
Salt Lake and Utah counties reported 179 total freeway accidents Thursday due to the severe weather conditions.
Video contributing: Geoff Liesik