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OREM — A plume of steam condensed and dropped ice crystals on I-15 in Utah County, leaving a stretch of the interstate extra slick and leading to a crash that left a Utah Highway Patrol cruiser mangled, troopers said Monday.
The crash is the fifth-weather related mishap involving a UHP vehicle in a week, and troopers said drivers need to slow down to deal with the wintry conditions.
"It's got to be frozen," said Lt. Rich Christianson of roads that may only look wet with temperatures in the teens. "Just to what extent and how much is there is whether you'll have traction or not."
The latest crash happened just after 8 a.m. Monday in the northbound lanes of I-15 near mile post 274 and the Geneva Dump Overpass. Trooper James Wright was already working to assist the driver in an earlier crash when he spotted a pickup starting to spin.
"I looked up and I saw it doing several 360s as it was coming," Wright recalled. "I turned and started to run away from the vehicle. The vehicle kind of changed course and ran into the back of my vehicle."
Nobody was injured in the collision.
Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the pickup driver was driving too fast for the conditions, but was not cited. Highway Patrol officials said steam from a nearby power plant contributed to the slick road.
"That steam goes a little high and then condenses and just comes down in [something] like snow grains," Christianson said. "[It] kind of made that area a little slippery this morning."
Christianson said that scenario has unfolded before in the area when it's cold enough and when the wind is blowing in the right direction. Troopers are pleading with drivers to slow their speeds.
Wright alone recalled more than a handful of times in his career when he had to either jump out of the way of a sliding car, or accelerate in his car away from another vehicle that was about to crash.
In one case before Monday, Wright said he dove over a guard rail.
"If it's cold out and you see the roads are wet, there's a good chance some of it's going to be ice, and that's exactly what it was today," he said.
Last winter, 21 trooper vehicles were struck in weather-related crashes from December to March. Troopers said drivers should start to slow down as soon as they see emergency lights ahead.
"They should be able to see that 15 to 20 seconds ahead easily before they ever get to that incident or that crash — we want them to think about slowing down at that point," Wright said. "If that had happened today, the second crash definitely wouldn't have happened."