West desert party-goers rescued in heavy rains

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TOOELE — Dozens of college students were helped out of a muddy mess early Saturday after heavy rains stranded them in an area near Lone Rock.

"They were out there for a party and with the weather that has come in, the road is inaccessible to them to get in and out," said Bucky Whitehouse, emergency manager for Tooele County. He said 30 to 40 people had abandoned their cars and tried to make their way to the paved road, while another unknown number of people remained in their cars which were stuck.

"They're in a variety of conditions, some are inebriated and there have been some complications due to lack of sleep and being out in the cold," Whitehouse said, adding that there were no injuries.

A bus was called in to give the people a dry and safe place to wait while transportation options were worked out.

"There's no good plan, we're just kind of waiting," said James Maloney, a 19-year-old Westminster College student. "We're alright. We're having fun."

Maloney estimated that about "100-plus" people had gathered at Lone Rock late Friday "to party." When the rain started, people panicked and cars started leaving around 3 a.m. A private group page on Facebook had advertised the gathering.

"The water was up to our knees when we were walking out," said Andrew Johnson, a University of Utah student. He said most of the cars were directed off course, onto muddy, impassable roads.

The plan, he said, was to spend the night, but a fear of flooding caused the group to disperse. It was unknown how many people were involved, Whitehouse said.

They're still out there blinking their headlights to let emergency crews know they're there.

–Bucky Whitehouse, emergency manager for Tooele County

Various four-wheel-drive vehicles and emergency officials with Tooele County Sheriff's Office, North Tooele County Fire District and the Utah Highway Patrol were searching an approximate 3-mile radius around where the party was held, locating cars stuck in the mud hours after they had tried to leave.

"They're still out there blinking their headlights to let emergency crews know they're there," Whitehouse said. He said that a couple inches of rain fell in a short time early Saturday.

Many of the vehicles stuck up to their axles in mud were going to remain stranded on the dirt roads until tow trucks could make it into the area on a dryer day, Whitehouse said.

Storms were forecast to continue throughout the day.

Roads in Zion National Park were closed, as well as rural areas throughout the state, as heavy rains prompted flash flood warnings.


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Wendy Leonard


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