SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Highway Patrol Capt. Jeff Nigbur called the extended holiday weekend on Utah’s freeways “horrendous.”
From Wednesday through Sunday, the UHP responded to 598 crashes — 350 of those from Ogden to Payson — resulting in four fatalities.
There were also two tanker trucks that overturned during that time, snarling the freeway for hours. And an incident management truck from the Utah Department of Transportation was hit from behind while the UDOT employee was driving home. During the same period last year there were 434 crashes.
Combined with the storm that blanketed the state with snow and ice on Nov. 25, there were a total of 947 crashes on Utah’s freeways over the week of Thanksgiving, and 10 UHP patrol cars that were hit. No troopers were seriously injured.
There have been 31 UHP troopers hit in 2019 as of Monday. None have suffered any life-threatening injuries.
Most of the 10 patrol cars that were hit suffered rear bumper damage. But in Beaver County, Sgt. David Bairett’s patrol car was totaled when it was hit head-on by an SUV that was sliding out of control, Nigbur said.
Although he believes he has made the same plea to the public at least 200 times in the past, Nigbur on Monday found himself again stressing to drivers to slow down during winter weather.
“We need to start taking this seriously. Winter has started now and there are more storms on the horizon. We need people to slow down. We need people to move over. And we need to start driving in a manner that’s conducive to inclement weather,” he said.
Nigbur said he was out on the road helping his troopers when the week’s first storm hit the Wasatch Front on Nov. 25.
“It was an insane night,” he said. “We had everybody on hand. Everybody we could call out was out. It was an insane night. And again, I was out walking on the freeway and I did not feel safe. I did not feel safe.”
Nigbur said he was listening to his police radio when trooper Riley Rugg, who was helping with a crash on I-15 near 7200 South, started screaming.
“That just absolutely scared me to death as a supervisor,” Nigbur recalled. “I didn’t know if my trooper was hurt, injured, dying, whatever the case may be.”
Rugg was standing outside his car when he saw another vehicle lose control and start sliding toward him. Rugg jumped onto the cement wall median just as his patrol car was hit. The impact pushed his car into traffic where it was hit a second time.
Just as the UHP has asked in the past, Nigbur said drivers need to remember that troopers and other emergency workers all have families.
“We want them to go home every night,” he said. “Remember that we have families, too, and we want to make it home each night.”
Nigbur believes part of the reason drivers don’t slow down is because they've become overconfident over the summer.
“I almost want to place those drivers that are overconfident in their vehicles, I want to place them out on the freeway in our position and have them walk around the freeway and help the public … and have them kind of feel that. Because, trust me, you do not want to be out there. It is not a good feeling to be out there when cars are sliding off the road and when you have to jump retainer walls to make sure you’re safe and you get home at night,” he said.
Nigbur added that drivers should not blame UDOT for their crashes.
“Probably one of the things that burns me the most in several of the crashes I handled last week with my troopers was that people who got in a crash complained that UDOT didn’t clear the road enough or they didn’t put enough salt because of the ice, when in fact the main problem here is your driving behavior and you didn’t slow down enough for the conditions that were at hand,” he said.
We want them to go home every night. Remember that we have families, too, and we want to make it home each night.
–UHP Capt. Jeff Nigbur
Rob Wight, UDOT operations director, said two snowplows were hit over the holiday weekend by drivers attempting to pass them.
“That extra few minutes you may save by passing a plow is definitely not worth the risk,” he said.
Wight added that the safest place to be on the freeway during a snowstorm is behind a plow.
The UHP has 25 new patrol cars they were already preparing to add to their fleet, swapping out their oldest vehicles. Now, the UHP said some of those troopers with old cars may have to wait a little longer to get their new patrol vehicles.
The UHP also arrested 33 drivers for DUI from Wednesday to Sunday. During the same time period last year, 49 were arrested for driving while intoxicated.