KANOSH, Millard County – Four days after high winds spawned a dust storm leading to a series of crashes that left eight people dead, one of the first responders reflected on the toll and efforts to rescue survivors.
"There is a lot of tragedy, a lot of heartache that's still going on, that the families are feeling, that we're feeling as well," Utah Highway Patrol trooper Zach Breur said Thursday.
Breur described driving into a "wall of dust" on Sunday kicked up by winds and neighboring, drought-stricken land, including a feed lot.
"I could hardly see in front of me," Breur said. (We were) just realizing it's going to be really bad because we kept getting more and more calls and more crashes."
When the trooper pulled up, he said he and a sheriff's deputy scrambled to figure out where they were needed most and who required medical care.
"I found a vehicle that had a small child in there and that was my first focus and attention," Breur said.
He confirmed the boy was the sole survivor in the vehicle which was later identified as belonging to the Sawyer family.
The 3-year-old is the son of Kortni Sawyer, 30, who died along with her two other children, 6-year-old Riggins and 2-year-old Franki.
Relatives Race Sawyer, 37, and his 12-year-old son, Ryder, were also killed.
"(I was) making sure that kid was OK, trying to talk to him, get him to talk back to me, hold my hand and just wait until the other first responders arrived," Breur said.
(I was) making sure that kid was OK, trying to talk to him, get him to talk back to me, hold my hand and just wait until the other first-responders arrived.
–Zach Breur, UHP trooper
Breur said firefighters were able to get the boy out and transported him to Primary Children's Hospital, where he was subsequently released according to a family GoFundMe page*.
Twenty-two cars were involved in the series of crashes, which also claimed the lives of Richard and Maricela Lorenzon of Salt Lake City and Cameron Valentine, 15, of Yuma, Arizona. Nearly a dozen people were transported to hospitals.
"Our first responders were able to get in and save a lot of people from that," Breur said. "It could have been a whole lot worse if it wasn't for their training and their experience to get in and do what they need to get done."
Breur said troopers regularly plead with drivers to slow down in bad weather—rain, snow or a dust storm. He also urged drivers if they're worried they're going to be hit from behind to pull off the interstate.
He also encouraged people to take advantage of the time they have with friends and loved ones.
"Make sure we take care of those who love us and are around us so that if something like this does happen that you don't regret not being able to do that in the end," Breur said.
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