UHP leaning toward misdemeanor charges in Tooele crash

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Highway Patrol will likely recommend misdemeanor charges for the Tooele County driver who veered into oncoming traffic and struck a car, killing three people.

The accident happened around 4 p.m. Saturday on state Road 138 near the Historic Benson Grist Mill. UHP says 23-year-old Kendra Naisbitt, 17-year-old Bailey Corless and 20-year-old Taft Ahlstron all died at the scene.

The only survivor is the driver of the other car, 18-year-old Jacob White. He is still at University Hospital recovering from bone injuries.

Troopers say it's likely White fell asleep at the wheel. "He seemed to think he was pretty tired. That's as far as it goes. That's why we've made the determination that it's either drowsy driving or distracted driving," said UHP spokesman Sgt. Jeff Nigbur.

Nigbur says UHP can only recommend misdemeanor lane violation and possibly reckless driving charges. "Even with that, we just, we feel, anyway, that we can't go any further than that. We just don't have the standard. We don't have the elements of the crime to be able to prove it," he said.

Robert Hull heads the Zero Fatalities campaign at the Utah Department of Transportation. He says that nearly half of the drowsy driving accidents nationwide are caused by people 25 and younger.

"That younger population, again they're pushing hard. They're having a lot of fun and working hard but not getting enough sleep, and that leads to those crashes," Hull said.

On Saturday, White was less than a half hour from home. Hull says people get into these crashes because they're tired, not because of long-distance travel.

"Usually, the majority of the crashes occur when the person is less than an hour away from their home or their origin," Hull said.

Safe driving advocates say being awake 20 hours is equivalent to .08 blood alcohol level, but these groups and law enforcement understand why they can't be punished the same.

"Some people know they're drinking, know they could injure somebody. But you could be wide awake and five minutes later be sleepy and fall asleep at the wheel," Nigbur said.

Nigbur says UHP has submitted White's blood for testing. He says they're not anticipating any alcohol to show up in his system. Those results could take up to a month.


Story compiled with contributions from Nicole Gonzales and Andrew Adams.

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