Type of ATV crash that killed Orton all too common

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JUAB COUNTY -- Former Utah Congressman Bill Orton died Saturday from a type of ATV crash that's all too common in sand dunes. It appears he went too fast over the top of a dune and wound up pinned underneath his heavy four-wheeler. As far as we know, no one witnessed Orton's ATV crash. So the precise details may never be known.

But experts say it seems pretty clear he made a common mistake that's claimed lives before in the Little Sahara Sand Dunes.


The sand dune that killed Bill Orton doesn't look like much--not too tall, not too rough--but just steep enough to get him into trouble, like many before him.

Little Sahara Sand Dunes Manager Tim Finger said, "A lot of people tend to think about just coming out here and having fun. But it's just like driving a car. You have to think about what you are doing."

We crisscrossed the deadly dune with veteran driver Ken Poulsen. In the so-called "sandbulance," he frequently swings into action to rescue the injured in a place where wind constantly resculpts the landscape.

"It changes all the time," Poulsen said. "One day the tops of the dunes will be rounded; the next day they're like razors."

The problem is when you're going up a dune you don't know what's on the other side. And if you get to the top and it's too steep and you're going too fast, you can be in real trouble.

Poulsen recommended, "Either turn when you get to the top or stop."

Poulsen suspects Orton raced over the top. When he realized how steep the backside was, he may have suddenly applied his handbrakes, locking the front tires, so the four-wheeler flipped over and landed on top of him. It's a common mistake that leads to a lot of accidents.

"Maybe they're going a little bit too fast and they're already committed so, as they go over the dune, maybe they have a little too much speed and they lean forward a little bit too much and they flip the ATV," Finger said.

Although drivers can learn safety measures on their own, training for adults is not mandatory.

Finger said, "State of Utah requires that children in particular have to have training. We would always say you can use more training."

About two or three people a year die at Little Sahara Sand Dunes.

Managers say they think that's actually a rather low fatality rate, considering that on a busy day as many as 30,000 people are out there and a lot of them doing some pretty wild driving.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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