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Massive Pileup Closes I-80

Massive Pileup Closes I-80

Updated - Jan. 8, 2003 at 9:17 a.m. | Posted - Jan. 8, 2003 at 9:15 a.m.



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News Specialist John Hollenhorst reportingIt was mayhem on the freeway today. A massive pileup of cars, trucks, vans -- even a motorcycle, led to Utah's biggest freeway wreck in more than a decade.

"And then cars started bam, bam, bam, all you heard was popping. It sounded like a gun going off. Bam, bam bam," says Matt Golden, a Tooele motorcyclist.

At least 59 cars and trucks crunched together in what was really a frightening collection of accidents caused by cars spinning out of control.

Fourteen people were taken to hospitals. Remarkably, only one of them is in critical condition.

It happened on a mile long stretch of -I-80, five miles west of the Salt Lake Airport.

To put it bluntly, it was cars going too fast for the horrendous driving conditions that caused the mess. But in defense of drivers: there was little warning that trouble was up ahead, and that this stretch of I-80 would turn into a giant pinball machine.

It was a nightmarish scene in the early morning fog.

"I have not seen a pileup like this before," says Captain Alan Workman with the Utah Highway Patrol.

Cars and trucks dented.
Smashed.
Demolished.
Piled on top of each other -- 59 in all.
Including three semis, one of those on fire.

"Actually, when it was happening, I thought I was going to die. I just (saw) all those cars around me and I'm thinking, 'I'm going to die in this accident,'" says Stansbury Park resident Lisa Johnson.

The problem was dense fog, and a slick layer of invisible ice. UDOT says the freeway was clear and unslippery at 6 a.m., but by 7:30 it turned cold and icy, and it was rush hour.

"It happened right when the fog moved in. It was unfortunately a freak of nature and perfect timing, and boom, we had accidents," says Nile Easton with the Utah Department of Transportation.

Lisa Johnson spotted a car doing a 360 in front of her. She hit the brakes.

"There was no stopping. No stopping. Piled into him ... and then I was kind of moved to the side and other cars just kept piling into me. One ended up on top of my roof of my car," she says.

Another commuter had a similar experience on his motorcycle.

"I hit the ground and the minivan went over the top of me, pushed me underneath the vehicle in front of me," he says.

Worse yet, that car started to drive away with the motorcyclist underneath.

The worst case was a woman, trapped in her car under a burning semi, critically injured. It took rescuers an hour and a half to get her out.

Most drivers considered themselves lucky, or blessed, to walk away with minor injuries.

"I was hitting my brakes and thinking, 'please God, no, no. Please Father help me stop. I stopped and had time to say thank you, when another car hit me and knocked me underneath the other one," says Justin Lindner, a driver who was injured in the accident.

Highway Patrol troopers say it's a miracle no one was killed. They also say it's typical that in a big chain of wrecks like this, some cars with minor damage simply drive away.

So 59 vehicles is the official number, but think of it as the bare minimum of a wild morning out here.

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