WASHINGTON COUNTY – A motorist broken down on the side of the interstate was assisted by several emergency responders who helped the man change a blown tire late into the night.
Just before midnight Tuesday officers were dispatched to a reported truck fire on Interstate 15 southbound near mile marker 33. The St. George Communications Center received several calls from various motorists reporting the incident, voicing concern after seeing sparks fly from the back of the vehicle, Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Lewis said.
As emergency personnel from the UHP and Hurricane Valley Fire arrived they found a truck and trailer pulled onto the emergency lane. The driver told officers he blew a tire before reaching Exit 33, and pulled to the shoulder to inspect the damaged wheel.
Authorities then realized the calls received by dispatch reporting a truck fire were from motorists driving behind the stricken truck, Lewis said. The blown tire exposed the metal axle that showered sparks all over the roadway, leading other drivers to believe the trailer was on fire.
Since the incident was initially called in as a truck fire, a caravan of emergency responders arrived on the scene to assist. When they realized there was no fire, they could easily have left the man to change his own tire and get back on the road.
They could have, but they didn’t.
Instead, the group of emergency personnel including UHP Troopers Matthew Pratt and Chris Lewis, firefighters from Hurricane Valley Fire District, and Hurricane Valley Fire EMT’s stuck around to help the stranded motorist out.
While there’s not a specific protocol for troopers to refer to when assisting motorists with tire changes, everyone knows it’s just part of the job, according to UHP Sgt. Jalaine Hawkes,
“It’s just something you learn when you become a trooper with the Utah Highway Patrol,” she said, “and we change a lot of tires out there, at least one a day.”
Hawkes said the main objective is to get the motorist back on the road and off the shoulder as quickly as possible, to minimize the amount of time they are exposed to oncoming traffic.
“Motorists can sometimes drift over into the emergency shoulder without realizing it,” Hawkes said, which means anyone stuck on the side of the road can be in extreme danger the longer they are there.
One recent incident on SR-201 near Magna in northern Utah provides a constant reminder of the dangers facing troopers and others who stop along the interstate.
The SR-201 incident involved two brothers in separate vehicles who were stopped along the roadside to change a tire. The driver of a third car lost control and crashed into one of the parked vehicles, crushing the two brothers as they stood between their parked cars, FOX13 reported at the time.
The brothers had stopped and pulled onto the shoulder at 1 p.m. on a dry roadway in clear weather, and both were tragically killed, Hawkes said.
Drivers who experience a blown tire or other mechanical failure while driving are cautioned to remain in their vehicles if at all possible and wait for emergency personnel to arrive.
Troopers can assist the motorist in quickly changing a tire and can provide lighting or flares on a dark roadway. Placing patrol vehicles on the shoulder to warn other motorists is another safety measure, Hawkes said.
“At the end of the day our goal is to keep motorists safe,” the trooper said, “and if it means changing a tire or remaining on scene until the problem is fixed then that’s what we do.”
This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
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