ST. GEORGE – Susan Clark and Steven Clark will not be remembered for the sudden and horrific way they died, but for their courageous final actions and the powerful legacy they leave behind for family, friends and community.
At approximately 5:30 a.m. on May 24, a recreational vehicle belonging to the Clark family of Provo swerved off I-15 between the southbound St. George Boulevard and Bluff Street exits, crashing into the Snow Haven Townhomes community at 296 East 900 South in St. George. The RV barreled through a fence, block wall and garage, requiring the evacuation of three townhomes in the aftermath but no residents were injured.
The driver, 53-year-old Susan Clark, and her husband, 55-year-old Steven Clark, were pronounced dead at the scene. Their eight passengers, which included their children, grandchildren, in-laws and a live-in exchange student, received only minor injuries. They were all en route to Disneyland for a family vacation.
“Seeing the motorhome after the wreck, it is amazing that anyone survived and yet eight of 10 people walked away,” said Amber Chen, the Clarks’ eldest daughter, who was not involved in the crash. “My father and my sister-in-law were only a few feet away from each other, but that made the difference between life and death.”
The Utah Highway Patrol is still investigating the accident and the exact cause remains unknown. According to preliminary findings, the most likely factor appears to be a blowout in the RV’s front tire, which caused Susan Clark to lose control.
The Utah Office of the Medical Examiner has conducted autopsies on both Steven Clark and Susan Clark; an official report has not yet been released. However, UHP Trooper Jesse Williams said that findings from the UHP investigation support the assumption that the force of the crash combined with their seating locations caused their death.
No charges will be filed or citations issued in relation to the accident.
The Clark family, Williams and others involved in the investigation concurred that the accident would have been much worse were it not for Susan Clark’s courage and skill behind the wheel in her final moments. Described by Chen as an experienced, knowledgeable driver, Susan Clark had taught her husband and children responsible driving and motorhome safety, a practice that most likely saved lives.
“She always told us if we lost control, (try to find a ditch) to just ride it out. Don’t touch the brake or swerve, just ride it out,” Chen said. “The police officer who talked to me about the accident said he had never seen a motorhome that crashed and didn’t roll over. None of us have a doubt it’s because my mom was driving.”
Chen’s own 3- and 5-year-old children were in the motorhome at the time of the crash.
The Clark family
Montana native Steven Clark and Illinois-born Susan Clark met at the University of Hawaii and married in 1981 (they celebrated their 32nd anniversary exactly two weeks before the crash) and were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sealed for all time and eternity in 1983. Together they raised six children; Steven Clark, an advocate of energy-efficient building design, eventually became CEO of the Utah-based company Aquatherm, with his eldest son and son-in-law working alongside him.
Despite their success, the Clarks’ life was not picture-perfect. Chen said her parents faced many challenges, which they overcame with strength, faith and love for one another and their children. They were a very close-knit family that had their priorities in order and always found time to be together.
That was forever changed around 6 a.m. on the morning of May 24, when Chen received a frantic phone call from her sister-in-law relaying the terrible news.
“I began to panic. I immediately went into shock and could not stop shaking for a day and a half,” Chen said. “I called my brother (Adam Clark) and (we) were on the road to St. George in less than hour. It was very surreal.”
One of the few clear memories Chen has of that horrific day is gathering around a table with her stunned relatives in the evening. Susan Clark’s cell phone, which, amazingly, had been saved from the wreckage with nary a scratch, sounded a reminder alarm to mark her daily routine of reading scripture, a tradition her children have upheld in the trying days since.
The tragedy has brought the remaining members of the Clark family closer together than ever before and taught them valuable lessons.
“I think it has strengthened our belief that God has a plan for each of us. In the LDS religion there is a lot of talk about families being eternal, or about feeling close to loved ones even after they have departed this life, but when something like this happens I think you really find out just how far your belief goes,” Chen said. “We have felt their presence. Though it was a horrible shock to lose them both so suddenly, we know that they are together and that our goodbye is just temporary; we will be with them again.”
Inspired by the outpouring of support they received following the accident, the Clark family created The Susan and Steven Clark Charitable Fund as a way to honor their parents’ passion for giving back and vision of a better world through community service.
Donations of any size are encouraged and appreciated. More information can be found by contacting the fund at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The exact use of the funds raised has yet to be determined, but Chen said it will be combined with charitable donations designated in the Clarks’ estate to help “God’s children.”
Steven Clark had purchased his family’s RV and put it through a professional inspection just a few months before the accident. Though tragedies like the death of the Clarks are sometimes beyond anyone’s understanding or control, most traffic accidents are preventable, Williams said, and offered some tips for staying safe while on the road in an RV.
- Maintain your vehicle and have a check-up performed before taking it on a trip. Many RVs are used seasonally, sitting vulnerable to the elements for long periods of time, which can cause slow decay.
- Check for and replace parts showing wear or sun rot.
- Inspect your tires carefully. Check tire pressure and document age and wear. Even if a tire has tread, it’s not necessarily safe to use.
- Drive responsibly and obey traffic laws.
- Be alert to the actions of other drivers around you.
- Always wear a seat belt.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.