Car gets sandwiched between semis, concrete barrier; Gorge collisions

ST. GEORGE – Traffic backed up for several miles in both directions on Interstate 15 through the Virgin River Gorge Sunday afternoon after an accident involving two semitrailers and a passenger car resulted in a fire and two further collisions.

Accident in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge , Arizona, March 16, 2014 | Photo by Megan Haun, for St. George News
Accident in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge , Arizona, March 16, 2014 | Photo by Megan Haun, for St. George News

The first crash occurred at approximately 3:25 p.m. MST, Arizona Highway Patrol Sgt. John Bottoms said, near Arizona’s mile post 13 in a construction area located in the middle of Bridge 3 of I-15 of the Virgin River Gorge.

Brandon Scott Grem, 24, from Spanish Fork, was traveling with passenger Kendyl Wyatt, 21, from Corona, Calif., in a black passenger car that he had just bought two days earlier, Bottoms said.

As Grem was driving northbound through the Gorge between two semitrailers, he slowed to a near stop to avoid rear-ending a semitrailer driven by Lusio Yamez, of San Bernardino, Calif.

A second semi did not slow down, and was traveling too close to other vehicles on the road to make a safe stop, so the driver, Kevin Swenson from Belgrade, Minn., tried to avoid hitting Grem’s car by pulling up the left side of him. Swenson ended up hitting Grem’s car and wedging it in between his truck and the concrete barrier, while rear-ending Yamez’s semi.

Truck involved in crash on I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge, Arizona Strip, Ariz., March 16, 2014 | Photo submitted courtesy of Josh, St. George News
Truck involved in crash on I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge, Arizona Strip, Ariz., March 16, 2014 | Photo submitted courtesy of Josh, St. George News

“The 18-wheeler had smashed them up against a concrete barrier wall of the bridge and a trailer so they couldn’t open their doors,” Bottoms said, “and the 18-wheeler that hit them started on fire so there was a lot of smoke billowing into the interior of their car.”

A passing motorist broke out the back window to pull both Grem and Wyatt out of the car, and then broke out the front window to turn the car off because the engine was running and revving really high. Both escaped serious injury, Bottoms said, ending up with only minor cuts and scrapes from flying glass.

Accident in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge , Arizona, March 16, 2014 | Photo by Sgt. John Bottoms, for St. George News
Accident in the Virgin River Gorge blocks Interstate 15 northbound traffic, Virgin River Gorge , Arizona, March 16, 2014 | Photo by Sgt. John Bottoms, for St. George News

“The one commercial vehicle (Yamez’s semi) that was rear-ended was able to pull forward and pull off the bridge; but the commercial vehicle that was at fault (Swenson’s semi) and the passenger car were stuck together,” Bottoms said, “and we had to wait for a tow truck to come out of St. George to pull them apart and then drive them off of the bridge. The compression on the vehicle kind of just squeezed it and crushed it like an accordion.”

Swenson was cited for failure to control the speed of his vehicle to avoid a collision, Bottoms said, and no other citations were issued.

The road was completely closed from 3:30-5:30 p.m. MST backing up traffic to about mile post 6 in Arizona, equating to about 7 miles of backup. All of the traffic was routed off on Old Highway 91 during that period of time.

As a result of the collision and traffic backing up, two other collisions occurred. Both were noninjury collisions with only minor damage to those vehicles but did lead to one arrest.

“One driver ended up arrested because he was extremely intoxicated and we’re really fortunate that he didn’t rear-end somebody at a much higher speed,” Bottoms said. “We actually witnessed that collision and it was just amazing that nobody was seriously injured with the way this other driver was driving.”

After the road was opened at 4:30 p.m., the residual backup traffic took another two hours to clear out until the road was completely free and moving again at approximately 7:15 p.m. MST.

Arizona Department of Transportation began road construction in January on a $2.8 million project to upgrade the southbound bridge surfaces, repair girders and perform other work on Virgin River Bridges through the 29-mile stretch of I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge. Bottoms said AHP has only seen a couple of collisions since construction started and most of it is because drivers haven’t merged properly, then cut someone  off resulting in a collision.

“Nothing quite like this where traffic is already moving at 35 mph – which is a really relatively low speed for the freeway and it’s the appropriate speed for this construction zone – so we really don’t know what Mr. Swenson was thinking or doing prior to hitting Mr. Grem’s vehicle,” Bottoms said. “He was obviously traveling way too close to the vehicle in front of him to make a safe and controlled stop.”

This report is based on preliminary information provided by the authorities and may not contain the full scope of findings.

Related Posts

Email: kscott@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

16 Comments

  • S. Carter March 17, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Very surprised (but thankful) that there aren’t more accidents in the gorge, especially with all the construction going on. I know we’ve all seen the stupidity come out of people while driving through the gorge. It’s some of the worst driving I’ve ever seen. I can’t even begin to count all the near accidents and close calls I’ve seen because some idiot can’t wait a few more seconds and decides to cut off a semi, or the morons who weave in and out of the lanes without signaling and take the curves thinking they’re Earnhardt Jr.

  • Bub March 17, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    crazy

  • Corkie March 18, 2014 at 12:59 am

    Thank heaven no one was badly hurt. I’m sure glad I wasn’t there, I don’t think I would ever go through the gorge again.

  • Grizzly Haan March 18, 2014 at 9:10 am

    i agree with you s. carter. and i hate to say it but the truckers that go through the gorge “regularly”, are actually quite hostile. they yell and scream at passing cars that they don’t know what they’re doing through the gorge at the construction zones. (because traffic slows down) they also treat everything like it doesn’t exist, which is why this happened. im glad nobody was seriously injured.

    • anonymous March 19, 2014 at 1:03 am

      Truckers need to get off their phones, stop texting, get on the radio. They give CDL to anyone. Bull ****, personally I’m tired of it, gives good truckers a bad reputation, idiots! What kind of an idiot squashes a car in the Gorge, maybe the grammar police.

      • Do September 8, 2014 at 9:45 am

        It’s called an accident ,there’s more car accidents then semi accidents .

      • Do September 8, 2014 at 11:03 am

        There’s more cars texting then trucks who knows what really happen , it’s just an accident so u full of bull ****

  • Robert March 18, 2014 at 10:31 am

    This article sounds like it was written by a middle schooler. Run in sentences?!? Does this “newspaper” even have an Editor?

    • Ken March 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Robert I see your grammar is lacking as well. Could you please tell me what run in sentences are?

  • Dave March 18, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Just drove through there today. I was wondering why the concrete barriers had a fresh coat of tire scrubs on it. I’ve been trucking through there quite a bit lately. Glad everyones alright. Sucks about the new car tho. . I’ll tell ya what tho…. I’m not a fan of the tourists who have never driven through there before.. When there’s no construction, they tend to have a hard time keeping the same speed and keeping an eye on the road…

  • anonymous March 19, 2014 at 12:59 am

    Grammar police, go get a life both of you are lame.

  • anonymous March 19, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Excellent concise writing, thank you .

  • beacon March 19, 2014 at 7:43 am

    I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents in the gorge generally. Add the construction piece, and it’s a recipe for disaster given the driving tendencies I see. It’s fortunate it wasn’t worse than it was.

  • Anonymous March 26, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    The driver of the car was only going 10 miles an hour and the trucker ran into him. The driver of the car is from Orem and so is not a tourist. The owner of the car is from California and was the passenger. Please read the article before commenting on it.

  • petroleum transportation specialist June 10, 2014 at 10:44 am

    I was traveling through the gorge that day and people were driving very aggressive and for some reason Arizona didn’t have any troopers out until the wreck and now they’re only out from sunup to sundown. It’s funny how people will put themselves into check when they see an officer but these officers aren’t doing anything, they just sit there. I’ve seen people coming into the gorge in the 35 mph construction zone doing 80 + and the trooper will just look at them.

  • Do September 8, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Where’s the sandwich part of the accident

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.