ST. GEORGE — A family of four was severely injured after rear-ending a semitractor-trailer on Interstate 15 in Arizona Tuesday afternoon.
The incident occurred around 2:30 p.m. on I-15 at mile marker 11, in the area of a construction zone near the Virgin River Gorge.
As the driver of a rented 2019 GMC Acadia approached traffic that was backed up due to the construction, he didn’t to notice that the vehicles in front of him had slowed and swerved into the outside lane around some slower vehicles, Arizona Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Bottoms said. The SUV then slammed into the back of a stopped semitractor-trailer at a speed of about 60 mph.
The driver of the semitractor-trailer was uninjured, but all four passengers in the GMC suffered severe injuries, Bottoms said.
The family was visiting Southern Utah from Italy and were unable to speak English, making it difficult for responders to effectively communicate with them.
The mother, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was trapped in the vehicle after it became wedged beneath the trailer. Firefighters were able to extract the woman from the vehicle after cutting off the car doors and pillars and removing the roof.
Once she was removed, she was flown to Dixie Regional Medical Center by helicopter along with her teenage son, who was riding in the backseat behind her and suffered the most serious injuries.
The father, who was driving the vehicle, and his teenage daughter, who was sitting in the backseat behind him and received the least critical injuries, were both transported to the hospital by ambulance.
The nature of their injuries was difficult to discern, as they were unable to communicate exactly where they were hurting, Bottoms said, noting that all four of them were conscious and alert and able to express that they were in pain.
Responders attempted to speak Spanish to the family with little success, and they were unable to utilize translation apps due to the remote location of the crash.
“The teenage boy was injured the worst,” Bottoms said. “He was somewhat combative because of his injuries. He was in a lot of pain, so it was difficult to get him to relax, get him down onto a backboard and let the fire department begin triaging him.”
Traffic through the area flowed intermittently, as it had to be stopped when firefighters worked to extricate the woman from the vehicle and when the helicopters landed. Traffic was backed up 8 miles to mile marker 3. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office responded to help prevent more accidents at the back end of the traffic.
Beaver Dam/Little Field Fire District, the Mesquite Fire Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety also responded. The construction contractor, Fisher Sand and Gravel Co., also helped by providing a forklift to help lift the trailer off of the GMC so they could pull the vehicle out from underneath it. Many private citizens also assisted.
“It was chaos because so many people were stopped, because the highway was blocked, and people were trying to render aid but couldn’t communicate with them,” Bottoms said. “There were some really good citizens that stopped and helped and it would have probably been even more difficult if those good people hadn’t stopped.”
Two young women stopped to help tend to the teenage girl’s wounds. Bottoms said that he provided them with a first aid kit, and they wrapped her wounds with gauze to stop the bleeding.
A couple of men also attempted to help the teenage boy and prevent him from moving and injuring himself further.
“They weren’t medically trained personnel … They just happened to be the first people at the scene, and they were doing everything they could to try to give comfort and render some kind of first aid,” Bottoms said.
Bottoms was unsure whether the driver of the GMC would receive a citation.
“Anything we do to them now would just be salt on their wounds. They have significant injuries and they’re going to take a long time to recover from some of those injuries,” Bottoms said. “That will be punishment enough.”
Both adults were wearing seat belts, and it is unknown whether the passengers in the backseat were wearing them.
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