After gorge crash, bystanders help Italian tourists complete Route 66 dream

Route 66 travelers
Sara Gostoli and Joana Molon celebrate after finishing their journey along Route 66, Santa Monica, California, August 2019 | Photo courtesy of Sara Gostoli, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A childhood dream was fulfilled earlier this month, thanks in part to several bystanders who helped two Italian tourists after a crash in Arizona.

The scene of a crash on Interstate 15 near the Virgin River Gorge, Mohave County, Ariz., Aug. 3, 2019 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Sara Gostoli and Joana Molon were on the last leg of their journey exploring Route 66 and surrounding locales on Aug. 3 when their trip took an unexpected and upsetting turn as they were traveling along Interstate 15 near the Virgin River Gorge.

After pulling off the road that evening to take some photos just south of the Utah-Arizona border, the pair visiting from Bolognese, Italy, got back in their Chrysler rental car and were waiting for traffic to pass to reenter the freeway when disaster struck.

Police say a truck went off the road and slammed into the back of the Chrysler, pushing the car 10-15 feet forward into an embankment.

Fortunately, Molon and Gostoli were wearing seat belts and escaped injury. However, their rental car was totaled in the crash, leaving them without transportation in the scorching desert heat.

A Chrysler rental car is totaled after being rear-ended on Interstate 15 in Mohave County, Ariz., Aug. 3, 2019 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

The first person to come to the stranded travelers’ aid was a woman from northern Utah training to be a nurse. She witnessed the crash and pulled over to offer medical treatment to the women and the occupants of the pickup truck, who also escaped serious injury.

Among the first responders who arrived on scene minutes later was trooper Tom Callister of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, who said every effort was made to ensure Molon and Gostoli were safe and taken care of at the scene.

Those efforts included help from the nursing student, who remained at the scene to assist the Italian visitors find lodging in St. George for the night. Given their limited grasp of English, she made the phone call and relayed payment information to the hotel.

Crews from the St. George Fire Department used extrication equipment to free the women’s luggage from the trunk of the rental car, which had become wedged shut as a result of damage from the crash.

Another pair of bystanders who had stopped at the scene volunteered to drive the pair to the hotel where they could make arrangements to have the rental car replaced.

Sara Gostoli and Joana Molon visit the Las Vegas Strip, August 2019 | Photo courtesy of Sara Gostoli, St. George News

After Hertz Car Rental set them up with a replacement car, they concluded their trip with a night on the Las Vegas Strip and a victory lap at the Route 66 End of the Trail marker on the Santa Monica Pier in California.

In an email sent from Italy a week after the crash, Gostoli thanked the bystanders for helping them “conclude our wonderful trip across United Sates as planned.”

“You probably don’t know but this was our dream journey,” Gostoli wrote in the email. “Since we were young girls we dreamt about travelling across the United States along Route 66 and visit some of the amazing canyons in Utah and Arizona! And our dream did not break into thousand pieces a week ago thanks to you.”

“We have been sooo lucky to meet you guys in a time of such difficulty,” she wrote. “Your altruism and generosity fulfilled our hearts.”

Callister said a crash “certainly isn’t the way to welcome anyone into any state,” but the positive outcome and helpful bystanders will help Gostoli and Molon remember the United States as a good place.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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