ST. GEORGE — Emergency personnel from multiple Arizona and Nevada agencies responded to a crash in the Virgin River Gorge Monday morning that left one person dead, caused significant injuries to others and closed northbound Interstate 15 for two hours.
Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Sgt. John Bottoms said that at around 8:20 a.m. MST, the driver of a silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan was traveling south in the northbound lanes of I-15 near the Cedar Pocket area of the gorge in Arizona.
The wrong-way driver first sideswiped a Hyundai Elantra before coming into contact with a Toyota Corolla and a red Ford Explorer. The vehicle then hit the center median wall and crashed head-on into a white Ford F-250, Bottoms said.
The driver of the minivan, a 39-year-old male from the St. George area, was suspected by officers on scene to be under the influence of alcohol – empty alcohol containers were found in the vehicle, Bottoms said – but that information had not been confirmed at the time of the report.
Bottoms said they do not know whether the driver got on the freeway going the wrong direction from an on-ramp or if he had pulled over and made a U-turn to head south in the northbound lanes.
“We have no witnesses to that,” Bottoms said.
The driver was wearing a seatbelt, but the amount of damage to the front of the vehicle from the head-on collision caused him significant injuries.
The man was transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George by ground transport where he was pronounced deceased, Bottoms said.
At the time of the report, emergency responders were trying to locate and notify the driver’s family.
Both the driver and front-seat passenger of the Ford F-250 were transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center with injuries, one, a male, by Mesquite Fire Department ground transport, the other, a 74-year-old female with a suspected hip fracture, by Intermountain Life Flight helicopter.
Though some of them received minor injuries, Bottoms said none of the occupants of the Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla or Ford Explorer were transported to the hospital.
The head-on collision caused a secondary crash between two vehicles that were a few cars behind, Bottoms said.
“Two vehicles tried to avoid the crash and ended up colliding with each other,” he said.
Occupants of one of the vehicles in the secondary crash were coincidentally on their way to Dixie Regional Medical Center for an established doctor’s appointment that they didn’t want to miss, Bottoms said. Once they were able, they continued to the appointment.
The collision closed all northbound lanes of I-15 from around 8:20-10:50 a.m. MST, while crews worked to clear vehicles and transport all the patients, Bottoms said.
The cleanup efforts required three separate tow companies that towed a total of five vehicles from the gorge.
Personnel and officers from the Arizona Highway Patrol, the Arizona Department Of Transportation, Beaver Dam/Littlefield Fire Department and the Mesquite Fire Department along with helicopters from Intermountain Life Flight and Mercy Air responded to the incident.
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