CEDAR CITY — Two people were injured and two vehicles were damaged late Saturday night when they struck a portable cooling unit in the middle of Interstate 15, an incident that authorities say illustrates the continuing problem of improperly secured loads.
Police say they suspect the item, described as a “large commercial air conditioning unit” had fallen out of the back of a truck.
“It’s dark and this object was just in the middle of the road, which is not something that most drivers expect, and two vehicles struck it,” Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Shawn Judd told Cedar City News.
The incident reportedly occurred at approximately 11:20 p.m. on northbound I-15 between Exits 40 and 42.
According to UHP’s report, the first vehicle to hit the piece of equipment was a Mazda sedan driven by an adult male resident of Enoch, while the second vehicle involved was a Chevrolet Cruze driven by an adult male from Cedar City and his wife, who is eight months pregnant.
Cedar City resident April Harwood said her daughter Tanisha Smith and Tanisha’s husband, Andrew, were on their way back from the Veyo rodeo when the incident occurred. Harwood posted photos and details about the incident on Facebook a few hours after it happened.
“He (Andrew) saw it right at the last moment, so he was able to swerve,” Harwood said. “All of the damage was to the driver’s side. If they would’ve hit it head on, it would have been a lot worse.”
She said both were later treated at the emergency room of Cedar City Hospital.
“They both had sprained ankles, and her husband’s lower back was strained,” Harwood said, adding that the couple’s unborn child was also checked by medical staff, and everything appears to be fine.
The Cruze sustained moderate damage in multiple areas on the driver’s side and needed to be towed. UHP officials said the Mazda’s driver, who wasn’t injured, was able to drive his vehicle away from the scene.
As of Tuesday, investigators say they do not yet have any leads as to who might have lost the load, only that it was more than likely a pickup truck driver.
The equipment appears to be a black or gray Port-A-Cool 2000 brand evaporative cooler mounted on casters.
Judd told Cedar City News that the issue of roadway debris from improperly secured loads continues to be a serious problem on roadways throughout Utah.
“We’ve had injuries and fatalities involving debris, and it is a fairly substantial contributor to crashes that we investigate around the state,” he said.
“It’s a very dangerous situation. It’s dangerous for drivers. It’s dangerous for us to have to go out there and try to either do a slowdown or wait for a break in traffic to be able to remove the item from the roadway. It’s just a very hazardous situation.”
Judd offered a few pertinent safety reminders for drivers who may be transferring loads, as well as those who may encounter debris while traveling.
“Anything that you’re carrying in or on your vehicle that you as an operator are responsible for, that needs to be properly secured,” he said. “People just put … wheelbarrows and ladders and things like that in the back of a pickup, and they get up to freeway speed, and next thing you know, it’s airborne and it’s out on the roadway.”
Judd said another commonly seen example involves flatbed trailers traveling with wooden boards near the bracing.
“There’s nothing holding those four-by-fours in there except for friction and gravity,” he said. “You know, you drive enough miles and it vibrates enough, they can start to fall out. A four-by-four in the road for a motorcycle, that can be a fatal crash if they hit it at 80 miles an hour. It can also hit the ground and flip up and go through somebody’s windshield.”
Additionally, even though both drivers in this particular incident were able to escape serious injury, Judd said as a general rule that if drivers encounter debris or animals in the road, they should “very rarely” swerve suddenly, which can cause a vehicle to roll.
“Especially at freeway speeds,” he said. “Even for the best drivers, that’s a very hard thing to do. We have had fatal crashes because an individual swerved to try to avoid a deer or a wooden chair or a cardboard box in the road.”
He noted that in such cases the outcome might have been less tragic had the drivers gone ahead and struck the object instead, either directly or at a glancing angle.
“They can cause damage, but vehicles are made to absorb impact,” he said. “Far more people are killed by that type of maneuver, swerving and trying to avoid something, than people killed by hitting some type of object or debris in the roadway.”
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