ST. GEORGE — A semitractor-trailer fully loaded with frozen muffins took out more than 3,000 feet of guardrail on southbound Interstate 15 before rolling off the shoulder and temporarily trapping both occupants inside of the cab early Wednesday morning.
At 2:45 a.m., troopers, deputies and emergency personnel were dispatched to I-15 near mile marker 35 on a rollover crash involving a fully-loaded semitractor-trailer. Initial reports indicated that both the driver and the passenger were trapped behind the steering wheel of the cab and were unable to climb out on their own.
Upon arrival, the semi was found off the right shoulder of the interstate upside down “with the wheels facing toward the sky,” UHP Sgt. Larry Mower told St. George News.
Firefighters got to work freeing both occupants from the semi’s cab before the pair were loaded into an ambulance and transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries.
“Fortunately, they sustained only minor injuries,” Mower said. “In fact, they were able to walk to the ambulance and have since been released from the hospital. ”
At the time of the crash, the semi was heading south from Ontario, Canada, hauling a load of frozen muffins. Just as the truck passed mile marker 36, the semi began to drift to the right as it continued over the hill at the Black Ridge exit.
The semi then struck the guardrail, taking out about 3,000 feet of it. Once it broke through the metal, the truck continued up the hill where it rolled, landing upside down.
“I mean that semi completely rolled,” Mower said. “Right now, that truck is still on its roof — I mean seriously.”
When the truck overturned, both occupants became entangled in their seat belts and were then trapped by the steering wheel. At some point during the rollover, both trailer doors were ripped open, which sent a portion of the load spilling out of the trailer.
A construction worker just north of where the semi ultimately crashed told troopers that seconds before the incident took place, he noticed the sound of tires moving at a higher pitch than the ambient sound of the surrounding traffic, Mower said.
While that doesn’t necessarily indicate the truck was speeding, the trooper said, it is something investigators are looking at as a possible cause. Mower added there was a total lack of skid marks along the roadway, which can be measured to help determine the speed the truck was going when it drifted to the right. He also said investigators found food that was strewn throughout the cab as the semi rolled, which could be an indicator that the driver may have been eating and possibly distracted.
“But again, we don’t know for sure if the driver was eating when this happened,” he said, adding the investigating trooper went to the hospital to follow up with the driver a few hours after the incident was reported.
The crash took place in the construction zone where the interstate is undergoing a repaving project, so the newly-paved lane adjacent to the median was ready and reopened soon after the crash, and the right lane was closed to provide room for equipment and workers to clear the scene.
A forklift was brought in to offload the shipment that “was completely compromised,” Mower said, and the nearly 80,000-pound load was discarded in multiple dumpsters that were also sent to the scene.
A crane was also brought in to pull the semitractor-trailer upright before it can be towed from the roadway, work that is still underway as this report publishes.
The semi is a total loss, the trooper said, as well as the freight it was hauling. Mower also made it clear that the construction had nothing to do with the crash, and added that the investigation into the cause is still ongoing.
The right-hand lane was shut down until after 1 p.m., but traffic was still flowing and the impact was minimal, Mower said.
Utah Highway Patrol, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Hurricane Valley Fire and Rescue and the Utah Department of Transportation responded and tended to the scene.
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