ST. GEORGE — A blown tire on Thursday sent a semitractor-trailer with a 35,000 pound load into oncoming traffic where two minivans narrowly escaped disaster as the truck rolled on Interstate 15 near Littlefield, Arizona, closing northbound lanes for some four hours.
Shortly after 1 p.m., emergency personnel were dispatched to a crash involving a semitractor-trailer hauling a load of produce that rolled and came to rest on its side near mile marker 4 on the northbound side of I-15.
Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper Thomas Callister told St. George News they arrived to find the overturned semi in the middle of the roadway and two minivans that were also involved in the crash. The driver of the semi reported he was uninjured.
One of the minivans had one occupant, the driver, he said, who also reported they were uninjured, while a family of four was in the second minivan, a couple and their two small children, who also reported they were uninjured.
The lack of injuries was a positive surprise, he said, adding that the minivan’s windows were completely shattered, which sent glass scattering into the interior of the van, including a child’s car seat.
“I can only attribute the lack of injuries to seat belt use,” Callister said. “That literally saved these people’s lives.”
Meanwhile, afternoon traffic began backing up as the northbound side of the interstate was completely blocked by the semi that landed sideways – which left the northbound side “basically shut down,” he said.
At the time of the incident, the semi was heading south hauling a 35,000 load of produce for Walmart when the left front steer wheel blew out, Callister said. The blowout reportedly caused the driver to lose control of the truck, which then veered sharply to the left.
According to several witnesses at the scene, Callister said the truck “went airborne for a second, jumped the berm and then landed on the northbound lanes of I-15 and rolled over.”
Witness statements were consistent with the evidence gathered at the scene, he said, adding that the impact sent a wall of rocks and debris flying in all directions.
The investigation also revealed that the semi endured “a catastrophic failure” to the left front tire, and once that happened there was little the driver could do to control the truck.
The driver of the minivan carrying the four occupants told troopers they were heading north from Las Vegas with their children to visit Zion National Park, and when the driver saw the semi come over the median to the northbound side, the man said his instincts told him to hit the brakes.
Instead, he hit the gas and when the vehicle shot forward, it narrowly cleared the semi and avoided “what would likely have been a catastrophic situation,” the trooper said.
“I mean that was so close the windows were shattered by all of the rocks and debris being kicked up when that semi came over the median,” Callister said.
The recovery operation to remove the semi and the box trailer meant that both northbound lanes of I-15 remained closed for nearly four hours, leaving “miles and miles” of traffic stopped and waiting for the scene to clear.
The semi was ultimately pulled upright and removed from the roadway, while both minivans remained operational and were driven from the scene.
Hundreds of motorists stuck behind the crash were also impacted by this collision, he said, and while responders are trained to clear a crash quickly to get traffic moving, there was nothing that could have been done to clear the roadway any sooner.
Regardless, he said, Thursday’s crash had a significant impact on every motorist involved. The northbound side of I-15 reopened at 5:15 p.m. MST, which slowly relieved congestion.
The Arizona Highway Patrol and Beaver Dam Littlefield Fire and Rescue responded and tended to the scene.
This report is based on statements from police, emergency personnel or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
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