‘Deadliest Days’: Utah drivers not heeding the warnings as 102 people die in accidents this summer

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MURRAY (ABC4 News) – The grim statistics are out on what’s called “Utah’s 100 Deadliest Days”. Over a hundred people died on Utah roadways between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day as state transportation officials say that even one death is too many.

The well-publicized goal is “Zero Fatalities” and they were bombarded with safe driving messages on overhead freeway signs, radio, and TV.

“There are three things that we need to focus on,” John Gleason of the Utah Department of Transportation said. “Buckling up, don’t speed and put away the distractions.”

But apparently the message is not getting through as 102 people lost their lives in accidents this summer, that’s tied for the 2nd highest total in the last ten years when we’ve averaged 89.9 fatalities a summer. The Utah Highway Patrol says a lot of the blame is on inattentive drivers.

“Somebody not paying attention for a moment. It can be from drowsy impairment, from distraction,” UHP Lt. Nick Street told ABC4 News. “We saw a lot of roadway departures causing fatal collisions.”

2020’s total could have easily been 105 after a woman driving an SUV recently hit a Utah Department of Transportation work truck on the side on I-15. UDOT Technician Colby Larsen, who was removing a piece of metal from the road saw her coming and jumped out of the way at the last second.

“I didn’t want to die that day,” Larsen said.

His partner and best friend Kurt O’Neal was still in the driver’s seat during the collision.

“The force, the sound,” O’Neal recalled Wednesday. “I look over and I can see the car flipping down the road.”

O’Neal initially thought the SUV struck Larsen.

“That was my first thought was if I look back there and I don’t see him…I might be getting out the truck to see his unconscious body on the side of the road,” O’Neal said while choking back tears. “I think that’s really what kind of messed with me…If he hadn’t been paying attention. It’s very likely that he wouldn’t be here…In a split second, everything could have been totally different and that’s pretty rough.”

The female driver survived with only minor injuries that day. As for O’Neal and Larsen, they are both back on the job, removing debris from roads every single day, although they say it’s a lot more nerve-wracking after that close call.

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