Cause of fatal crash is unknown |

Cause of fatal crash is unknown

A 17-year-old Park City girl might have been distracted when she lost control of her vehicle and was killed Friday on Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch.

Erica Knell, who was the only person inside the Subaru sport utility vehicle, was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the traffic crash and was ejected, the authorities say.

"Obviously there are some crashes that the impact is so severe that the seat belt is not going to save them," Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Randall Richey said.

But, he added, "A majority of the crashes that we see that result in fatalities would not have been fatalities had there been a seat belt worn by the person."

Knell was traveling eastbound on Interstate 80 when the vehicle rolled several times into the median, Assistant Park City Fire Chief Bob Zanetti said, adding that all westbound lanes near Jeremy Ranch were blocked at 2 p.m. as drivers were directed off the freeway.

"She was coming down the hill," Zanetti said in a telephone interview Monday.

Knell had a pulse when she was airlifted from the scene but died later that day, he explained.

The Utah Highway Patrol was still investigating hours after the fatal crash, said Zanetti, who did not see skid marks to indicate Knell was speeding.

"There were major skid tracks to the west of accident," he said.

But a previous crash caused those marks, he added.

"They don’t know of any obvious distractions," Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Cameron Roden said. "It’s possible she could have fallen asleep."

Roden didn’t know if Knell was speaking on her cell phone at the time of the crash.

"What caused her to go off initially we don’t know at this point," Richey said.

Photos and measurements could determine if Knell was speeding before she crashed, he said.

"We don’t know why she went off the road, whether it was a distraction or whether she drove off," Richey said.

The crash did not involve other drivers, he said, adding that no witnesses saw Knell using a phone.

"For whatever reason they realize they are off the road and then overcorrect," Richey said. "The tail end comes around and that’s what causes a lot of these crashes, their overcorrection to the drifting off the road."

But Zanetti couldn’t say if wearing a seat belt would have saved Knell’s life.

"Seat belts save lives. That’s the bottom line," Zanetti said. "But as far as the outcome, you never know."

Drivers who do not wear seat belts in Utah could receive citations, he said.

People wearing seat belts often survive rollovers when they are not ejected from their cars, Richey said.

"Time and time again the actual passenger compartment of the vehicle is fairly uncompromised The single common denominator between the majority of our fatal crashes is failure to wear a seat belt," he explained. "If the person had been restrained into that passenger compartment more than likely they would have survived, but because they had been ejected and impacted with the ground they end up not surviving the crash."

No state law in Utah bans drivers from using cell phones but "careless driving" is not allowed, Richey said.

"If a person is doing something not related to driving and commits another offense other than speeding, it’s considered careless driving and is an enhanced penalty over what a normal traffic fine would be," Richey said. "If a person is on their cell phone or eating a hamburger and they drift out of their lane into somebody’s lane and cuts them off it could be considered careless driving."

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