Community rocked by two I-80 deaths
Two fatal crashes in two days in Parleys Canyon closed a major freeway near Park City and caused word to quickly spread through a town home to commuters who jockey daily with semi-trucks over a steep mountain pass.
Interstate 80 can become treacherous when weather conditions quickly turn severe.
But slick roads may not have factored into an accident Sunday that killed 3-year-old Alexis Paget, of Deer Mountain, as she traveled with her mother in a Ford pickup truck on Interstate 80 eastbound near the exit to Lambs Canyon, Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Preston Raban said.
Investigators were unsure Tuesday what caused a Ford Escape driven westbound by 47-year-old Suzanne Graser, of Woods Cross, to strike 30-year-old Annette Paget’s truck and another vehicle when Graser crossed the median around 5:19 p.m.
The 3-year-old, who was in a safety seat at the time, died at the scene of the crash before her mother was transported in an ambulance to University Hospital where Tuesday she remained in critical condition.
His wife, who was wearing her seat belt, has lost her arm above the elbow, has facial injuries and liver damage, Annette’s husband Tim Paget said.
"It’s going to be a really long haul for her," he said.
The couple in December lost their son Shawn after the newborn lived for 17 days and Paget was reeling this week in the wake of the death of a second child.
"Since December I’ve buried two children I have an eight year old son who is Annette’s stepson, and he still needs us," Paget, 35, said in a telephone interview. "We had just gotten over the death of our son, but when Shawn died, I learned then, you’ve just got to handle it day by day."
To assist the Paget family donations can be made to an account at Wells Fargo Bank called the Paget Family Donation Fund.
Driving another car struck by Graser was Park City resident Rayn Ewing, 17, who suffered severe head injuries in the crash and was flown to University Hospital in extreme critical condition.
"We’re praying," said Dezirae Kelsch, who is Ewing’s sister. "There is no prognosis, it’s a time issue and we’re really just hoping she pulls out of it."
Insisting her sister is a fighter, Kelsch, who is 36 years old, said, "We’ve got a good support group so we’re doing really great."
Ewing was driving home from another sister’s house in Salt Lake when the accident occurred.
Her sister suffered a broken femur in the crash and had emergency brain surgery when she arrived at the hospital, Kelsch said.
At the time of the crash troopers say Ewing was wearing a seat belt.
Graser and two children who were riding with her, who were also wearing seat belts, suffered only minor injuries in the crash, troopers say.
Roads were reportedly dry when troopers arrived at the scene of the crash, which forced the closure of eastbound lanes.
Meanwhile, early Monday a Salt Lake City man died after he slammed his Nissan Maxima into the back of a slow-moving semi-truck in the same area on Interstate 80 westbound, according to Raban.
Brett Ericksen, 28, died at the scene of the crash around 3:15 a.m.
Though alcohol and drugs don’t appear to have been factors, troopers say Ericksen may have been speeding before he hit the truck.
"Speed was a factor," Raban said. "[Ericksen] didn’t even touch his brakes."
The crash did not injure the driver or a passenger in the semi-truck, which was traveling roughly 30 mph when Ericksen struck it, investigators say.
About 25 of the more than 100 accidents that occurred Sunday and Monday on Interstate 80 between Parleys Summit and Interstate 15 involved injuries, Raban said.
"People cannot drive in excess of the speed limit or they’re going to get themselves into trouble," he said, adding that drivers routinely travel 80 mph through Parleys Canyon. "If they could slow down even slower than the speed limit they will really help themselves and others get up and down that canyon without any problems."
Westbound traffic was closed Monday evening while one man was taken to the hospital in an ambulance following a separate crash that involved three vehicles in Parleys Canyon. The injured man reportedly lost control of the semi-truck he was driving.
"The thing we’re trying to emphasize to people is just because you think that the road is clear and dry does not mean that there is not a possibility of frost or ice accumulating on the road," Raban said. "The shady areas that don’t get hit by the sun stay that temperature and the moisture will hold to the road and cause slick spots."
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The Park City Police Department last week received reports of drivers struggling in a late-season snowstorm. The complaints were logged in various locations inside the city. The accidents did not appear to be serious.