On the afternoon of Thursday, October 5, a van crossed over into the oncoming lane on Highway 89 between Orderville and Mount Carmel and collided with a northbound semitruck. The collision resulted in a third vehicle impacting the rear of the van.
The van had 14 occupants - according to highway patrol, the drivers of the semi and the third car respectively were uninjured, but three of the van’s occupants were airlifted in critical condition, and the others were transported to nearby hospitals with moderate to severe injuries. According to the Highway Patrol’s press release, there was no observable cause for the van to drift into the oncoming lane of traffic, and the investigation is continuing.
According to the Kanab Fire Department, “This incident presented multiple complications ranging from patient entrapment requiring extrication, multiple Air Medical resources and multiple ambulances transporting patients to multiple different hospitals. Both departments regularly train how to use Incident Command System and implement it in scenarios similar to the accident on Thursday, October 5.”
The stretch of Highway 89 where the incident occurred was blocked by debris and emergency response efforts, resulting in the road being closed for hours afterward. Traffic stopped almost entirely over the course of a cleanup period - some witnesses on the scene reported volunteers exiting their vehicles while traffic was stopped to aid in debris and trash cleanup along the traffic line - which resulted in a surge once the road was opened later that evening. Local witnesses reported traffic backups along 89 for the remainder of the day.
In an interview with KSL, Sgt. Joshua Johnson of Utah Highway Patrol said, “Some of the injuries were caused by unbuckled people hitting others, [who] possibly even were buckled. So, it was the unbuckled ones that were injured or injured others … I would say buckle up. Certainly, the passengers that weren’t buckled had more severe injuries, for the most part. It was several of the occupants in the van that were not seat-belted. So, seat belts, the number one thing you can do to help reduce your risk in a crash.”
In the wake of the incident, multiple emergency response agencies in the area cited the crash as a somber example of the cooperation necessitated by such an event. One representative of the Kanab Fire Department said, “it’s good to know we can work together with Cedar Mountain’s Fire District and the local police and medical services for an incident like this … we had multiple ambulances out, three helicopters, it was one of the larger responses.”
Commissioner Wade Heaton said in a letter to the Southern Utah News’ editor, “On October 5, on HWY 89, there was one of the worst accidents that our county has seen in many years … It tested the EMS system in our county to its limits! … We appreciate our first responders and EMS providers.” Responders offered their condolences to those involved in the accident who were harmed. One EMS responder said of the incident, “We don’t decide whose fault it is or who is liable for what. Even after things settle down, it’s important to try not to assign blame … a lot of the time the people you’d be blaming are the ones who got hurt the worst.”