Slow down, my husband works here

High number of trooper crashes concern spouses, but safety depends on motorists

Published: Sunday, March 3 2013 4:50 p.m. MST

Physical therapy aide Brad Smith, left, helps UHP trooper Brent Shelby with rehabilitation in Lehi, Friday, March 1, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An unprecedented 16 times so far this year, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper or a trooper's vehicle has been hit on the freeway.

And 16 times, a member of the UHP's top brass has made an impassioned plea to the public to slow down and give troopers space on the road.

Now, some of the spouses of those troopers are hoping that if the public won't listen to those in uniform, perhaps they'll listen to them.

"They just think of (the troopers hit) as cops. They don't realize they're husbands and they're fathers, they're supporting a family by going out there and doing that. They have a lot more to lose than a car," said Erin Pope.

"They're fathers and they're husbands and he's not just a guy out there in a uniform. He means something to somebody."

Pope's husband, trooper Mike Pope, was attending to an accident on Feb. 23, sitting in his patrol car waiting for a tow truck to arrive. Suddenly, another vehicle came up too fast and slid out of control on the snowy and icy road, smashing right into him.

"Please, please move over. Think of somebody else besides yourself for a moment and realize they're out there protecting other people," Alisha Shelby pleaded to the public.

"One day it may be (you) that they're protecting," she said. "They need to realize troopers have families they need to get home to every night."

Though Shelby's husband isn't one of the 16 troopers hit this year, Brent Shelby is the trooper who was most seriously injured this winter season when he was hit by a vehicle on Christmas Eve.

Shelby was responding to an accident on I-15 near 7600 South. He was outside his car, setting up road flares to caution other drivers to slow down, when a driver came around a corner too quickly, lost control and knocked him over the hood of her vehicle. Shelby landed on his head on the concrete.

Alisha Shelby and her three children, ages 5, 3 and 1, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the hospital.

"It pretty much took his leg and twisted it all around. It tore every ligament out of his knee that can be torn out, and so it will be a long recovery for him," said UHP Col. Daniel Fuhr.

Shelby, who walks today with the assistance of a cane, isn't expected to be able to return to work for another nine months to a year. He is scheduled for another surgery in three months. Until then, he goes to his physical therapy sessions three times a week as he slowly tries to regain his strength and full use of his leg.

Despite the severity of that accident, many motorists still did not slow down, and the number of accidents involving troopers continues to pile up as frequently as the snow flies.

In January alone, the Highway Patrol had 464 extra shifts filled by troopers to work snow days. There have been more than 3,000 crashes and 7,000 motorists in need of help this year so far — translating into a 56 percent increase in freeway crashes.

Six of the 16 crashes involving troopers during 2013 occurred along a seven-mile stretch in Salt Lake County between Murray and Salt Lake City. In all but one of those crashes, a trooper was assisting with another accident when he was hit.

In January alone, nine UHP troopers were hit, including four on Jan. 24, the day of the ice storm. Just 12 troopers were hit during all of 2012.

"When I'm back out there in that snowstorm, it's a little almost post-traumatic because I'm really concerned about being hit again," said UHP Lt. Lee Perry, who suffered a knee injury when he was hit Jan. 27. He is now back on the job.

"After being hit once, you're really concerned when you get out there, you're watching that traffic thinking, 'I don't want to be No. 17.'"

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