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About Utah: Honoring life by making safer curves in Parleys Canyon

Published: Monday, Aug. 5 2013 9:48 a.m. MDT

Doug Jones holding his granddaughter Kate the day before he died.

Jones family photograph

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PARLEYS CANYON — Between the taxes we have to pay, the orange construction cones we have to dodge and the politicians we have to tolerate, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that so much of what gets done in our society is to improve our quality of life, make us safer, and create a better place for the next generation.

I bring this up today with considerable chagrin because of the number of times I’ve driven my car through the mouth of Parleys Canyon this summer and grumbled about the construction hassles I’ve had to put up with — the delays, the 55-mile-an-hour fines-doubled speed limit, the three or four minutes it adds to my commute.

Until the other day when a friend happened to mention that the reason for the construction is because they’re improving the freeway drainage system.

Suddenly, the project took on a different glow entirely.

Doug Jones was a friend of mine. It’s been seven years ago now, almost to the day, since he died. He was traveling in his Land Cruiser down Parleys Canyon, on the way to see his twin granddaughters, Claire and Kate, born the day before at LDS Hospital.

Minutes earlier, a torrential downpour had passed through the area like a tsunami. As he negotiated the curves by the quarry a mile and a half from the entrance to the Salt Lake Valley his wheels hit the water that had backed up on the blacktop, a lake with nowhere to go. The car hydroplaned out of control. Doug’s body was so mangled when they pulled it from the wreckage his wife Polly could only identify him by the contents of his car.

Earlier that day, I’d spent the morning with Doug and another seven or eight guys on a bicycle ride up Little Cottonwood Canyon. We were on our way to watch the Tour of Utah bike race — the same one that will be held again this week. The plan, as orchestrated by Bill Johnson, always the organizer of such things, was to ride up the canyon to a suitable spot where we could pull over and wait to watch the pro riders suffer up the 10-percent grade — Utah’s answer to Alpe d’Huez.

We got as far as Seven Turns and then pulled off to the side to join the other spectators. Soon enough, there the racers were, looking appropriately gassed. After they passed, we got on our bikes for the good part – the ride down the 10 percent grade. Doug was the only one in the group who suggested, and I remember this distinctly, that we keep on riding up to Snowbird.

Completely outvoted, he followed us back to our cars at the bottom. We were parked next to a Burger King. I hadn’t brought my wallet.

The last thing Doug Jones ever did for me was buy me a Whopper with cheese.

He was that sort of guy. I remember another bike ride with him when Scott Doughman thought he’d ride, instead of walk, the spine part of the Wasatch Crest trail we called stegosaurus because it looks like a dinosaur died there, leaving the sharp points of its back exposed. He almost made it, too, until the last part, where he fell, and since he’s 6-foot-6, it wasn’t a short fall. He broke his wrist. We had to walk our bikes down the steep slope under the Ninety-Nine 90 lift at The Canyons. We thought we’d have to leave Scott’s bike there, until Doug picked it up and carried it on his back.

I remember a story one of Doug’s sons, I think it was Brennen, told at his funeral. This was just after baseball’s steroid scandal and Doug was watching a story on TV about a fan who paid thousands of dollars for a home-run ball hit by Barry Bonds. Doug said if he caught a ball hit by Barry Bonds, he’d throw it back on the field. His kids asked him why he’d do that. “Because I hate cheaters,” he said.

So that was Doug and I will always wish we had kept on riding to Snowbird that morning.

Then his schedule for the rest of the day would have backed up and maybe the lake at the mouth of Parleys Canyon wouldn’t have disappeared when he got there but it would have been smaller.

At the time, there was a lot of finger-pointing about how he was traveling too fast for the conditions. But as anyone who has driven Parleys regularly knows, that section of road puddled up way too fast and was way too dangerous.

This summer’s construction project tacitly acknowledges that — there wasn’t much Doug, or the numerous others who have skidded out on those curves, could have done when the conditions turned suddenly freakish.

After I learned of the reason for this summer’s construction, I paid attention to the huge cement rings they’re placing under the freeway to better contain Parleys Creek and to the drainage system running down the center median.

It’s costing tax money and killing my time, but to me it’s a tribute to the society we live in that constantly tries to make things safer and better, and to a good man I knew who was always looking out for others.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com

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