When the fog cleared, James Buckles' truck sat compacted on the freeway, compressed like a closed Slinky between two large semitrailer trucks.

The cab of the pickup was compacted to less than half its size, the bed crushed beyond recognition.Rescue workers who helped Buckles shimmy from his Coca-Cola truck proclaimed him a miracle man.

Later, the 56-year-old Bennion man agreed, as he described watching one of the giant trucks approach his vehicle from behind. "And I thought `Adios!' I know I'm lucky to be alive."

Buckles showed reporters the scratches on his face, joking that the worst part of the accident was losing his watch. But Buckles was later taken to Bountiful's Lakeview Hospital, then flown to LDS Hospital, where he was treated for a broken collar bone and other minor injuries. He was released later that night.

Buckles and dozens of others wandered around the accident scene as the fog slowly diffused. Dazed, the victims bore badges of their trauma - bloodied faces and torn clothing - occasionally pausing to retell stories of horror and relief.

"I feel very lucky," said Steve Fry, of West Valley City. He, too, was extricated from his vehicle after it slid underneath a flatbed trailer. His only wounds were scrapes on his face. "I'm just counting my blessings."

In a season of weather-related fatal accidents, Wednesday's colossal bumper-car derby on the northernmost segment of I-215 looked like a war zone.

Three people died in one of five fog-related pileups within a two-mile radius Wednesday morning.

Seventeen people were injured. Fifty-two vehicles, including 10 big trucks, were smashed.

The accidents started about 9 a.m., clogging the freeway until 4 p.m.

Every available Utah Highway Patrol trooper in Davis and Salt Lake counties responded to investigate the accidents. Additional backup was provided by Utah County and Weber County troopers.

Police and fire rescue workers came from five agencies. Hazardous-materials teams came, too, to mop up spills of liquid oxygen.

Ambulances and medical helicopters parked on the closed freeway. Later, those spots were filled with a long line of tow trucks.

But before the swarm of emergency workers could arrive, passers-by did what they could to help.

Tony Taggart, Salt Lake City, was driving southbound on I-215 as the domino accidents occurred on the other side of the freeway. "One by one, they kept running into each other. You heard a screech and then a bang."

Taggart watched the injury of a semitruck driver. "His door fell open, he fell out, and his own truck ran over him after another truck hit him." Taggart and his wife, Feryeri, dragged the man, who was lying in the snow and yelling for help, out of the accident path to safety.

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MAP: Foggy driving conditions--Beck Street overpass, where I-15 crosses railroad tracks just south of Salt Lake-Davis county line.

Deseret News Graphic: What causes fog

In foggy conditions the air tends to drain like water drains. Until it becomes more widespread, fog tends to move to the lowest places, forming pockets. Fog tends to move to areas along the Jordan River, which acts as a moisture source. When the dew level drops to a certain level, then condensation and fog form.

Little particulates falling from oil refinery stacks act as nuclei on which condensation can fall, often creating hazardous driving conditions.--Bill Alder, National Weather Service\

Heat from the ground escapes into the air by radiation on a clear night. This chills the air near the ground to its dew point and causes the water vapor in the air to condensate.\