HURRICANE, Washington County — An 8-year-old girl injured when an ambulance collided with a van remained in critical but stable condition Monday at a Las Vegas hospital.
Serena Affolter was in an induced coma at University Medical Center in Las Vegas to help her recover from head injuries, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.
The incident marked the second time this month that a Utah ambulance was involved in a major accident, focusing attention on the risks of emergency response and clarifying the responsibilities of both the emergency vehicle driver and the public.
Affolter was one of more than a half-dozen people injured Saturday when a van was T-boned by an oncoming ambulance on state Route 9 near 3400 West. The Hildale/Colorado City ambulance was transporting a stroke patient and had its lights and siren on, according to officials, but the van had a green light. The van was hit while attempting to make a left turn.
The driver of the ambulance, Lizzie Barlow of Colorado City, was cited for a red light violation. Although drivers on the road are expected to pull over when they hear an emergency vehicle approaching with its lights and sirens on, the lights and sirens are simply an attempt to make that happen:
"We are requesting a right of way. We are hoping the public pulls over to the right," Ball said. "When we approach an intersection we will try and clear that intersection and, in some cases, come to a complete stop before proceeding through."
Johnson said the public would "be surprised how many times someone won't see a big red fire truck with the lights and sirens approaching."
The Affolter vehicle was one of three or four cars making a left turn as the ambulance approached. The ambulance was traveling an estimated 60 mph, according to officials. A battalion chief for the Hildale/Colorado City Fire Department said the ambulance driver was experienced.
The ambulance had five crew members — including a person being trained on how to drive an ambulance — the stroke patient and the patient's wife. The van had four members of the Affolter family from Switzerland, including Serena and her 12-year-old brother.
Serena "took the majority of the impact in her door," according to the UHP. She initially was not breathing when medical crews arrived. Her brother suffered a lacerated spleen, her mother a dislocated shoulder and her father a cut forehead.
Three of the ambulance crew members suffered minor hip, shoulder and rib injuries. The stroke patient was also treated for an additional cut to his forehead that required stitches, according to the UHP.
In a similar incident on July 6, a North Davis Ambulance collided with several vehicles at the intersection of Sunset Drive and U.S. 89, resulting in the death of an 88-year-old woman and several others being injured.
Like Saturday's accident, the ambulance in the Davis County incident was traveling with lights and sirens on, but the other vehicle had the green light.
Once a police officer, firefighter, paramedic or ambulance driver receives a call to respond to an emergency, the drive itself is the most dangerous part.
"Every agency is going to have close calls. Every agency is going to have near misses in traffic. It's kind of the nature sometimes of it," said Unified Fire paramedic Steve Ball.
Saturday night, "The ambulance should have slowed down and cleared the intersection — slow and look and make absolutely certain that no one is coming and all the traffic is stopped and they can safely proceed," UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson said.
There are cases in which a driver can also be cited for not yielding the right of way to an emergency vehicle. Johnson said in this case, the driver that was struck was not cited.
The standard for emergency vehicles clearing an intersection is statewide. The UFA recently obtained a new driving simulator for fire trucks and ambulance drivers to practice those scenarios.
Ball said if a motorists hears or sees an emergency vehicle approaching with lights and sirens, they should pull over to the right, or if they are already in an intersection, just stay put until the emergency vehicle has passed.