What it really comes down to … (are) personal decisions by drivers. They've got to choose to be safe. —UHP Maj. Michael Rapich
MURRAY — Utah Highway Patrol troopers are frustrated at the number of traffic deaths so far this summer, just one-third of the way in the "100 Deadliest Days of Summer."
The Utah Highway Patrol is investigating two fatal crashes: one Friday and another Sunday afternoon. Between those two crashes, nine people died.
"The really frustrating part of both these crashes is that they involved things that were absolutely preventable," UHP Maj. Michael Rapich said. "Both of these crashes involved cars on the wrong side of the roadway — one on an interstate driving the wrong direction, one of them making a bad pass over in the oncoming lanes, (and) both of them resulting in head-on collisions that were absolutely devastating."
On Sunday, a van carrying five people tried to pass another vehicle on U.S. 191 near Monticello in San Juan County. The van was traveling north just before 2 p.m. when it collided with a southbound car.
The car was pushed off an embankment and caught fire after the crash, which occurred in the area of Peters Hill, roughly 13 miles north of Monticello, according to UHP.
The four people killed in the van were identified as Samantha Blueeyes, 23, the driver of the vehicle; Alfreda A. Bowman, 28; Michael A. Blueeyes, 22; and Esmerelda Velasquez, 11, all of Salt Lake.
Cody R. Farrabee, 22, of Queen Creek, Arizona, who was driving the southbound car, and Rheana Hazel, 23, of Las Vegas, were also killed Sunday.
On Friday, Delphine John, 44, and her daughters Delilah Ramirez, 20, and Anaya Adame Orozco, 3, of Farmington, were the passengers in a Chevrolet Suburban that was struck by a pickup driving the wrong direction on I-80 about 32 miles from the Utah-Nevada border.
Investigators believe Paul Michael Mumford, 36, of West Jordan, was under the influence of alcohol and driving his pickup truck erratically on I-80. Emergency dispatchers received several calls about him about 6 p.m. Friday.
"When someone makes the choice to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after they've been drinking, that's a bad choice, and it can have extremely devastating consequences," Rapich said. "And that's what we seen there."
Charges were filed late Monday against Mumford. He was charged in 3rd District Court with three counts of murder, all first-degree felonies; or in the alternative manslaughter, all second-degree felonies; or in the alternative automobile homicide, all second-degree felonies. In addition, he was charged with DUI, a third-degree felony, and reckless endangerment, a class-A misdemeanor.
Mumford was last reported to be in stable condition in a local hospital.
Rapich said the accidents happened during the "100 Deadliest Days of Summer."
"We've seen 33 fatalities in the first five weeks of the '100 Deadliest Days,'" he said. "That's only 35 days, and we have a lot more summer left to do."
Rapich said the UHP is doing everything it can to reduce highway fatalities. It has troopers trying to identify aggressive drivers, motorists going way too fast and impaired drivers. During the holiday weekend, it had extra troopers patrolling the highways.
During the holiday weekend, the UHP made 4,103 traffic stops and 60 DUI arrests, 40 other alcohol arrests, 2,670 speed citations, 268 seat belt citations, 126 crash investigations, and two fatal crashes with nine fatalities.
"What it really comes down to (are) personal decisions by drivers," Rapich said. "They've got to choose to be safe."
Don't drive if you are impaired, he said. Make a good decision and find someone else to give you a ride home.
"Don't get behind the wheel and have something result in just a horrible tragedy because you made one really bad decision," Rapich said.
Over the past three years, prior to this year, the state had nearly a 38 percent reduction in fatalities. This year fatalities are up by more than that, he said.
Another tip is to wear a seat belt. Seat belts could be a person's last line of defense in an accident. Unfortunately, 18 percent of drivers choose not to wear it. Those 18 percent result in the 60 percent of the people who die on the roadways, Rapich said.
Follow the speed limit, and don't drive distracted, he added.
"What it comes down to is devastation to personal lives, devastation to families," Rapich said. "It's people that are never going to come home again. Great and promising lives of young people, or people that have great things going, that all of a sudden are over in an instant because of just one bad decision."
Contributing: Pat Reavy