AMERICAN FORK — A beloved Saratoga Springs middle school teacher was killed in a chain-reaction series of crashes involving at least seven vehicles on I-15 Tuesday morning.
Dylan Thornton, 35, of Orem, was killed about 7:50 a.m. when he swerved to miss a flatbed truck that had come to a stop on the freeway but crashed into the right rear corner of the truck.
Two Utah Highway Patrol troopers had pulled over a vehicle on the right shoulder of northbound I-15 at Pleasant Grove Boulevard, causing the already heavy traffic in the area to slow down even more, UHP Sgt. Todd Royce said.
Other drivers who were following too closely became distracted by the troopers and were involved in a series of rear-end crashes, Royce said.
Thornton was driving the final vehicle involved in the crashes and was killed in the collision, Royce said. There were no other serious injuries, he said.
Thornton was a teacher at Vista Heights Middle School, 484 W. Pony Express Parkway, Saratoga Springs. He started his teaching career at the school in 2011 had been there almost as long as the school itself, Alpine School District spokeswoman Kimberly Bird said.
Thornton started as an hourly aide and worked to become a certified teacher, Bird said. He was teaching social studies this year, as well as a class in the school's gifted and talented program, she said.
"We’re heartbroken for his family," Bird said. "It's a very solemn feeling at the school. He was beloved by the whole school community."
Because Thornton had been at the school so long and was so well-liked, grievance counselors were sent to both Vista Heights and nearby West Lake High School, where many of his former students now go.
Bird said teachers read a message in class at the start of the day, explaining to students what had happened. The school's principal filled in for Thornton.
Parents reacted with remorse on Vista Heights' Facebook page Tuesday.
"My boys will be so heartbroken. He was one of their favorites. They talk about him often at home. Our prayers go out to his family and those who love him," one person wrote.
"Oh, my daughters loved his class. Our prayers and sympathies go out to his family and teacher circle and his students," another parent wrote.
"I'm so shocked and heartbroken to hear this news! He was an amazing teacher who was absolutely loved. My heart is so heavy and my prayers go out to his wife and son," another wrote.
"Our family is devastated by this news. Three of our children loved having Mr. Thornton as a teacher. What a tremendous loss," another post stated.
Because Thornton was a huge "Star Wars" fan, students are planning to wear either "Star Wars" clothing or their Sunday best to school Wednesday in his honor, Bird said.
Royce said the incident serves as a reminder to all drivers that distractions can occur outside of a vehicle as well as inside. Drivers must be careful to not become distracted by things like tow-truck drivers, road construction crews or police activity on the side of the road, he said.