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The danger of debris on the roadway

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Posted at 5:15 PM, Jun 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-07 00:30:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY - After a Salt Lake City motorcycle officer was injured in a crash caused by debris on the road, a Clearfield woman who was seriously injured is trying to raise awareness of the dangers of debris.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers say a group of about 25 officers from the Salt Lake City Police Dept. were driving in the HOV lane on I-15 during a training exercise Wednesday afternoon when they encountered a metal box on the roadway.

"They were traveling in the HOV lane, and they came upon a piece of debris in the roadway," said UHP Sgt. Matt Spillman on Wednesday. "It was a metal box, we believe it to be a part of a refrigeration unit that was sitting in the middle of the lane."

Three officers hit the debris and one crashed, suffering broken bones. He was transported to a local hospital in serious condition but is expected to recover.

The officer's accident isn't the only one caused by debris on the road. Brenda Shaw was traveling on I-15 on her way to work back in March 2007. A vehicle hadn't secured its load and the car in front of her kicked up a piece of scaffolding.

That 8-foot rod went through Shaw's windshield then through her face, exiting through her neck. She managed to pull her car to the side of the road.

Without thinking, she pulled the rod from her face. A witness then came to help her and call 911.

"He kept me calm. He kept talking to me. I still don't know what I would've done without him to this day," she said.

Six years later, Shaw still can't feel parts of her face and she says she'll never be the same, but she's glad she survived.

"I still have issues but I'm glad I'm here," she said.

She says she and the officer are both lucky to be alive and she hopes their stories bring awareness to the danger of unsecured loads and debris on the roadway.

"Maybe we're not aware it's come loose, maybe they did tie it down, it only takes two seconds and the police can respond and maybe that can save a life," she said.

The Utah Highway Patrol is also warning drivers of the dangers of debris in the road. They'd already been planning a campaign that was scheduled to launch on Thursday.

Utah Dept. of Transportation director of maintenance Kevin Griffin says that road crews have found everything from living room furniture to baby cribs on the roadways.

"We have found everything, even the kitchen sink to be honest with you," Griffin said.

That debris is now part of a display at the Gateway set up by UDOT, warning drivers to make sure their loads are secure.

"The main thing we want to get across today is before you hit the road, secure your load. The accident with the Salt Lake City police officer yesterday is a great reminder to make sure we're doing our due diligence," Griffin said.

UHP trooper Jack Jessop says road debris is a rampant problem and it causes more than 700 crashes every year.

"I get probably two to three calls on my 10-hour shift," Jessop said.

If an item falls from your vehicle, police say you should call police for help instead of trying to remove it from the roadway yourself.

But officers are stressing that drivers need to secure their loads to begin with, and stop occasionally to make sure it's still secure. AAA Utah is also offering free tie-downs.

This year, the legislature doubled fines for those who don't secure their loads. It's $200 for the first offense, and $500 for commercial drivers.