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FOX 13 Investigates: Road debris is getting worse across Utah, and officers can’t do much to stop it

Posted at 10:09 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 00:09:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Road debris costs millions of dollars to clean up every year.

It’s also costing lives.

The problem is getting worse across Utah, and officers say it’s incredibly difficult to enforce the laws to stop those responsible.

Last week, 30-year-old Brady Fuhriman from Millville died when a metal brake assembly crashed through his windshield on I-15 near Riverdale. Police still don’t know where the metal came from.

Read - UHP asking for dashcam footage to help with fatal I-15 road debris accident investigation

The Utah Department of Transportation reports there were 1,977 crashes caused by road debris across the state last year.

Sharon Cockayne was driving on the west belt of I-215 in November when a large rock went flying through her windshield. She doesn’t remember ever seeing the object barreling towards her.

“I had no idea what had happened. My ear was ringing, and I just noticed that the windshield was smashed,” Cockayne said. “When a small pebble hits your windshield, it sounds like a bullet. Imagine THAT coming through your windshield!”

She thinks the rock may have come from an overpass near 4700 South. It came just inches away from killing her, hitting her on the side of the face and fracturing her cheek bone.

She asked Utah Highway Patrol if she could keep the rock.

“They asked why I wanted it,” Cockayne said. “So I can look at it every day and just be thankful that I’m still here!”

Far too often, many of these cases involving road debris are crimes without closure.

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Abe Dietz was hit by a shovel while driving on I-15 in August 2020.

Jan Krystkowiak had a chunk of metal shatter her window driving on I-215 in February 2021.

“I think the only thing that saved me from getting hit right between the eyes was my rear-view mirror,” Krystkowiak said. “It hit that first and then broke through the window.”

In 2021, UHP logged 29,339 complaints of road debris, but troopers only wrote 439 citations – usually for littering or failing to secure cargo.

That means less than 1.5% cases were solved.

Across the state, road debris caused 168 more crashes compared to the year before, an increase of approximately 9%.

“Sometimes it’s just – there's not a whole lot you can do (to investigate),” Sgt. Cameron Roden, with the Utah Highway Patrol said. “It’s going to be really difficult.”

Troopers don’t have time to dig through mountains of debris, which means smaller cases – which don’t cause crashes – usually are not investigated.

“We’re just going to be putting stuff onto the shoulder, and maybe not looking into it as much as we could,” Roden explained.

Even if troopers had the time to look into every incident, they don’t have many options unless the road debris has identifying information on it or there’s a witness who comes forward. That’s why they’re hoping the solution comes down to educating drivers – not ticketing them.

In Utah, the fine for failing to secure cargo is $260. For repeat offenders, the fine is $510. If the mistake causes a crash, the fine is $510. Repeat offenders who cause multiple crashes are charged with a $760 penalty. The fines are slightly more expensive for commercial vehicles.

UDOT public relations director John Gleason said the state spends about 2.5 million dollars on cleanup efforts per year.

“We wish it wasn’t so extensive. We wish that people would do their part,” Gleason said. “I don’t think anyone sets out with the intention to kill someone else on their drive, but unfortunately that’s the chance you’re taking.”

UHP is encouraging anyone who loses an item on the freeway to call them or 911 immediately so that the debris can be picked up safely.

“Obviously we want someone to blame,” Cockayne said. “I don’t want anybody getting that phone call from UHP that your loved one died because of someone’s carelessness.”

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