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‘Tragedy can strike’: Officials urge caution after teen dies at Utah state park

Posted at 9:31 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 00:12:30-04

KANE COUNTY, Utah — With upcoming summer travel plans and people’s minds, the Utah Division of State Parks is begging everyone to be careful.

This comes after the death of 13-year-old Ian Spendlove, who died on Sunday after a tunnel that he dug collapsed on him at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

“Tragedies like this aren’t that common,” said Devan Chavez. “Tunneling is obviously not a safe activity. When you’re doing it in sand, it’s unstable and it falls. Tragedy can strike, as it unfortunately did here.”

On Saturday, Spendlove was digging a tunnel in the side of a dune when it caved on top of him.

“When the collapse happened, the family member started yelling for help and help did arrive very quickly,” said Chavez.

It took 20 minutes for responders to find him underneath 6 ½ feet of sand. They helped Spendlove regain a pulse, but he passed away the next day at Primary Children’s Hospital.

“Had that family member not been there, we could still be looking for him,” said Chavez.

This is the third death at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park since January 2019. The other two involved off-highway vehicles. This is the first death at the park that’s related to a tunnel caving in on a visitor, but not the first in the state.

“The most recent one was in 2012,” said Chavez. “And it happened in Snow Canyon State Park, which is outside of St. George.”

Although it’s rare, rangers and deputies are trained just in case. If park employees spot visitors digging tunnels in the dunes, they ask them to stop.

Chavez said he wants to “plead” to everyone planning to explore state parks this summer to be careful and watch out for one another.

“We’re happy you’re here. We want everyone to have a good, enjoyable time,” he said. “But please, practice responsible recreation. Stay safe when you’re out there.”

Spendlove was a student at the Lava Ridge Intermediate school in the Washington County School District. The district told FOX 13 News that there are crisis counselors available for students and staff.