People in Garden City are looking to the state for solutions after a fully loaded semi truck lost its braking ability Thursday and crashed into a bank of storage bays just east of the city’s busiest intersection.
“How he managed to come through that intersection without taking anyone out is beyond me,” said Garden City Fire Chief Mike Wahlberg.
This is the second crash attributed to brake failure in the same proximity during the last year.
In October last year, an Omaha man was killed and his co-driver seriously injured when they blew the intersection of U. S. Hwy 89 and State Road 30.
The driver, who attempted to make a right hand turn at about 45 miles per hour, lost control of the truck and crashed into Pugstones Sporting.
The building was destroyed and the business owner has not rebuilt at this time.
On Thursday, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Lee Perry said a 60-year-old male from Alabama was approaching Garden City from Logan Canyon at about 3:40 p.m. when realized he had lost his brakes just after he passed the Chevron.
The driver slowed the trucks momentum as much as he could before reaching the intersection and, according to Perry, the driver was looking for some sort of runaway truck system, but there is none.
When the man drove through the intersection, he maneuvered the truck through about 25-30 miles per hour.
Perry said the driver saw two enormous logs and thought he might head for those, but he changed course when he realized they were next to a large propane tank.
Somehow, there were no pedestrians in the crosswalks, there were no vehicles in his path and the parking lot on the east side of the highway was relatively clear.
The truck struck several storage bays and miraculously, the driver survived the crash. He was treated and released from Logan Regional Hospital Thursday night, Perry said.
Wahlberg’s office within the fire station faces U.S. 89 and he said he frequently sees trucks passing by with hot, smoking brakes.
Even local businesses say that is a smell they associate with that corner.
McKell Hunsaker of Logan works at Quick N Tasty, a hamburger and shake stand located just north of the old Pugstone’s store.
She was working Thursday when the truck crashed. From inside the building, she saw the truck traveling east through the parking lot.
“It was just really scary because it happened last year, too,” she said.
On the other side of the parking lot is Lighthouse Landing, a gift shop owned by Mitzi Mecham, who lives in Logan during the winter and lives above the shop during tourist season.
Mecham said when the truck crashed into the storage bays behind the store, she was seated in her chair by the window, with her back to the parking lot.
There were people in the store and music playing so she didn’t hear the truck coming, but when she looked out a window at the rear of the store, she saw the fence go.
Mecham, who has been doing business at that location for 25 years, said she never used to worry about something like this happening.
“Now it is something you think about every day,” she said.
Thursday’s crash captured attention throughout the city, locals and tourists alike. Several people stopped to view the damage. Others craned their necks to see what they could see as they passed through the intersection.
Some are calling for the addition of a runaway truck ramp to the area.
“Right now they (the truck drivers) don’t have any option but to find a place to crash,” Wahlberg said.
The town’s pleas are not falling on deaf ears.
According to the Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Vic Saunders, the agency is in the process of researching several potential options, including a chute system that is currently in use in Wyoming.
He describes it as a series of gates that are hooked to cables within a chute that a truck would drive purposefully into so that it could be stopped.
“We saw this in action last year up above Jackson,” he said. “Actually, while our guys were there, we saw it demonstrated in real time by a truck that came down the hill and lost his brakes — it looks like something we could implement.”
While many people generally think of the usual runaway ramp that uses a deep layer of gravel to slow a truck’s momentum, Saunders said that may not be sufficient in Garden City because of the steep incline.
However, the chute system could be a better solution choice, he said.
“It’s designed for a very severe slope like we have here, where a regular runaway truck ramp may not be the solution,” he said.
Additionally, he said, it doesn’t damage the truck beyond repair the way a thick layer of gravel in a traditional runaway ramp does.
Wahlberg said a mandatory brake check and perhaps early warning signs on the Cache County side that alerts drivers to the sleep slope could be beneficial.
Whatever option UDOT selects, the agency will still need to work on funding the project and placing on a prioritization schedule.