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Road rage is accelerating

Police say it is a ‘cancer’ in Utah that is epidemic

SHARE Road rage is accelerating

Heather Adams looked in her rear-view mirror just in time to notice a car riding her bumper as she drove north in the far left lane of I-15 Thursday morning.

Wanting to let the impatient driver go by, Adams passed the truck she was driving next to and pulled back into the middle lane.

But that wasn't enough to satisfy the tailgater, who police say triggered a senseless accident that illustrates the growing problem of road rage among Utah drivers.

Despite $4,000 in damage to her Honda Accord, Adams walked away from the accident unscathed.

Adams said that after she moved past the truck and back into the center lane to let the man pass, he pulled behind the truck and came up on her right side. The man then swerved in front of Adams' car, nearly swiping her front bumper, she said.

"When he pulled in front of me he was flipping me off," Adams said.

Adams said she honked her horn and flashed her high beams just before the man slammed on his brakes. In her efforts to avoid a collision, her car was sent spinning toward the barrier on the right side of the freeway. Adams was wearing her seat belt and was not injured, Utah Highway Patrol trooper Mike Cowdell said.

"It just blows my mind that it wasn't 100 times worse," Adams said. "I think the guy that stopped to make sure I was OK expected me to be unconscious and bleeding."

After forcing Adams into a concrete barrier on the South Temple bridge, the man sped off toward Davis County on I-15, Cowdell said.

A motorist who witnessed the 7:55 a.m. accident followed the man and phoned police. About 20 minutes later, troopers pulled a suspect over near Kaysville.

The man, 64, Sandy, was not booked into jail, but investigators plan to review the case for charges with the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office, Cowdell said.

"Why he was driving the way he was is unknown," Cowdell said. "He triggered the chain of events that sent her into the wall."

Such road rage incidents are a common occurrence on Utah roadways, police say.

"It's a cancer," Cowdell said. "It's an epidemic now. We're getting road-rage incidents daily, sometimes numerous times a day."

Jerry Townsend, head of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office robbery and homicide unit, said his office investigates an average of five road-rage cases a week.

Although the sheriff's office does not keep any specific statistics on road rage, Townsend said "it's definitely going up." When Townsend began work at the sheriff's office nearly 30 years ago, he said you never heard the phrase "road rage." Now it's nearly an everyday occurrence.

Police say road rage manifests itself in numerous ways, including changing lanes without warning, drivers cutting people off and shots being fired, Cowdell said.

"We had one guy throw a carpet stretcher through a guy's windshield and put him in the hospital," Cowdell said.

But in most cases, the situation escalates into road rage over virtually nothing, Townsend said.

On Dec. 12, a man was arrested after firing a gun at a woman who he felt cut him off at 7 a.m. near 5600 South and State. The woman, 44, suffered minor facial injuries when the bullet shattered her car window. The man was arrested for investigation of attempted homicide.

Two months earlier on Oct. 10, a man fired a shot at another car that purposely hit his bumper from behind. The car had been following the man after the two exchanged obscenities. No one was injured in the incident. The man who fired the shot said he feared for his life, Townsend said.

Police say people guilty of road rage come from all walks of life. Former Utah Jazz center Olden Polynice was investigated in two alleged road-rage incidents in September and October 2000. In both cases, he accepted plea bargains and paid fines.

Salt Lake Organizing Committee member Doug Arnot was arrested following a much-publicized road-rage incident in March 2000. He also reached an out-of-court settlement.

Just as road ragers can come from a variety of backgrounds, they also don't discriminate against whom they target.

Townsend said male drivers are just as quick to attack a female driver as they are another male. But he had no explanation as to why road-rage cases are surging after completion of an expanded I-15 in Salt Lake County.

Police urge drivers to be courteous and avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers.

"Just remain calm and get out of their way," Cowdell said. "Don't swerve, don't join them in hand signs and signals, don't provoke any type of altercation."

E-MAIL: djensen@desnews.com ; preavy@desnews.com