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2 die in semis on U.S. 6

Crash melts hole in highway; it's road's 2nd fatal crash in 2 days

Two semitrailer trucks collided early Friday on U.S. 6, killing both drivers and melting a hole in the asphalt.

The accident, which forced a road closure for several hours, was the second fatal collision in as many days on U.S. 6, which has been called one of the most dangerous roads in Utah.

Halfway between Price and Green River at milepost 280, a westbound semi carrying boxes of old paper magazines crossed over the median and slammed into a flatbed semi carrying lumber around 12:50 a.m.

A witness called police, who arrived minutes later to find the trucks fully engulfed in flames, said Utah Highway Patrol trooper Ed Bentley in Green River.

Police say drivers Tommy Anthony Newell, 45, from Salt Lake City and Murray John Odell, 34, from Payson were both killed upon impact. Police say Newell was crushed in his cab and Odell was ejected through the windshield.

The fuel tanks initially caught on fire, but the highly flammable cargo loads of magazines and wood kept the fire blazing, eventually melting the pavement. The trucks continued to burn for almost nine hours, despite the fire department pumping out 10,000 gallons of water and 12 gallons of fire-retardant foam, Bentley said.

"(They) were fully engulfed," Bentley said. "It was just a really bad fire. Semitrailer trucks burn a long time, especially when the tires start burning."

Utah Department of Transportation crews and a contractor were able to start working around noon to fix the melted asphalt. The hole in the road was about 10 to 15 yards wide. The road was opened by 2 p.m.

The cost to fix the top 3 or 4 inches of asphalt will probably be less than $10,000 and will come out of UDOT's regular maintenance and construction budget, said Nile Easton, UDOT spokesman.

After the accident and during the repair, both lanes of traffic were closed and motorists were rerouted on U-10 to I-70.

Another fatal accident happened Thursday on U.S. 6 near the turnoff to Scofield. The collision occurred when a vehicle driven by a 22-year-old man from Carbon County crossed the median and collided with a semitrailer truck.

And nearly three months ago, a semitrailer truck loaded with seismic explosives traveling U.S. 6 near the Thistle turnoff crashed and burst into flame, then exploded, carving a 30-foot-deep, 80-foot-wide crater in the road. There weren't any fatalities.

Accidents are more prevalent on U.S. 6 because so much of it is only two lanes, officials say. Had it been four lanes, Friday's accident might have been less serious or even avoided entirely, Bentley said.

UDOT recently completed an environmental impact statement about the possibility of widening the entire stretch of U.S. 6.

"There's been talk (of widening) for many many years," Easton said. "There are no projects on the books right now to expand to four lanes, but it's definitely on our radar."

Although both drivers were wearing their seat belts and officials don't believe speed was a factor, fatigue is being labeled a potential reason for the accident, which is common on that stretch of road, Bentley said.

UHP wants to educate drivers that if they wear their seat belts, pay attention to the road and don't drive tired, a majority of accidents could be prevented.

"It seems like the trend is, the majority of these are all driver-error related," said UHP Sgt. Todd Royce. "We're hoping that we can ... educate people. That's the way we can reduce crashes and fatalities — being a little more cognitive of the way we drive."


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com