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UHP trooper 'very lucky' to be alive after accident

SUNSET — When Rachael Zubal joined the Utah Highway Patrol 3 1/2 years ago, she was "scared to death" of the freeway.

She was worried in particular about being "trunked," UHP lingo for being struck from behind while on the side of the road.

"When you're out in five lanes of 70-plus mile-per-hour traffic, you feel very helpless and out of control," Zubal told KSL in an interview at McKay-Dee Hospital. "I just always thought (if I got hit) I would be in my vehicle."

Instead, the 32-year-old mother of two was struck about 11 p.m. Saturday night just as she stepped out of her patrol car at an accident scene in the left median of northbound I-15.

The minivan that dragged her 75 feet still had her jacket caught on its front grille when it stopped 100 feet farther on, officials said. The driver of the minivan reported that he had moved to the middle lane but lost control when another vehicle forced him back to the left.

"I never saw the van approach," Zubal said. "The conditions were such that there was ice covered by slushy snow, and so you will not hear braking on the pavement. There's no sound; it just comes at you silent."

"I didn't remember anything after that, just woke up on the ground," she said, adding that she feels "very lucky" to be alive.

Zubal has a broken pelvis and may require skin grafts, but her husband, Salt Lake police officer Robert Zubal, is grateful her injuries aren't worse.

"Being on these types of accidents myself and knowing how serious they are, I obviously thought the worst," he told KSL.

In the wake of the accident and dozens of others in recent months, UHP is begging the public to drive cautiously when passing pulled-over vehicles.

"Those red and blue lights aren't just toys," Rachael Zubal said. "Just please slow down, move over and give us some room to work."

UHP Col. Daniel Fuhr said the Department of Public Safety had to lay off 21 troopers last year and was just told to cut back by another 4 percent.

In years past, Fuhr said, UHP would have a trooper act as an "early warner" to help slow down traffic approaching an accident.

"We no longer have the staff to do that," he said. "Our troopers are working harder than they've ever worked before," sometimes handling up to 20 accidents by themselves on snowy days.

Layton police estimate the minivan was traveling between 25 and 35 mph when it struck Zubal. They are investigating the accident and will review any potential citations with the Davis County Attorney's Office.

The accident closed northbound I-15 between the 650 North interchange in Clearfield and the 5600 South interchange in Roy for nearly five hours.

e-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com