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Herriman • The sun had yet to rise. The clock read 5:40 a.m. on Sept. 26, as Herriman's cross-country team embarked into the darkness on one of their weekly early-morning practices.
James Barnes, in his seventh year as the coach of the Mustangs, originally wasn't going to attend practice as he prepared to run his 26th marathon several days later, despite a torn meniscus. Team captains typically oversee morning sessions.
"I woke up that morning a little earlier, and I'm like, 'I'll go with them,' " Barnes explained. "I ran over to the park. I jumped in front and took off."
Traveling westbound against traffic on Mirabella Drive, Barnes spotted a white full-size construction truck significantly exceeding the 35 miles per hour speed limit nearly an entire block down the road.
The truck swerved into the emergency lane. "We thought it was somebody dinking around, like they were going to swing in and swing out," Barnes said.
Scraping against the curve, the truck never deviated from its collision course. Instinctively, Barnes shoved several students into the grass, including senior captain Tanner Webb, as he screamed for the trailing runners to avoid the imminent danger.
"He saved me," Webb said.
Senior Bryan Fugal's memory is foggy. He remembers lying on the ground, not cognizant of what occurred, until he saw his mangled leg. Then the pain registered.
"I kind of went into shock and after the adrenaline wore off, it was the worst pain I've ever felt before," Fugal said.
Barnes, who teaches medical classes and is a certified EMT, sprung into action. He assessed the state of each of his students, while instructing junior captain Nathan Bracken to call 911. Barnes approached the driver of the vehicle, whom he described as being in shock. He asked the man, whom he estimates to be in his early 40s, if he was drunk on drugs or texting. The man had no answer.
"He didn't know," said Barnes, who physically confiscated his keys until authorities arrived on scene. "I wanted to make sure he didn't drive off. You never know, and if he's in shock, he's not in a state to be driving."
Police and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter.
Fugal was the only person in need of medical treatment. An air cast was applied to stabilize his leg before he was transported by ambulance to Jordan Valley Medical Center. The impact shattered his fibula and tibia, which required prompt action.
"Before practice, I just had a few sips of water and didn't eat breakfast, so that was a blessing because I was able to go straight into surgery," Fugal said. Doctors told him he'll need at least three months to recover, ending his senior season.
For everyone involved, however, the situation was a harsh reminder of how fragile life can be.
"I'm trying to have a positive attitude," Fugal said. "I realized it could have been a lot worse. I could have even died, so a broken leg isn't that bad."
It also emphasized the importance on being prepared while running on the street. Barnes preaches safety to his team, encouraging every runner to invest in bright-colored shirts, head lamps and reflective clothing, but, as he explained, sometimes that isn't enough.
"I always tell the kids, we got to pay attention to people because, especially nowadays with phones, everybody seems like they're more distracted," he said. "It's a good lesson to everybody. If you're out [running], you've got to be safe and following the rules. And those who are driving pay attention. Actually drive, not be on the phone."
A Unified Police Department spokesman said the incident was still under investigation and could not comment on the accident's cause or potential citations the driver might be issued.
Fugal has been inundated with support, as many of his 80-plus teammates visited him in the hospital, delivering posters, letters of encouragement, and baked goods. The team was already close-knit, but they say the experience has bonded them closer.
There are only two more meets remaining this season, and many of the runners are dedicating the rest of the year to Fugal. Amazingly, hours after the accident, the team decided to practice.
The traumatic experience, if anything, reaffirmed their love for the sport, because the opportunity to run can be stripped away at anytime.
"No," Bracken said when asked if he considered taking a break. "Running means too much to me."
"Never," added Webb.
"That hasn't crossed my mind at all," Fugal said. "I love running. It's something I wouldn't want to give up. It's just an accident."