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Two semi-trailer rigs, one hauling oil, were involved in a fiery, fatal collision on snow-packed Interstate 80 in Parleys Canyon late Wednesday night a crash that closed westbound lanes overnight and left a number of motorists who sought alternate routes into Salt Lake City stranded on a snowy mountain road.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce said the fatal accident occurred 10:50 p.m. at mile post 139, near Parleys Summit, as the oil-hauling semi attempted to pass the stalled second big rig. As the tanker semi moved into the left lane, the other semi slid on ice into the tanker, rupturing one of its two tanks of light crude oil, and it burst into flames.
The tank and the second semi burned for more than two hours.
Firefighters later found the second driver dead inside his cab, which had been engulfed in flames. The tanker's driver escaped unharmed, Royce said.
The deceased driver was identified as 67-year-old Wendell Lewis of Maricopa, Ariz.
The cause of the accident remained under investigation on Thursday, but blizzard-like conditions reportedly prevailed at the time of the crash.
With I-80 closed, some motorists seeking alternate routes into Salt Lake City became stuck in the snow on a mountain road through Summit and Morgan counties.
Crews on Thursday worked to remove 17 cars from the Jeremy Ranch Road, which runs north from Jeremy Ranch to State Road 65, and is not maintained in winter. Drivers explained that they took the rural, mountain road in hopes of connecting with SR 65 to return south to Emigration Canyon and into Salt Lake City, said Utah State Parks Sgt. Drew Patterson.
However, SR 65 is closed for the winter from Jeremy Ranch Road to Emigration Canyon. Several of the drivers were from out-of-state and apparently were guided to Jeremy Ranch Road by navigation apps that did not reflect the annual road closure when suggesting it as an alternate westbound route.
One driver, Adrien Spiegel, was trying to return to his home in Salt Lake City after finishing a bartending shift in Park City, when he was blocked on I-80. He followed his phone's navigation app to the Jeremy Ranch Road, which he said was drivable for most of its length but at about midnight his car got stuck in the snow some two miles from SR 65.
Spiegel stayed with his car and called tow services and emergency dispatch for help, but no one was able to reach him. After dawn, he said, he hiked three miles north in the snow, wearing only tennis shoes on his feet. He was picked up by a southbound driver on SR 65, who also was apparently unaware of the seasonal closure.
Wednesday night was the third time in recent months Spiegel had encountered a closure on I-80 that halted westbound traffic into Salt Lake City.
"That's a lot of cars," he said. "It'd be nice to have an alternative."