Collision with black cow on dark canyon road raises a lot of questions

Publisher Suzanne Dean with her Ford Edge, which was wrecked when she crashed into a black cow on a dark night in Nephi Canyon. She couldn’t see the animal on the road until a second before the crash.


Collision with black cow on dark canyon

road raises a lot of questions


By Suzanne Dean




If I hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt the night of Sept. 13 as I drove through Nephi Canyon, if my airbag had not inflated, and if I’d been driving a smaller vehicle, I might not be writing this.

It was a Sunday night about 9:30 p.m. and I was returning home from Salt Lake City, where I had gone to help one of my foster grandkids with school work. I was driving a 2013 Ford Edge, an SUV.

It was a dark night with no visible moon. There wasn’t much traffic on S.R. 132. I was less than 5 minutes out of Nephi. To be exact, I had traveled 2.5 miles, and I hadn’t turned on my high beams yet (big mistake).

I didn’t see a thing until one second before I plowed into the side of an approximately 2,000-pound Black Angus cow at 50-55 miles per hour.

It took me at least a minute to grasp what had happened. I heard little explosions. I heard the sound of liquid flowing onto the road. Some kind of automatic feature in my car that I didn’t know I had announced, “You have been in an accident. Call 911.”

Needless to say, I couldn’t turn on the engine. Nor could I move my steering wheel. My car was like a sitting duck in the middle of the lane where another car could crash into the rear. Fortunately, I was able to turn on my emergency flashers.

With a little effort, I was able to open my car door. Later I found that it was impossible to open the passenger-side door. And the damage to my front end stopped only 6 inches shy of my windshield.

I stood on the road and tried repeatedly to dial 911 but the call didn’t go through. Very shortly, a couple of people stopped. One was Jackson Harrison of Mt. Pleasant, who flies the University of Utah Air Med helicopter based at Central Valley Medical Center in Nephi. He reminded me that I was in a dead zone where there was no cell service.

Given that the steering wheel wouldn’t move, I don’t know how Jackson and the other man managed to get car to the right side of the road. The cow made it to the other side of the road, collapsed, and was bellowing. The man who helped Jackson move the car had a gun in his car. He walked over and shot the cow.

Jackson gave me a ride to the east end of Nephi, where he called 911. By then I was having some pain in my front torso area. It turned out to be some bad bruises, which, three weeks later, haven’t completely healed.

Within about 10 minutes after the accident was reported, Trooper Andrew Moore of the Utah Highway Patrol showed up. When you need an officer, you’re so deeply grateful that they’re out there.

Trooper Moore was magnificent. He told me to just wait in Jackson’s vehicle while he went back to my wrecked car to find my registration. He also called a tow truck.

About the time the trooper got back to my car, a flat-bed tow truck carrying my vehicle pulled up. Trooper Moore climbed up on the flat bed and retrieved my purse, my computer, some important papers and half a dozen jars of home-canned pickles.

Meanwhile, a Juab sheriff’s deputy arrived and let me know he had taken a photo of the identification tag in the cow’s ear, which potentially would enable me to identify the owner.

The trooper let me put my belongings in his trunk and offered to drive me home to Ephraim. On the way home, we chatted. It turned out he was just 28 years old. His previous job had been helping clean up the Rio Grande area, the section of downtown Salt Lake City that had been overrun by drugs and homeless people. Before that, he had worked for Chrysalis, a company that provides home care and supervision of disabled people.

It was clear he was compassionate and exceptionally intelligent, just the kind of person we need in law enforcement.

But back to the cow. I totally support our western livestock industry and multiple use of land. But the Juab deputy told me that while the mountain south of S.R. 132 is open range, the road itself is not. There are no “open range” signs on the highway.

A lady who is familiar with the cattle business said when ranchers round up cattle from multiple-use areas, sometimes they don’t find them all. So they let them walk home. That’s where the idiom “Till the cows come home” comes from. I wonder if that’s why the cow was on the road.

If so, couldn’t livestock owners put GPS tracking devices or at least some kind of florescent collars on their animals?

The trooper told me that in the past week, he had seen one or two cows like the one I crashed into walking across the road every couple of days in about the same location as my accident.

He said, “I called dispatch and said. ‘This is going to cause an accident,’ but I’m not sure what they could do.”

Yet collisions with livestock can be very serious. In the 20 years I’ve owned the newspaper, we’ve covered two deaths from such accidents.

In my case, the impact went beyond bruises and my vehicle being totaled. Although the car was paid off, my office manager, Karen Christensen, had the good sense to keep comprehensive coverage on it. I’m still waiting for my settlement check for about $5,000.

Meanwhile, I had to rent a car. My insurance covered two weeks of car rental. But I will have to pay more than $500 for rental time since then.

The Monday after the accident, Lloyd Call, my associate publisher drove me up to the nearest car rental agency—in Spanish Fork—to rent a car. On the way home, coming through Nephi Canyon, Lloyd and his wife saw, you guessed it, a big black cow on the road in roughly the same spot as my accident.