Officials mull road changes, two teens charged, in triple fatal auto accident in May
By Suzanne Dean
Mt. PLEASANT—Based on recent local government actions, the deaths of three teenagers on Power Plant Road in Mt. Pleasant last May 3 have not been forgotten.
The grandfather of one of the victims appeared before the Mt. Pleasant City Council on Tuesday, April 13, and then before the Sanpete County Commission on Tuesday (after the Messenger deadline) to talk about making changes to the road, which a Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) report said contributed to the accident that killed the teens. The grandfather was also interviewed by the Sanpete Messenger.
In early August, the Sanpete County Attorney’s Office filed charges in 6th District Juvenile Court against the driver of the car in which the three teens were riding and the driver of a flatbed pickup that was stopped on the road.
The accident happened when the car came over a blind hill on Power Plant Road at what UHP said was more than 90 miles per hour. According to the UHP report, the speed at impact was 77 miles per hour. Because the flatbed was not properly attached t the pickup, the car went under it, causing major portions of the car where the teens were sitting to be shaved off. The driver was not seriously injured.
The teens who were killed were Ryan David Lyman, 18, son of Mark Lyman of Ephraim; Julie Myrth Oldroyd, 16, daughter of Darrell and Collette Oldroyd of Fountain Green; and Kodi Jade Wheeler, 16, daughter of Amber and Jason Woodger, also of Fountain Green.
Wes Mangum, deputy county attorney who handles juvenile cases, said the driver of the car had been charged with three counts of reckless endangerment, all Class A misdemeanors; and three counts of reckless driving, which are Class B misdemeanors.
The driver of the flatbed has been charged with three counts of reckless driving, Class B misdemeanors; one count of being an unlicensed driver, an infraction; and one count of stopping and parking on a road, also an infraction. Mangum said he is looking into whether to file a charge related to the improperly configured flatbed. He said if a charge was filed, it would also be an infraction.
An initial appearance is scheduled next Tuesday, Aug. 27 in juvenile court. At that time, the youths will be assigned attorneys and the case will probably be set for a pretrial hearing, Mangum said.
He said he expects negotiations to begin immediately aimed reaching an out-of-court settlement. He said if a settlement can be reached, the case should be resolved and sentences handed down by Oct. 8.
In the interview with the Messenger, Vern Fisher of Mt. Pleasant, grandfather of Julie Oldroyd, said the blind hill is so steep a driver can’t see what’s on the other side until he or she goes over the crest. And at the bottom of the hill heading westbound, there’s a fairly sharp turn.
“This has had a huge impact on North Sanpete for years and years,” Fisher said.
Power Plant Road is a county road, and accident data is not typically collected on county roads, Fisher said. But on July 1, he and his wife posted a message on Facebook asking people about past accidents they knew about on the road, particularly any involving the steep hill. Fisher and his wife analyzed the responses to be sure different people weren’t writing about the same accident.
The Fishers identified at least 17 accidents, including two fatalities prior to the May crash. “Nearly all of them were involved with the blind hill and the turn below,” Vern Fisher said. “Many were rollovers where the vehicle came over the hill too fast, could not navigate the turn and rolled over.”
One Spring City couple posted a photo of an accident 15 years ago in which their granddaughter was injured. “The car was destroyed,” Fisher said. “It’s a wonder she wasn’t killed.”
In his appearance before the Mt. Pleasant City Council, Fisher talked about the fact that the city and two irrigation companies have received a $15 million federal grant to build a large irrigation pond north of the steep hill.
He suggested the road could be leveled and the dirt and debris used to build the dam for the pond. That way, the dirt that was removed wouldn’t have to be hauled off, he said.
A few days after his appearance before the Mt. Pleasant City Council, Fisher and other city officials met with consulting engineers for the irrigation project. “They told us that hill could be taken down without any damage to the long-term plan,” Fisher said. In fact, “it would benefit the plan.”
Whether the hill is leveled out or not, flashing signs, and perhaps rumble strips, could be posted on the road to draw attention to the hill and try to slow down traffic, he said.
There’s a speed limit sign at the bottom of Power Plant Road near the city limit, Fisher said. There’s another speed limit sign at Power Plant Park, which is the terminus of the road. Other than those, “there’s no turnout signs, there’s no blind-hill signs, there’s no warning signs, just a number of issues.”
“I’m glad somebody’s going after this,” Mt. Pleasant Mayor Dan Anderson said. “…I agree with Vern. Something needs to be done. Rumble strips might do it.”
Regarding charges against the two teens, Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels said he and Mangum had met with parents of all three teens killed in the May 3 accident. The Fishers were also in the meeting.
“We wanted to get their input on the best way forward, to help them heal, to help the driver heal, to help the boy who was parked on the hill heal,” Daniels said.
“There were some poor choices made that led to death,” he said. “That’s a serious thing.”
Daniels said the evidence is irrefutable that the teen driver was driving at a high rate of speed. The young man had a learner’s permit but should not have been driving without a licensed driver in the passenger seat.
The county attorney said all families of the victims, “to varying degrees,” wanted the driver to be held accountable. “We could have charged her with negligent homicide,” but most families did not want that, he said.
Daniels said both teens will have to live with the accident for the rest of their lives, which is a severe punishment in itself. “However we resolve the case, we want to include an educational component,” he said, such as possibly requiring the youths to give talks to other teens about the consequences of unsafe driving.
For his part, Fisher says, “I’m just hoping to keep anyone else from being injured or killed on that road. I’m not placing blame on anybody, but it’s time. It’s just time. If nothing else,…taking down that hill will serve as a memorial to those three kids.”