ROAD TO ZERO

Utah Teen Survives Crash, Urges Others Not To Drive Drowsy

May 21, 2021, 7:47 PM | Updated: 8:25 pm

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – It’s only takes dozing off for five to ten seconds behind the wheel before something terrible can happen. This is an especially important message before the summer road trip season, but tragic events can also happen on short drives close to home. One Utah teen is sharing his story.

For the Batallas, soccer is a family affair. 17-year-old Juan Batalla is not only passionate about the sport, but he’s also really good. He’s been on the field since he was about seven years old.

17-year-old Juan Batalla is not only passionate about playing soccer, he’s also really good. (Used by permission, Juan Batalla)

“It’s just, I feel so happy when I play,” he described.

He plays attacking midfielder for Judge Memorial High School and a club team, which often means multiple games on a weekend. That was the case in early April.

“And then Saturday, I had two games. Both were 90 minutes,” he said. In total, Batalla played four games over three days and worked the closing shift at his new job doing dishes. “Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night,” he said.

On April 12th, 17-year-old Juan Batalla was in a serious car crash after falling asleep at the wheel. (Used by permission, Juan Batalla)

Needless to say, Batalla was exhausted by the end of the weekend. “I was pretty tired. I mean, looking back at it and like seeing what my body went through? I could see myself sleeping,” he reflected.

As he was heading home after a late night with friends after work, he recalled seeing the city lights. “I remember seeing that and then it just got dark,” he described.

Batalla crashed in between two barriers near Fort Union on I-215 around 2 a.m. “It was so fast. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t think,” he recalled. “I woke up and then I was calling my dad and he said, ‘Everything’s gonna be okay.’”

An X-ray of Juan’s repaired hip after five hours of surgery. (Used by permission, Juan Batalla)

He suffered cuts, gashes, and a broken hip, requiring a five-hour surgery and nine screws.

UDOT Spokesperson John Gleason said we are all susceptible to fatigue. “We don’t all text and drive. We aren’t all aggressive drivers. But, but we all need our sleep,” he said, explaining that it only takes nodding off for a few seconds before something terrible can happen.

Gleason said if you catch yourself blinking more off than usual, or can’t remember the last mile or two that you’ve driven, it’s time to act quickly before it’s too late.

Juan in the hospital. (Used by Permission Juan Batalla)

If you feel those signs coming on, that’s your body shutting down. Take all of the appropriate action, get off the road as quickly as possible in a safe spot, so that maybe you can close your eyes for a few minutes, get out of the car, walk around, [or] if you have another passenger with you trade-off,” he said.

Gleason says Utah has more than 1,000 drowsy driving-related crashes every year, a number that is considered to be severely underreported. So far, there have been a total of 57 drowsy driving-related teen crashes this year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data showing the nation’s youngest licensed drivers on the road are 78 percent more likely to be tired when in a car crash than drivers between the ages of 40 and 49-years-old. Statistics show teens are more likely to be in a serious crash at night, with a majority of drivers under the age of 25 being responsible for fatigue-related crashes. Most teenage crash deaths occurred between 6-9 PM (18%), followed closely by 9 PM to midnight (16%), and 3-6 PM (15%).

“If you’re asking yourself the question, ‘Am I too tired to drive?’ The answer is usually ‘Yes,’” Gleason said. “You need to pull over you need to get off the road. Protect yourself and protect everyone out there on the roads.”

17-year-old Juan Batalla shows his scars after surviving a serious car crash in which he fell asleep at the wheel. (KSL TV)

Batalla won’t be back on the soccer field until October, but he just feels lucky to be alive. “Just thinking about it brings emotion. I don’t know. Like, where would I be? I don’t want to think about that,” he said.

His message today is simple: “Just listen to your body and just make smarter choices… life’s too short,” Batalla said.

Gleason urges drivers taking road trips this summer to take a break every hour and a half to two hours to get out of the car and change drivers often. Although it’s easy to get wrapped in late nights finishing work or school, he urges drivers to get adequate sleep before hitting the road.

“If you push it long enough, sleep will always win. You just don’t want to be behind the wheel when sleep does win out,” he said. He says rolling down the window or turning on the radio to help you stay awake doesn’t work.

The Batalla family expressed their gratitude for everyone who has supported them during this time. Our Lady of Lourdes school is hosting a fundraiser for the family. You can make a contribution to help the family here.

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Utah Teen Survives Crash, Urges Others Not To Drive Drowsy