Cutting through the red tape: KSL Investigates a flying road hazard
Jul 19, 2022, 11:09 AM
SOUTH JORDAN, Utah – For anyone driving Utah roads, chances are you’ve driven over a few manhole covers. Truth be told, you cannot avoid them.
Sometimes you feel the bump. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable. And sometimes it leaves you with $6,000 in damage to your car nobody wants to pay.
That is the story of Bryan Metzler.
“Yeah, I was just heading from my townhome, heading up Redwood Road to come to work,” recalled Metzler, “and I’m not trying to be dramatic or anything, it honestly sounded like a bomb went off.”
On July 5, 2021, Metzler was driving northbound in the middle lane of Redwood Road in South Jordan, at about 10900 South around 1:00 p.m.
That’s when a car in the lane to his left, drove over a manhole cover.
The 150-pound steel lid shot out of the road like a frisbee, and into the side of Metzler’s car.
“Like, when it hit, it was like one of those safari videos when a rhinoceros like pounds into the side of the car, and then you realize that you were about that close to being decapitated by a manhole cover,” he said.
Metzler’s wild tale involving a flying manhole cover is documented by police. Diagrammed on paper. Caught on camera. And witnessed by Nikole Giles.
“And then it flew behind us,” said Giles, “just flying through the air, this huge manhole cover.”
Giles was in the passenger seat of the car driving over the manhole cover when it flipped out, and it did a fair amount of damage to her vehicle before hitting Metzler’s car.
“It physically lifted our car off the ground,” she said.
“I had no idea that was even a possibility… like, that could physically happen,” said Metzler.
But understanding the physics behind this 150-pound iron frisbee gone rogue is one thing. Determining who’s responsible to make things right, may be more complicated.
“I just don’t understand why they can’t admit that they just didn’t do their job,” said Metzler.
Before we get into who “did” or “did not” do their job, if you take a quick drive through the south valley, you can see there is a ridiculous number of manhole covers lining the streets. And a good chunk of those covers is owned and operated by South Valley Sewer.
“We’ve got about 26,000 manhole covers,” said Craig White with South Valley Sewer.
They install them. They maintain them. And White will be the first to tell you, once in a while, these heavy steel disks can pop off.
“So, we have very few of those,” said White, “but we do occasionally have some.”
Here’s where the story gets tricky: Three days before Metzler and Giles became victims of the flying manhole cover, the exact same thing happened in the exact same spot.
A South Jordan police report reveals a car ran over the cover, it shot into the air and damaged at least one vehicle.
The driver who ran over it told police the cover “sounded like it exploded” and “saw in the rearview the manhole cover in the air falling to the ground.”
Photos show that sewer cover cracked in half.
Rachael Van Cleave, South Jordan City spokesperson, said the city immediately responded.
“Our only involvement in that situation was to respond to the immediate public safety need, which was the hole in the road,” she said.
Van Cleave said their public works team made a quick fix, replacing the broken sewer cover with one of their own.
“It’s a standard size manhole cover,” said Van Cleave, “which is 24 and 3/4″, the same exact size as South Vally Sewers.”
South Valley Sewer’s White disagrees.
“Unfortunately, it appeared that was the wrong lid,” said White. “Put on a lid probably for a storm drain as opposed to sanitary sewer.”
In an attempt to clear things up, KSL Investigators compared covers between South Jordan City and South Valley Sewer.
And guess what?
They measure out exactly the same – 24 and 3/4″.
This means the cover that originally popped off and cracked, had the exact same dimensions as the replacement cover that shot out just a few days later into Metzler’s car.
And if you’re wondering, why is that important?
Absolutely nobody was taking responsibility for the damage to any of the cars involved.
“And then we got denied. It was like weeks of getting denied. Everybody was just pointing fingers at everyone else, saying it wasn’t their fault, it was so-and-so’s fault,” said Giles.
Metzler got the same response.
“So and so (South Jordan City) put on one of their manhole covers, so it’s their fault. They (South Valley Sewer) didn’t think it was their fault,” he said.
Honestly, Metzler and Giles really don’t care who’s fault it is. They just want someone to take responsibility.
The Utah Department of Transportation maintains Redwood Road. They claim no responsibility.
The incident happened in South Jordan. They claim no responsibility.
And the manhole cover is owned and operated by South Valley Sewer, which also claimed no responsibility.
Three different agencies taking zero responsibility for the manhole cover gone rogue.
And the hang-up is this: The city of South Jordan says the manhole cover had maintenance issues.
“I will say that the infrastructure around it is what caused the manhole covers to pop up,” said Van Cleave.
On the flip side, South Valley Sewer says the city never should have tried fixing the issue on its own. South Valley Sewer has an emergency number to call.
“That is correct — 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said White. “Nobody called that number.”
So, here we are, nearly a year to the day of the incident, and what originally sounded like a tall tale from Metzler and Giles has finally been resolved.
Just days after a few calls from the KSL Investigators, the 11-month problem of agencies claiming no responsibility was solved.
Well, sort of.
Still, nobody has taken responsibility. But South Jordan City and South Valley Sewer have agreed to split the cost of the $6,000 in damages to Metzler’s car.
Giles is in the process of seeing if they do the same for her.
Often these requests go to an insurance agency hired by the city or business and get denied.
South Valley Sewer says if Metzler would have appealed after the first denial, chances are it wouldn’t have taken a couple of calls from the KSL Investigators for the problem to be resolved.
But Metzler says, nobody ever told him appealing was an option.