Kearns Head Start closed after suspected drunk driver crashes through building

Jan 3, 2023, 10:13 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 2:46 pm

KEARNS, UtahA suspected drunk driver was caught on security footage launching their car from a hillside and crashing into the wall of a children’s community center. The Kearns Early Childhood Head Start program is now trying to figure out how to move forward because the building may not be safe to let children back inside.

The surveillance footage shows the driver barreling off of 4820 West on New Year’s Eve, after Unified Police Sgt. Melody Cutler said the car ran another vehicle off the road. The sedan sails over the hill, ripping through a fence, with sparks flying.

It then continues forward and slams straight through the cinderblock wall of the Head Start building.

A few moments later, the back driver side window rolls down, and three people struggle to climb out through the window. A man pulls out a woman — the suspected driver — and she flops to the ground.

She gets up barefoot, stumbles over to witnesses who have gathered in the snowy, wet parking lot, and asks for a ride.

“This could have been tragic,” Cutler said.

Cutler said all three people ended up taking off and fleeing the scene.

(Utah Community Action)

“Watching that video, it is frightening to think of what could have happened and the speed that person was traveling at, coming up over that hill, through that parking lot, through a cinderblock wall,” she said.

Also frightening because the car drove straight into a building that houses a children’s program. It was unoccupied at the time.

Janell Cerva, chief impact and strategy officer for Utah Community Action — which runs Head Start programs in Salt Lake and Tooele counties — explained that the building has been unoccupied since, because they are waiting on a structural engineer to assess if the building is safe.

Walking around the damaged room Tuesday, she pointed to what used to be a bathroom wall.

“This wall here, this is the big concern,” she said. “Is this damaging the structure, compromising the structure of the building?”

(Lauren Steinbrecher/KSL TV)

The Kearns Early Childhood Head Start Center serves families with children ages newborn to 5 years old, Cerva explained, who are experiencing poverty. The families rely on the center for free childcare, meals, and other crucial resources to survive.

Right now, all their services at that location are closed for the time being, and the families have to figure out something else.

“It’s already challenging coming right out of the holidays, and obviously, this just adds, just makes it that much more difficult,” she said. “Especially when you’re really kind of on the margin and just barely getting by, it really is a tough time.”

She explained that case managers are working with those families virtually as they wait to see if the building is structurally sound.

Even if it is, Cerva said the classroom the car crashed into, which served infants to children 3 years old, will remain closed until repairs are made. They are planning to relocate that classroom to a different location.

Cutler said police were able to find the driver the night of the crash, thanks to a West Valley City K-9 tracking her scent. Iris DeLeon Gutierrez, 21, was suspected of DUI and will likely face charges. They are still looking for the two men, who could also face charges of fleeing the scene of an accident.

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Kearns Head Start closed after suspected drunk driver crashes through building