ROAD TO ZERO

Utah trooper who hit wrong-way driver to stop him says he acted instinctively

Apr 20, 2023, 6:07 PM | Updated: Apr 22, 2023, 3:10 pm

(Utah Highway Patrol)...

(Utah Highway Patrol)

(Utah Highway Patrol)

SANDY, Utah — Chad McCoy wasn’t aware there was a wrong-way driver nearby until he saw the pickup truck coming right at him.

“I had just finished my shift in Salt Lake County. I had just crossed over into Tooele County. I didn’t hear anything on the (police) radio at that time. I just noticed ahead of me cars moving to the right, and then this truck that was facing the wrong direction and then I realized it’s actually traveling at a pretty high rate of speed,” the veteran Utah Highway Patrol sergeant said on Thursday.

At that point, McCoy said he relied on his training and made the split-second decision to stop the wrong-way driver by hitting the pickup truck with his patrol car, almost head-on.

The incident happened Tuesday just before 3 p.m. on I-80 near Lake Point. Emergency dispatchers had put out a call to all troopers in the area to be on the lookout for a pickup truck headed east in the westbound lanes. McCoy was already in the area and didn’t hear the initial broadcast, but quickly found himself face-to-face with the vehicle.

On Thursday, he recounted his dangerous encounter.

McCoy said after seeing the pickup, he immediately turned on his overhead red and blue emergency lights, both to try and get the oncoming driver to slow down and pull over and to warn other drivers behind him.

“Quickly I saw they weren’t pulling over/stopping. So I just tried to get the best angle that I could to try and stop him,” he said.

McCoy said he slowed his patrol car down to about 15 mph and then tried to hit the pickup at an angle — his front driver’s side to the truck’s front driver’s side — so as not to have a total head-on collision. The sergeant, who has been with the UHP for 12 years, said it all happened very quickly and he is grateful for his department’s training to prepare him for that moment.

“We often talk about playing the ‘What if?’ game. What if this or that were to happen to you? Because we know in those situations where we only have seconds to act, we don’t have time to think things through,” he said. “So I think a lot of the preparation happens before the moment that it happens. So in those few seconds, it’s just more of a reflex than a long thought process.”

McCoy’s actions received praise from many, including Gov. Spencer Cox who tweeted Wednesday, “This trooper had just finished his shift and was on his way home when he saw a car coming at him going the wrong way. He knew he had one chance to protect the drivers behind him. Without hesitation, he put his own life on the line. I’m grateful for heroes.”

Col. Michael Rapich, head of the Utah Highway Patrol, continued with the praise on Thursday.

“We’re incredibly proud of him, We’re incredibly grateful he’s OK and wasn’t hurt. And we’re grateful no one else was hurt as a result of this incident,” he said.

UHP troopers have investigated eight wrong-way crashes this year resulting in four deaths. So far, there have been 83 wrong-way incidents reported statewide in Utah in 2023, compared to 141 for all of last year.

“When crashes involving wrong-way drivers occur, they’re violent, they’re tragic, and they’re horrible. And they represent a significant threat to the motorists in the state of Utah,” Rapich said.

The most common reasons for drivers going the wrong-way are impairment, distracted driving and drivers being confused, he said. Rapich called wrong-way drivers one of the most challenging calls a trooper can respond to.

Typically, troopers will try to stop other traffic and then have another trooper try to stop a wrong-way vehicle by using a PIT maneuver. In this case, McCoy said because of the heavy traffic on the road, he knew he didn’t have time to wait for other troopers to get into position.

McCoy says after the impact, and after he realized he was OK, he got out of his car and went into “crash scene mode.” Both McCoy and the 62-year-old man driving the pickup were later taken to local hospitals as a precaution. McCoy said Thursday he is sore, but expects to be back on the job next week. The investigation into why the pickup driver was going the wrong way is being handled by the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office. As of Thursday, the man had not been arrested or charged.

Wrong-way driving is a serious issue in our state, it was less than a year ago we did an in-depth investigation into this problem and proposed solutions, the story is called “Putting the Breaks on Wrong-Way drivers.”

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Utah trooper who hit wrong-way driver to stop him says he acted instinctively