Utah dad who died rescuing children in crash remembered as ‘selfless’

Apr 4, 2024, 11:17 PM | Updated: 11:25 pm

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Family members of a Utah County father are sharing the heartbreaking story of how he died trying to help his children after a crash in southern Utah following a horrific chain of events.

They’re also expressing how grateful they are that the community is now rallying around that man’s wife and five children.

A photo showing Reino Kerttula and his family in matching Christmas pajamas shows that he was all about family. Reino Kerttula was known to be the first to jump in and help, and not just with his wife Sarah Kerttula and five kids, but with Sarah Kerttula’s whole family, too.

Sarah Kerttula’s brother, Seth Crossley, described Reino Kerttula as “a big brother to all of us.”

“He was the person that would, no questions asked, help you with anything that you needed,” Crossley said.

The Kerttula wearing festive pajamas with with dad Reino in the back.

The Kerttula’s wearing festive pajamas with dad Reino in the back. (Courtesy: Kerttula Family)

Crossley and Jeff Aiken, Reino Kerttula’s brother-in-law by marriage to Sarah Kerttula’s sister, explained how everyone got together for Easter and had dinner as an extended family.

Then Reino, Sarah, and three of their children took off for southern Utah for spring break because their older daughter was getting married.

“They were really excited,” Aiken said, of the wedding.

Reino and Sarah.

Reino and Sarah. (Courtesy: Kerttula Family)

But on Interstate 15, nearly the home stretch to St. George around Leeds, Aiken said a deer jumped out in front of the family’s SUV. Reino Kerttula tried to swerve to miss it, Aiken said, but the SUV fishtailed.

“They hit the deer, and then their vehicle rolled several times, crossed over the median and ended up on its side,” he said.

The family was stuck inside, sideways, and sitting in oncoming traffic.

Reino Kerttula was able to get out, and as he tried to rescue his kids, another vehicle hit him. Aiken said he was thrown into the air.

The Kerttula family vehicle, after it hit a deer and rolled into oncoming traffic.

The Kerttula family vehicle, after it hit a deer and rolled into oncoming traffic. (Utah Highway Patrol)

“When he came down, he was yelling for everybody to get out of the road, and get to safety,” Aiken said.

In those moments, he explained how it was clear Reino Kerttula was only thinking of his wife and kids, despite being critically injured. He said Reino Kerttula was lying on the road, holding his son’s hand and trying to comfort his son.

“He smiled, adamant that everything’s going to be okay and, that was the last thing that I think anyone had heard from him,” Aiken said, getting choked up. “He lost consciousness right after, and never regained it.”

Everyone ended up in the hospital with injuries. Aiken said the couple’s youngest had to have surgery to reattach and realign his fingers on his hand, and everyone else had stitches or broken bones.

They were released on Tuesday.

Reino Kerttula’s injuries were just too severe. Aiken said he died while in surgery Tuesday night.

“They’re all in shock,” Crossley said, of the family. “I don’t know how anybody gets through.”

The brothers-in-law said the community is helping, from cleaning to yard work.

“It’s amazing to see the outpouring of love and generosity,” Aiken said.

He set up a GoFundMe* to help Sarah with medical bills, funeral costs, replacing the family’s vehicle, and as Sarah Kerttula starts navigating life with the kids.

Instead of looking forward to a wedding, they’re now planning a funeral as the family remembers the man who always thought of everyone else first.

“Just incredibly selfless, cared deeply for others,” Aiken said. “He was just a great guy.”

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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Utah dad who died rescuing children in crash remembered as ‘selfless’