Unified police officer rescues driver from burning semi in Little Cottonwood

Jun 11, 2024, 10:30 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2024, 9:28 pm

UPDATE: KSL TV acquired body camera footage showing the officer pulling the driver from the crash, with help from witnesses at the scene.

SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday morning, a fiery rollover crash off state Route 210 in Little Cottonwood Canyon closed the road for hours.

Witnesses didn’t think anyone could have survived the explosion, but one Unified police officer ran into the flames to make a daring rescue.

A supervisor from the Unified Police Department identified officer Wilson from the Canyon Patrol Unit as the hero who rushed in to rescue a driver pinned in the burning semitruck. At the request of the supervisor KSL will only use the officer’s last name.

“The officer was super humble and didn’t expect anything from the whole thing; he just went in there not knowing the situation. He didn’t know if the guy was alive or dead. The officer put himself at risk. That level of courage is what you want in a police officer. He is amazing! He is a hero,” said Justin Morgan, a witness who called 911.

Wilson arrived solo on the scene with no fire-protectant gear.

“As soon as we said the driver was still in there, (officer Wilson) ran into the woods,” Morgan said. “My friends and I went to the scene and thought ‘Absolutely not, we’re not going in there.’ We were worried the driver was dead.”

“And there were flames everywhere. Both trees, on either side of the wreckage, had flames that went up 100 feet.” Morgan said.

Wilson led the way with courage, and witnesses took action.

“The driver’s head was popping out of the wreckage. The officer cleared an area. The driver was covered in blood with an arm broken in multiple places,” Morgan said.

Morgan and four others held fire extinguishers from witnesses’ emergency car kits. They located the driver who was buried up to his neck in wreckage debris, including a tree that had fallen on top of him.

The body camera footage captures the frightening and dramatic moments where the men worked to quickly assess the victim’s injuries and pull him out, all while watching the flames get closer.

After three minutes, Morgan and Wilson pulled the driver from the flaming semi.

“We put him under our arms and carried him out 100 yards to the road. We sat him on a rock and put water in his eyes.” Morgan said. “Without this officer jumping in there — none of this would have happened.”

Witnesses described the scene as a semitruck with a 40-foot trailer that had been crushed, flattened and engulfed in flames.

Those passing by said the semitruck’s brakes overheated near Lisa Falls in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Witnesses said the big rig hit the side of the canyon, was launched into the air, and exploded on landing.

“The semi was going so fast, and the flames were hot and violent,” Morgan said. “During the rescue, we were standing on the cab but it felt flat from the damage.”

On Tuesday, officials said the driver was being treated for multiple injuries but on the path to recovery.

“They wish to offer sincere thanks to Officer Wilson and the other bystanders who helped after the accident. Sage demolition echoes those sentiments,” a spokesperson with Sage Demolition said on the driver’s behalf. “We are so grateful for the quick and selfless actions of those who helped rescue our driver. We are amazed, especially after seeing the body cam footage, that our driver wasn’t more injured. We are all feeling very grateful that there were good people there who were willing to jump in and help.”


Contributing: Lindsay Aerts, Debbie Worthen, Michael Houck and Mary Culbertson, KSL TV

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Unified police officer rescues driver from burning semi in Little Cottonwood