The Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation cordoned off the scene of a fatal Jan. 18 truck accident on U.S. Highway 191 just north of Arches National Park's main entrance. Witnesses told the highway patrol that the vehicle was traveling more than 80 miles per hour down Moab Canyon. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

A 27-year-old New Mexico truck driver was killed last week when the semi truck he was driving crashed into a rocky hillside just north of Arches National Park’s main entrance.

Simon Ashe was traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 191 with a truckload of onions at about 7:29 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18, when his semi truck and trailer drifted off the right shoulder of the road into a curve.

According to the Utah Highway Patrol, the truck was unable to negotiate the sharp curve and struck a rock “wall” near milepost 132 about 1 mile north of Arches’ entrance. Upon impact, Ashe was ejected through the front windshield; he was pronounced dead at the scene. No one else was traveling in the vehicle.

The highway patrol’s preliminary investigation into the accident found no signs that alcohol or drugs were a factor in the accident, which was likely caused by excessive speed.

Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Charlie Taylor said that Ashe was driving more than 80 miles per hour down Moab Canyon, where the posted speed limit is 65 miles per hour.

“That (estimate) was based on witnesses he passed,” Taylor said. “They were traveling 80 miles per hour.”

Ashe was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Investigators who examined the truck’s cab found that the steering wheel was not bent and the seat was in place, and Taylor said he believes that Ashe could have survived if he’d been properly restrained.

“He’d still be with us, in my opinion,” he said.

Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) Region 4 Communications Manager Kevin Kitchen said his advice to truckers and others who are passing through the area is simple:

“It would be, drive at the speed limit and pay attention to the advisories,” he said. “The road is not designed to handle those types of speeds … Those regulatory signs and speeds are there for that purpose (to warn people).”

According to Taylor, the truck hit a warning sign that advises drivers to use caution when approaching the sharp curve ahead.

Truckers who are familiar with the canyon generally slow down, and Taylor suggested that those who are carrying heavier loads may want to reduce their speeds even further to reduce the risk of an accident.

“Most guys know what they can and can’t do in the corners, and generally, they will slow down in that situation,” he said.

In the past, the highway patrol has responded to crashes in the same corner of the canyon. Although neither the highway patrol nor UDOT have the exact figures at hand, Taylor said that driver error is typically to blame for the accidents there.

“It usually involves driver inattention,” he said. “They’re not paying attention to the task at hand, which is driving.”

Moab resident and Western River Expeditions driver Kama Brewer wrote that she travels past the stretch of 191 every two days, and every time, she said, she sees trucks “hauling ass.”

“The speed limit is not the problem,” Brewer said in a post on the Moab Sun News’ Facebook page. “(The) problem is drivers who don’t abide by the posted or suggested speed … I’m surprised this isn’t a weekly headline.”

The posted speed limit drops from 65 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour on the other side of the curve, just north of the park’s main entrance.

While some residents have suggested that UDOT should lower the speed limit ahead of the curve, Kitchen said that his department hasn’t studied the possibility.

There’s only so much road design work that can be done, he said, reiterating that drivers should be aware of their surroundings and obey the posted speed limit.

Witnesses report that vehicle was speeding on Hwy. 191