Student hit on I-15

Rodeo team member Zach Harrell participates in his favorite event, calf roping during a rodeo last season. Harrell’s rodeo career is on hold after being hit by a car. Photo courtesy of Shane Draper

On Jan. 13, Zach Harrell, a freshman and member of the rodeo team was struck by a vehicle while trying to help a woman on the shoulder of I-15 near Spanish Fork.

Details on the incident are incomplete, due to the extreme trauma of the situation, but sources say Harrell was headed home from rodeo practice in Santaquin. He drove north on I-15. At around 9:30 p.m., he was approaching the Spanish Fork exit.

A car ahead of Harrell hit a pothole and some ice, and then spun out onto the side of one of the lanes. Seeing this, Harrell pulled his truck to the side to see if everyone was okay. The driver, a woman named Ashley, had two children in the back seat. He tried to comfort the children, who were crying from the shock of the accident.

According to Cortney Woolsey, Harrell’s girlfriend, Ashley said two cars came along on the freeway. She believed they were driving “too fast.” They each lost control, bumped each other, and spun toward her and Harrell.

One of them hit Harrell. Harrell flew through the air, over the concrete barrier, possibly struck a pole and fell to the ground. Ashley ran to help him, calling for help from the other two drivers.

After being rushed to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, it was discovered that Harrell suffered a litany of injuries. He had two skull fractures, a fractured kneecap, a torn left ACL, a collapsed lung, a small tear in his spleen, a broken eye socket and both cheek bones were broken. His two most serious injuries though, were a fractured femur and six broken ribs, according to Woolsey.

“They had to put 11 pints of blood in him,” she said. “His fractured femur ripped part of his quad muscle, and that made him bleed a lot. Also, of the six ribs he broke, two of them were the top ribs. The doctors said that they have never, ever had anybody break the top two ribs and survive, because the broken ribs usually hit the aorta. But Zach’s didn’t. They said they’d never seen that in their medical careers.”

After spending six days in intensive care at the hospital, Harrell was moved to an intermediate ICU on Jan. 20. After four more days, he was moved to a rehabilitation center in Murray. He is expected to return home Feb. 2.

“Zach is a natural athlete and I think this has helped him in his speedy recovery,” said Woolsey. “All of his doctors are amazed at how fast he is recovering. He was supposed to be in ICU for two weeks but left after six days. Zach was standing up on the 17th. He may even be able to ride his horses again after a month.”

This isn’t the first time Harrell has had to overcome physical adversity, explained Woolsey. Last year Harrell placed fourth in the High School Rodeo State Finals even after severely tearing tendons in his ankle.

Through it all, Harrell’s positivity has helped his family get through, said Woolsey.

“Zach has shown so much courage and strength through these last couple of weeks. If he did not have the mental strength that he does, we do not know if he would be here right now. He may not know how powerful his determination is, but we have all seen it since his accident,” Woolsey said.

In fact, Woolsey said that to Zach, the worst thing is that he is “very sick of being in the hospital … [because] he is a very active young man.”

Another of his worries was missing the upcoming rodeo season. According to rodeo coach Shane Draper, Harrell placed eighth in the team roping event at both the regional rodeos at Idaho State and Utah State. Draper said Harrell was sad to realize he would be missing this year’s events, which begin in March.

“He said, ‘What do you think about this season?’ and I said, ‘I think you might miss it,’” said Draper. “He was pretty disappointed.”

Despite the unfortunate events that have led to his accident, Zach knows that he has been very fortunate that his injuries weren’t much worse.
“He knows he’s a miracle man,” Woolsey said.

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