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Close call for DPS trooper

Posted at 6:37 PM, Apr 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-29 21:37:12-04
WILLCOX, Ariz (KGUN9-TV) - Sergeant Stewart Shupe is a man who is very lucky to be alive.
 
He was already working on a wreck that involved seven vehicles when a semi came out of a dust storm and plowed into his cruiser on I-10 about 30 miles east of Willcox
 
"My main memory is crunching metal.  Out of the corner of my eye I got a glimpse of a commercial vehicle and I just ran as fast as I could."
 
The sergeant figures visibility was about 50 feet. That margin is nothing when you're talking about highway speeds.
 
Responding to an earlier wreck, Sergeant Shupe parked behind the wrecked cars stopped in the right lane.  He turned on his emergency lights to try to warn other drivers to stay clear.
 
KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked him:  “That wasn't enough to warn somebody off.”  
 
Shupe: “No.  The dust got really bad and that commercial vehicle didn't slow down.”  
 
Smith: “How fast do you think he was going at that point?”  
 
Shupe: “Pretty fast,” He laughed.
 
He figures he was about fifty feet away when the semi plowed in hard enough he thought he'd have to dodge flying debris.
 
Soon backup troopers arrived and he could head home.
 
Craig Smith asked: “What's it like when you get home after something like this?”  
 
Shupe: “You know, it gets a little emotional.  You walk in, and your wife, cause I called her from the scene and you get home and see your kids and your wife it gets a little emotional but a relief and thankfulness and you realize how quickly life can change.  It didn't change for me but you can see how quickly it could."
 
Arizona’s Department of Transportation sets up warning signs and reduces speed limits when dust may be a danger. ADOT did that near where the semi hit Sergeant Shupe’s car.  Often dust is worst where farm and ranch operations break up the soil so there's more loose dust to blow.
 
ADOT and the Highway Patrol say if you hit thick dust and can't see, don't wait for an exit, pull far off the road, take your foot off the brake and turn off all lights even though you might think you want the lights on.
 
ADOT shares safety tips for dust storms through a program called "Pull Aside, Stay Alive."
 
Sergeant Shupe says, "The traffic behind you can't see the roadway and they're just following lights if they see them.  They think that's the road and they'll follow it.  If you're stopped with your lights on they're gonna run right into you."
 
And that's advice to keep in mind because there are still windy, dusty days ahead.