Icy Highways Claim One Life And Several Vehicles

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One person has died and at least four vehicles were involved in single-car accidents between Pine and the Tonto Natural Bridge due to dangerously icy roads Monday.

And on Highway 260 in Payson, an ice-caused head-on collision Monday morning sent five people to the hospital.

An elderly Strawberry resident, Al Priver, died Monday afternoon after his early model Ford truck slid on an icy stretch of Highway 87 about one mile south of Pine. Priver's southbound truck slid off the road at about 3:30 p.m., flipped into a tree and came to rest on its top, said DPS Sgt. John Whetton.

Priver was trapped inside by wreckage and his lap belt, said Pine-Strawberry Fire Department Capt. Robert Lashua. Priver was extricated by paramedics from the P-S Fire Department and sent by helicopter to Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, where he later died due to injuries and a heart attack, a hospital spokesman said.

Earlier in the day, five people sustained minor injuries in a collision apparently caused by snowpacked ice in Payson on Highway 260 near the Tyler Parkway.

Payson Fire Department Capt. Martin deMasi said the incident occurred at 9:40 a.m. when the driver of a westbound Ford pickup lost control of her vehicle and crossed the divider line into the eastbound traffic.

According to deMasi, the woman, Geraldine Vacarro, 51, of Payson, nearly hit a tow truck before slamming head-on into a Chevy S-10 pickup occupied by four Chandler teen-agers. The youths, ages 16 and 17, were all taken to Payson Regional Medical Center, where they were treated and released.

Vacarro complained of neck and chest pains and was also taken to PRMC, deMasi said.

Two other cars in the westbound lane collided when they slowed down for emergency workers at the scene, but no one in the second incident was injured, he said.

Two Payson fire trucks, three Canyon State ambulances, Payson Police, Gila County Sheriff's and Department of Public Safety officers were dispatched to the scene.

"The state is usually good about keeping the highways cleared," deMasi said. He said the area where the collision occurred was shaded and still icy.

According to deMasi, the four teen-agers "very lucky."

"Their little yellow pickup was massively damaged," he said.

Second Highway 87 accident
Ice sent a vehicle carrying Gila County Building Inspector Julie Scott and her sister-in-law Becky Peck, also of the Gila County Planning and Zoning Office, tumbling off Highway 87 in an accident Monday morning.

The pair were heading south from Pine to work about 7:30 a.m. and were topping the hill just before the Tonto Natural Bridge when their mini Chevy Blazer, already locked in four-wheel drive, began to gain speed and fishtail.

"I was hoping we could go off to the left and hit the mountain," Scott said. But they didn't.

"It's happening so fast you don't know what is going on," she said. "When we went off (the cliff to the right) it was head first and then end over and end and then sideways."

Her Blazer, a Gila County vehicle, came to a stop about 50 yards down a steep embankment and on all four wheels, enabling the uninjured Scott to get out and climb to the road for help. She flagged down an APS truck, whose driver radioed for help.

Waiting in the wreckage, passenger Peck knew she had a broken arm and was brought to the top by the P-S Fire Department's Rope Rescue Team, headed by Scott's husband, Harris.

Both women were taken to PRMC where they were treated and released.

"For what happened we were just so fortunate," said Scott. Both were wearing seat belts and Scott believes they prevented more serious injuries.

Other fortunate drivers included a U-Haul truck that skidded off the road into a tree and a white Chevy S-10 that did the same thing just ahead of the U-Haul, said tow truck driver Freddie Miranda. Drivers in both incidents were uninjured.

Miranda said his truck was busy most of the day, hauling vehicles back onto the highway after they had off the road.

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