A van driver's quick thinking prevented what could have been another deadly accident on the Beeline Highway.
Sotero Martinez of Show Low, a driver for White Mountain Passenger Lines, opted to drive a van off a six-foot embankment into a clump of manzanita and juniper clumps rather than risk a rollover or head-on collision Sept. 30.
None of the 10 passengers in the southbound van, including a young girl and her mother, were injured, emergency personnel said.
"That was some pretty amazing driving," White Mountain Passenger Lines President Brian Brimhall said.
The incident began Friday as Martinez was rounding a curve about two miles south of Payson, bound for the Valley from the company's home base in Show Low.
Directly ahead of Martinez, on the right side of the highway, was a truck pulling a horse trailer. Mike Cole of Snowflake was driving the truck.
According to police reports, Cole had slowed because he noticed a car in front of him traveling in the wrong direction.
Seeing the horse trailer, Martinez immediately turned into the left lane to get around it. Reports say it was then he saw the northbound car driven by 70-year-old Alvin Arnold of Wickenburg headed directly toward him.
Martinez braked and pulled to the right shoulder in an effort to avoid a serious accident. Moments later, the van -- and a trailer it was pulling -- flew off the embankment.
Going into the trees and brush, it was almost impossible to see from the highway.
Arnold told police he had driven through Payson and was southbound when he decided he wanted to return to town. He said he pulled off the right side of the road, made a U-turn and drove north toward Payson, thinking Beeline was a two-lane highway.
Almost immediately after the van plowed into the trees, a passenger called White Mountain Passenger Lines.
"The people in the van were still screaming, I could hear them in the background," Brimhall said. "I heard another passenger say, ‘that's some damn good driving.'"
Following the accident, both Arnold and Cole returned to the scene.
Payson firefighters responded to help pull the passengers out of the wreckage and up the steep embankment to the highway.
At the scene, firefighter Vince Palandri said he was amazed no one had been injured in the accident.
All of the passengers were wearing seat belts.
According to Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Whetten, one of three DPS officers on the scene, Arnold was cited for driving the wrong way on a state highway.
Officers also expressed their amazement that the accident wasn't more serious.
The passengers were picked up by another White Mountain Passenger Lines van and taken to their Valley destinations.