A Strawberry man died midmorning March 20 when his late model SUV swerved off the Beeline Highway, collided with two cedar trees and caught fire, trapping him inside.
Jerome Robinkoff, 79, was southbound to Payson, near milepost 258, when his 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe crossed the median into oncoming traffic, then jerked back into the southbound lane, onto the shoulder and into the trees.
Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Whetten said the impact of the vehicle crashing into the largest of the two trees bent the driver's side dashboard back far enough to pin Robinkoff inside the SUV.
At least three motorists rushed to the Strawberry man's aid but could not remove him.
"They were there before it caught fire but the (driver's side) door was jammed shut and he was trapped," Whetten said.
The rescuers attempted to pull Robinkoff out through the right rear door, which wasn't severely damaged, but were unable to move him from his pinned down position.
Minutes after the crash, the SUV burst into flames with Robinkoff still inside. Investigators said the man died during the fire, not from injuries sustained in the accident.
"We had some people try to put it out with their fire extinguishers but they were ineffective," Whetten said.
Eventually, the Payson Fire Department put out the blaze.
Whetten said Robinkoff left his Strawberry home minutes before the accident and was scheduled to return later that morning.
"He was supposed to be back to have lunch with his wife," Whetten said.
DPS officers are uncertain why Robinkoff's SUV swerved into the northbound lane before the accident. Investigators believe it could have been caused by inattention or possibly the use of a cell phone found inside the Tahoe.
"Some of these (accidents), we never know why they happen," Whetten said.
Funeral services for Robinkoff are pending.
Whetten also said as grievous as the fatal accident was, he's amazed there aren't more of them in the Rim Country. "With all the elk and deer we have (running onto the highways) and the number of trees, the roads up here can be really dangerous."