On June 15, 2014, a 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara left the road and killed its young driver in Sonora after the Jeep fell into Beaver Lake. The identity of the victim was released on June 16, 2014. The deceased driver was identified as Ms. Lorianne Gillespie, a 24-year-old resident of Springdale.
The accident is alleged to have been caused by the SUV leaving the road after a sharp turn right after the Blue Springs Bridge. The Jeep Wrangler Sahara was submerged for four hours before law enforcement dive teams from Benton and Washington Counties were able to retrieve the vehicle.
Because of the nature of Beaver Lake, dive teams were unable to simply pull the vehicle out. The vehicle was submerged 12 feet beneath the surface of Beaver Lake and because of the ledges in the lake, law enforcement agencies were forced to use airbags to raise the SUV and then pull the Jeep out.
Unfortunately, due to weather conditions and visibility issues it was not clear that the victim, Lorianne Gillespie, was still in the vehicle. It only became clear that the driver remained in the vehicle when the vehicle was no longer submerged beneath Beaver Lake.
Jeep Wranglers and SUVs more generally are often at a higher risk to rollover during crashes or cause their drivers to lose control. Although many SUVs have received poor safety ratings in the past due to their propensity to rollover during an accident or skid (as happened in this case), SUVs have improved their safety ratings in recent years. New anti-rollover technology anti-skid technology, including Electronic Stability Control (ESC) has drastically reduced the crash risks posed by newer SUVs. The NHTSA projects that the use of ESC in SUVs across the nation could save between 5,000-10,000 lives each year.
Such technology may have arrived too late for drivers such as Ms. Gillespie, but it behooves all of us to pay attention to the technological advances that can have the biggest impact on vehicle safety.