‘One of the happiest days of her life’ was cut short. Family mourns the loss of new bride as troopers warn of dangerous driving

UHP says there were five crashes resulting in six fatalities across Utah roads over the weekend.

(Connor Sanders |The Salt Lake Tribune) Tenzing Dhondup had married Angelica Jimenez just seven hours before she was killed by an alleged drunken driver in a head-on collision Saturday.

Marisol Demorst can only see the headlights of the truck when she closes her eyes.

Demorst and her aunt Angelica Jimenez, 26, decided to go out for carne asada fries to celebrate Jimenez’s marriage Friday night to Tenzing Dhondup. As they drove along Interstate 15, Jimenez talked about how grateful she was for her family and how happy she was that her two children would now have a father in their lives.

Moments later, an alleged drunken driver who was moving the wrong way on the freeway collided head-on with Jimenez and Demorst. Jimenez died in the accident just seven hours after she was married.

“Her life was cut short because of someone’s stupid mistakes of drinking and driving...” Demorst said. “I’m glad she spent her last living hours talking about the people she loved. And I’m very sure that she knows she was loved as well.”

Demorst said that they were both wearing seat belts and that she is lucky to be alive, “But at what cost?” she wondered. She can’t sleep at night. Any time she sees a bright light, Demorst said, it starts to look like the headlights that struck her car around 1 a.m. Saturday.”

Col. Michael Rapich of the Utah Highway Patrol held a news conference Monday morning after a “devastating” weekend when five crashes led to six fatalities on Utah roads. He reports that the amount of fatal crashes and number of people who have died in them is up 50% in 2021, and it’s only getting worse as the year goes on.

Rapich said the uptick in fatalities is the result of increased impaired driving, speeding, distracted driving and fatigue. He reported that many of the deaths could have been avoided if the people involved were wearing their seat belts.

“Five fatal crashes in a two-day period — one travel weekend — it’s unbelievable and it’s horrible.” Rapich said. “I think we get numb to the idea when we hear these things that it’s just another traffic collision. Just another fatal highway statistic. It’s not. Fatal crashes are horrible. They’re devastating. They’re violent.”

The impact of fatal accidents extends far beyond those involved in the crash, Rapich noted. There are families who must cope with the loss of a loved one, passersby who have to witness and report the crashes, and entire communities that have to try and band together and move on.

Jimenez was a member of the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Tribe. Rachel Vigil, Jimenez’s older sister, said that her younger sibling “was the most loving person that we’ve known.”

“A lot of lives have been impacted by this,” Vigil said. “She was the type of person that would give her shirt to anybody if they needed it. If they were hungry, she would feed them. If they needed anything, she was there.”

Vigil said that Jimenez was weeks away from finalizing the adoption of her third child when the crash occurred. Her children, Vigil added, are only beginning to understand that their mother is not coming home again.

In the moments after the collision, Jimenez was able to call another one of her sisters. She said that she was in severe pain and asked for help. Vigil reported that the new bride was on the phone for a couple of minutes before she had an asthma attack and could no longer be heard on the other line. She had forgotten her inhaler in the excitement of the wedding.

“What was supposed to be one of the happiest days of her life,” Vigil said, “was also the worst day of her life.”

Tenzing Dhondup was Jimenez’s “high school sweetheart,” Vigil said. He covered his face and sobbed as he approached the microphone.

“They hit my wife,” Dhondup said through tears and deep, heaving breaths. “She was everything to me and her kids. And they took her. And I don’t know why.”

Demorst was a bridesmaid at the wedding and drove Jimenez to get food after the reception had ended. After they dropped the dress and gifts off at home, they headed to Jimenez’s sister’s house to reflect on the night. Jimenez offered to take the wheel because driving on the freeway made Demorst feel anxious.

“We were just talking, and before we realized it was too late. We were hit…” Demorst said. “What was such a sweet night that was filled with laughter and joy and love was cut short by a driver that got on the freeway the wrong way and hit us.”

Rapich reported that there have been 179 fatal crashes in Utah so far this year. He said there are 179 stories just like Jimenez’s.

“As a driving culture, we’ve become way too comfortable in how safe our vehicles are,” Rapich said. “We have vehicles that can drive very fast and do so comfortably. It doesn’t change the fact that when we increase speeds on the freeway, things happen quickly. Our ability to respond to and avoid collisions goes down quickly as well.”

Rapich said that responding to so many fatal collisions is weighing on Utah Highway Patrol officers, emergency responders and victim advocates as well. “It’s getting so frequent,” he said, “that we almost don’t have a chance to get them to emotionally take a breath before they’re off to the next tragic incident.”

Rapich said Utah needs to “change the curve” on the recent uptick in high speeds and the number of intoxicated and distracted drivers on Utah roads. He added that driving is “serious business” that it “needs all of our attention” to keep people safe.

“Small decisions sometimes have horrible consequences, as we’ve seen this weekend...” Rapich said. “We can make better decisions. We can be safer. We can avoid devastating consequences.”

Here is some more information on the other fatal crashes that occurred this weekend:

• Saturday morning, a rollover crash on Interstate 70 in Sevier County resulted in the death of a 37-year-old woman from Colorado.

• Saturday afternoon, a motorcycle driver hit a cable barrier after drifting outside of his lane in Morgan County.

• Saturday afternoon, two people died after a vehicle drifted from the eastbound into the westbound lanes, resulting in a head-on collision on State Road 6.

• Sunday morning, Rapich said, fatigue was a contributing factor in the death of a person who drove into the back of semitruck in Washington County.