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Tragedy in Tooele County

On Sunday, November 18, 1945, at 3:50 a.m., a Pacific Greyhound bus was traveling eastbound on Highway 40 approximately 46 miles east of Wendover, near Knolls. The driver, Everett Sidney Renfro, age 48, later told police that he had set his speed at 42 mph. A storm Saturday night, combined with low temperatures, had glazed the road with a sheet of ice. The bus was loaded with 37 passengers, mostly military personnel, heading for Salt Lake City. Suddenly, the left front tire blew. The bus skidded out of control and traveled about 75 feet parallel to the road before overturning and bursting into flames. Most of the passengers had been asleep. They were awakened by a jolt and dense smoke. Those in the rear of the bus were unsuccessful in opening the rear emergency door. Frantically, the passengers kicked out windows and scrambled to safety. Many survivors later reported they feared they would not make it out, because they became entangled in curtains and luggage which littered the interior of the bus. After exiting the bus, the passengers scrambled to safety as the tires exploded and burned. No one realized that those passengers in the back of the bus had not been able to exit.

Over one hour passed and no traffic came upon the accident scene. Suddenly, a vehicle appeared through the dense fog. The passengers waived frantically, attempting to warn the driver. The driver failed to stop and crashed into the rear of the smoldering bus. A California husband and wife had been traveling with their infant daughter. They were startled to see people standing on the road edge, waiving their arms. Moments later, they too were victims.

Utah Highway Patrolman Frank E. Eastman and Tooele County Sheriff Alma White were the first officers to arrive at the scene at approximately 6:00 a.m. Patrolman Eastman had to drive to Clior Service Station, west of Dell, to summon additional help, as two-way radios were only available in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber Counties at that time. Patrolman Eastman summoned assistance from Salt Lake County Patrolmen and from Tooele County Deputy Sheriff Milton Lee. Patrolman Russ Cederlund was one of the many officers that responded to assist.

A total of 27 injured were at the scene when Patrolman Eastman and Sheriff White arrived. Most of the victims were treated for burns, fractures, cuts, and shock. Many of the passengers were recently discharged servicemen. Their discharge papers and mustering-out pay were destroyed. All victims lost their luggage. The worst of the tragedy was discovered when large wreckers arrived from Salt Lake City and began to remove the wreckage. The charred bodies of six additional victims were found at about noon. There were five service men and one civilian.

Patrolman Russ Cederlund would later recall, “That was the worst I had ever seen. I had no desire to see another.”