Campus on the rocks: Icy walkways injure woman, endanger students

Breaking an ankle in three places wasn’t how Carolyn Freeman-Sabahi envisioned starting her day.

Heading to work in the Middle East Center shortly after 8 a.m. last Wednesday, Freeman-Sabahi slipped on the ice lining the sidewalk between Milton Bennion Hall and the Kendall D. Garff Building, injuring her right ankle.

Freezing temperatures in the early morning turned overnight rain and snow into ice-up to a half-inch thick in some places. Grounds workers spread de-icing chemicals on some roads and walkways, but temperatures were too low for those chemicals to work.

“We couldn’t do much until it warmed up,” Sue Pope, grounds department supervisor, said.

Freeman-Sabahi’s husband, Amir, a graduate student in architecture, ran to the blue emergency call pole and asked for help after she was unable to get up.

Five minutes later, Ann Williams, grounds foreman, pulled up in a white U maintenance truck and began throwing salt on the sidewalk surrounding Sabahi.

After another five minutes, Officer Rick Bishop from the University of Utah Police Department arrived. Another 10 minutes later, a Salt Lake City Fire Department engine arrived along with an ambulance.

Freeman-Sabahi spent 20 minutes sitting on the frozen concrete, crying from the pain before emergency specialists stabilized her ankle in an inflatable cast and loaded her into her husband’s car to be driven to the University Hospital Emergency Room.

Doctors operated on the ankle on the morning of Dec. 1, and she is doing fine, Amir Sabahi said.

Only minutes after Amir Sabahi called for help, grounds workers in golf carts and white maintenance trucks began circling lower campus, spreading salt on walking surfaces.

Pope said she wasn’t sure whether the area where Freeman-Sabahi slipped had been treated for ice that morning, but with 30 miles of sidewalk, 200 buildings with stairs and only 48 workers on campus, de-icing the walkways is a tough job.

“You can’t be everywhere at once. We put down de-icer as fast as we could,” Pope said.

Despite the efforts of grounds workers, patches of ice lingered until mid-morning, especially in areas obscured by buildings and trees, like the intersection of sidewalks north of the Business Classrooms Building.

This intersection is where Heather Aust, a sophomore in political science, slipped and cut her hand on the sidewalk trying to catch herself.

“(It’s) not hard to navigate around it, (you) just have to pay attention,” she said of the incident.

Lydia Strait, a sophomore in psychology, was intentionally sliding on the ice with her husband James.

“We figured as long as we had the potential of slipping, we might as well try to control it. So we were actually having a lot of fun,” she said.

But on her way to class, she saw a student slip and almost fall down the stairs to the Social and Behavioral Science Building, barely managing to catch himself on the wall.

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