PHOENIX - More than 1,700 motorists received citations last year for traveling on Arizona roads with loads that were not properly secured.
The damage can be deadly, destructive, and expensive. While some people are reporting the flying trash to the state's litter hotline, many drivers are never held responsible and never made aware of the commotion they may be causing on the road.
"I could have been decapitated. My car could've flipped. Lord knows what could've happened," said Renee Cohelo, whose vehicle was smashed by part of a couch as she traveled along the 202 freeway in Mesa.
"There was no time to be scared at all," she told the ABC15 Investigators. "I know that when I hit, my head went back, and I slammed up against the head rest. I was surprised that the car was still driving," she explained.
The damage to Cohelo's vehicle totaled more than $4,300. She said she also suffered a headache, a shoulder tear, and damage to her eye.
"I thought - what an idiot! I was mad," she exclaimed. "I thought – why would you put furniture in the back of a truck and get on a freeway and drive 80 mph down a freeway?"
Cohelo was able to pull off the road and catch up with the driver who dropped the load. She also called police, who eventually ticketed the other driver.
Several other drivers reported the debris to 9-1-1.
"It's better to let us know and let us get it out of the road than to ignore it," said Officer Carrick Cook, an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman.
"I've seen couches, washer and dryer, refrigerators, lots of ladders," he said.
Cook said motorists can also report improperly secured loads by calling the DPS non-emergency phone number, 602-223-2000.
According to DPS records, most Arizona drivers received citations for improperly secured loads last year along the Interstate 10 near Tucson.
"It's enforced to an extent that if it is really egregious, we'll stop it," he said.
The fine can be up to $500.
For debris victims, the penalty can be permanent.
MAN KILLED BY DEBRIS
"When I got there, there was blood everywhere," said Sandy Dunavin, a Waddell widow whose husband, Tim Dunavin, was killed by a large piece of flying metal in 2009.
Tim Dunavin was the passenger in a truck traveling on the Valley's Interstate 17 freeway when a "tie down" mechanism from a flatbed semi truck struck the windshield.
"The driver (traveling with Tim) said, ‘Tim did you see that?'' Sandy Dunavin said. "At that point, it was too late."
The large metal tool had smashed the windshield and slammed into Tim Dunavin's head.
"The whole right side of his head – his face – was split open," Sandy Dunavin said.
He lived for a few days but would never make a full recovery.
"He was blind. He had a stroke. He was paralyzed totally," said Sandy Dunavin. "He would never walk again. He couldn't see. He had severe brain damage," she remembered.
Her husband was an avid hunter, a fisherman, a NASCAR fan, and a fun-loving grandfather to his grandkids.
"They wanted to take him back into surgery and cut out a piece of his brain, and I said no," she said. "You couldn't put him in a chair. He would've known it. He would've been very mad, so we decided not to do that," she said.
Sandy Dunavin said she's nervous on the roads.
"I'm angry. I'm very angry. My husband's gone. He's not coming back. It's sad," she said.
"Everything needs to be checked constantly. You can't just check it once and think it's okay because it's not okay. Anything can happen," she said.
Police never found the person who was responsible for the debris that took Tim Dunavin's life.
NUMBERS TO CALL
Keep Arizona Beautiful maintains a litter reporting site for people who witness the act of littering on the roads.