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Crashes prompt safety efforts on Pass

Seven accidents involving commercial vehicles on Wolf Creek Pass in 2010, three of which happened last week, are triggering increased safety efforts by the Colorado State Patrol and Colorado Department of Transportation.

At about 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 18, a semi tractor-trailer hauling a load of Bud Light to Durango became a downhill runaway, overturning onto its right side just above the lower truck ramp, sliding next to the cliff, said Trooper Randy Talbot with the CSP.

The road was not blocked during the incident, though the truck’s load was lost and broken bottles “created quiet a mess,” Talbot said.

The driver, Jerry J. Jones, 45, of Marietta, Ga., suffered a minor scratch on his ankle and was the truck’s only occupant, according to Talbot.

Jones was cited for careless driving, Talbot said.

The second and third accidents of the week took place Wednesday afternoon.

The second occurred near 2:05 p.m., also directly above the lower runaway truck ramp on Wolf Creek Pass, Talbot reported.

A semi tractor was pulling a wide load consisting of large steel boxes used to filter water at water treatment plants, with an intended destination of Farmington, N.M., when it became a downhill runaway.

The truck was being escorted by a pilot car at the time.

The truck also passed Talbot, who was in the midst of a traffic stop.

In the process of descending the pass as a runaway, the truck’s load was lost and, when the truck overturned, it rolled over the top of the load and traveled up an embankment 50 feet before coming to rest on its wheels, Talbot explained.

The driver, Donald L. Crawford, Jr., 46, of Barboursville, Va., was injured in the accident and taken by ambulance to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, where he was treated and released the same day for fractures in his back, Talbot said.

Crawford was also cited for careless driving.

While crews were at work on the incident, another loaded semi tractor-trailer became a downhill runaway, but was able to use the upper runaway truck ramp, thus preventing another incident at the lower truck ramp that could have been serious.

“We’re thankful because we were working the truck ramp down below,” Talbot said.

Talbot said the semi, driven by Nikolay Khoma, 45, of Roseville, Calif., was descending the pass trucking a load of potatoes when Khoma lost control and made the decision to use the truck ramp.

When the truck went onto the runaway ramp at about 65 mph, snow and mud on the ramp tore open the truck’s load, spilling potatoes at the site, as well as tearing the axles and fuel tank out of the truck, Talbot said.

Khoma was uninjured in the accident and was not cited because he decided to use the truck ramp, Talbot said.

All three drivers were wearing seatbelts, Talbot said.

According to CDOT Traffic and Safety Engineer Mike McVaugh, the wreck was the seventh involving a commercial vehicle on the pass this calendar year.

“It’s blowing me away,” Talbot said of the number of accidents.

“What I do see consistently is the drivers involved in these are from areas where there are no mountains (like Wolf Creek Pass),” Talbot continued. “It’s clearly driver inexperience.”

Because of accidents, Talbot said CSP, with the help of Port of Entry personnel, are increasing safety and education efforts on the pass beginning yesterday (Wednesday) in a large-scale effort.

Talbot said the effort includes a portable scale, along with Port of Entry personnel, the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (CSP’s safety unit) and four troopers stationed at the pass summit to stop trucks traveling in both directions before they begin their descents.

Crews were at the summit for five hours Wednesday and, based on how effective efforts were during the day, would plan further efforts at the site, Talbot explained.

Additionally, CDOT is working to increase safety in the area of the lower runaway ramp as part of a planned summer project.

CDOT crews began installing additional signage near the ramp Monday to warn truck drivers and attempt to increase vigilance.

When more intensive work to restructure the lower truck ramp begins this summer, CDOT has requested uniformed presence by CSP eight hours a day, five days a week to increase safety.

No matter the efforts taken to decrease the number of accidents on the pass, Talbot is pushing for awareness on the part of all drivers.

“When you come around that Overlook, you have to be watching all the time,” Talbot said, explaining that many of the truck accidents take up all lanes.

randi@pagosasun.com

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