A semi driver was killed Tuesday after he lost control of his vehicle as he descended the west side of Wolf Creek Pass.
The accident is believed to have occurred at about 2 a.m. on Tuesday, July 5. Emergency personnel received the call of a vehicle over the edge of the highway near the Lobo Overlook (U.S. 160 mile marker 160.5). the report indicated the vehicle was on fire at approximately 2:45 a.m.
According to Colorado State Patrol spokesman Doug Wiersma, an investigation into the accident revealed that the semi, a 2007 Freightliner tractor and trailer driven by Billy Savage, 59, of Brookhaven, Miss., went out of control as it was descending the pass and broke through a new concrete barrier before launching airborne for approximately 136 feet.
The semi broke into several pieces before catching fire and coming to rest in a ravine below the overlook, Wiersma reported.
The Pagosa Fire Protection District, EMS, Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office Department of Emergency Management and Upper San Juan Search and Rescue responded to the scene and the PFPD extinguished the fire by spraying water down the side of the mountain.
At about 6 a.m., when light allowed, an effort by the search and rescue team allowed Tim Batchelor to rappel to the truck, which had come to rest in a ravine on the side of the mountain, and assess the situation.
ACSO Director of Emergency Management Drew Petersen said the decision was made to wait until daylight to assess the wreckage for safety reasons.
Petersen added that personnel knew the “survivability” of the incident was limited due to the fire and steep, unstable location of the truck in the ravine, making the safety of the emergency personnel the primary concern.
Approximately eight hours were spent securing and removing debris from the ravine in order to allow personnel to look for Savage, who was ejected and came to rest on a ledge about 150 feet below the area of impact, Peterson and Wiersma said.
When the situation was secure, Mineral County Coroner Charles Downing rappelled down to Savage and pronounced him dead at the scene.
Wiersma reported that the incident is still under investigation and an accident reconstruction team is at work. A brake malfunction is suspected, but many questions remain due to the location and state of the wreckage, such as if Savage was wearing a seat belt.
In total, Petersen estimated 60 rescuers tended to the scene throughout Tuesday, including from the PFPD, EMS, ACSO, USJSAR, CSP, Colorado Department of Transportation, CDOT contractors (the area of the accident is currently under construction in attempts to increase safety on the curve), Mineral County Sheriff’s Office, Mineral County Search and Rescue, Rio Grande Search and Rescue, Pagosa Fire Auxiliary, Downing, Buckskin Towing and the United States Forest Service.
Savage’s family e-mailed SUN staff with the following statement after the accident:
“Tonight our family is hurting and mourning the loss of a wonderful and loving Husband, Father, Father-In-law, and Paw Paw Billy Wayne Savage was one of the most caring individuals you could hope to meet, always ready to help or comfort others where he could. The world is a darker place without him. We are working on the process of getting him home to Brookhaven, Mississippi. Our family would like to thank the members of Pagosa Springs Search and Rescue and the Mineral county officials for all of their hard work in the recovery...”
Two other search and rescue operations took place over the weekend with less-than-desirable outcomes.
A July 2 recovery mission required about 16 hours of work to extract a man who died of a heart attack approximately five miles from the nearest road, Petersen reported.
A July 4 rescue near the Continental Divide and William’s Creek Reservoir required ground and air crews to remove an injured hiker. Ultimately, a Colorado National Guard helicopter and crews from Lake City were able to remove the injured person, Petersen explained.
On Wednesday, another search and rescue mission in the Piedra area located an overdue hiker.