Mashed potatoes: Wolf Creek Pass closes after 44,000 pounds spill

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U.S. 160 traversing Wolf Creek Pass was closed for about three and a half hours early Tuesday morning after 44,000 pounds of potatoes spilled onto the highway.

According to an email from Master Trooper Doug Wiersma of the Colorado State Patrol, the spill occurred after a semi tractor-trailer hauling the load rolled after losing its breaks.

No one was injured in the event.

The semi, driven by Willy Adams, 55, of Goodyear, Ariz., was traveling westbound down Wolf Creek Pass around midnight Nov. 11 when the semi’s brakes overheated and failed, making Adams unable to slow the semi down through the curves on the west side of the pass, the email indicated.

“At the entrance to the lower runaway ramp the loaded semi, unable to slow due to overheated brakes, was traveling approximately 70 mph when the driver lost control on the curves,” the email stated.

After losing control, the semi tractor-trailer rolled onto its right side and slid into a guardrail. The trailer then separated from the truck and continued rolling, spilling its entire 44,000-pound load of potatoes onto the highway.

With three medium potatoes weighing about 1 pound, 44,000 pounds would be roughly equivalent to 132,000 potatoes.

“The truck was demolished but the driver was wearing a seat belt and escaped uninjured,” the email stated.

All three lanes of U.S. 160 traversing the pass were blocked from the time of the accident to about 3:30 a.m. as emergency personnel and crews worked to clear enough of the wreckage and potatoes to allow traffic to pass through the area.

Clean-up work continued through much of the day Tuesday.

Wiersma explained that the towing and cleanup company, JR Towing, was responsible for cleaning up the vehicle and cargo. The company reportedly transported four dump truck loads of potatoes off the mountain, with the rest biodegradable and left to the elements due to the difficulty of retrieving it.

Those potatoes must now be held until any involved insurance companies release them.

Adams was uninjured in the incident, but was cited with careless driving.

In light of the cause of the incident being overheated brakes that failed, and the upcoming winter season, Wiersma offered the following advice for driving down the pass safely:

“When descending any mountain pass it’s important to remember to shift into a lower gear and let your engine do the work of holding your speed down, not your brakes. Brakes overheat very quickly when over-used at highway speeds and this overheating will cause them to become totally ineffective. In wintertime, descending and sometimes even ascending passes in lower gears on icy roads will also reduce your chances of spinning out. We often forget our cars have these lower gears, but when driving in mountain country knowing how and when to use them is critical to safe driving.”