Not a pipe dream: Second semi spills load atop Wolf Creek

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Photo courtesy Colorado State Patrol A semi tractor-trailer sits on its top after spilling its load of steel pipe atop Wolf Creek Pass Saturday, Nov. 15. The semi’s brakes failed after overheating, leaving the driver unable to negotiate the rig through the curves on the west side of the pass.
Photo courtesy Colorado State Patrol
A semi tractor-trailer sits on its top after spilling its load of steel pipe atop Wolf Creek Pass Saturday, Nov. 15. The semi’s brakes failed after overheating, leaving the driver unable to negotiate the rig through the curves on the west side of the pass.

Wolf Creek Pass was not friendly to semis the week of Nov. 10.

On Nov. 15, for the second time in five days, a semi tractor-trailer lost its breaks due to overheating and failed to negotiate the curves of U.S. 160 on the west side of the pass, according to Master Trooper Doug Wiersma of the Colorado State Patrol.

At about midnight on Nov. 11, a semi tractor-trailer rolled and spilled its entire load of 44,000 pounds of potatoes near the entrance to the lower runaway truck ramp (see last week’s issue of The SUN for more information).

On Nov. 15 at about 11:15 a.m., a semi tractor-trailer hauling steel pipe met the same fate in the same location.

The semi, driven by Isaiah Dibrell, 26, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was westbound down the west side of Wolf Creek Pass when Dibrell lost control due to brake failure, Wiersma indicated in an email to SUN staff.

“At the lower runaway ramp the driver entered the lower access approach to the ramp, but then swerved left and drove through a dirt area and back across the Highway 160,” Wiersma wrote.

After crossing back across U.S. 160, the semi struck the eastbound guardrail, rolled one-half turn onto its top and slid back across the highway, eventually coming to rest on its top off the westbound side of U.S. 160.

The load of pipe on the trailer spilled onto the highway and down the mountain.

U.S. 160 was partially closed during the incident, limiting traffic to one lane, and was completely closed for about 20 minutes for the tractor-trailer to be uprighted to its wheels.

The email indicated that Dibrell “was not visibly injured, but was treated and released” at Pagosa Springs Medical Center.

Dibrell was cited for improper mountain driving.

Concerning the potato incident and the pipe incident, Wiersma wrote, “The troopers who investigated both of these crashes felt that the drivers of both semis could have easily accessed the redesigned ramp, but for unknown reasons didn’t. Often in times of panic, drivers do unexplainable things.”

Following the potato truck incident, Wiersma provided the following tips and tricks to help prevent overheated brakes and to help in the upcoming winter season.

“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.”