Basalt couple air-lifted after head-on car crash
BASALT” A Basalt couple was seriously injured Thursday night when their vehicle was hit head-on by another car on Two Rivers Road about a mile west of downtown Basalt.
John “Jeff” Reese and Susan L. Grove had to be extricated from their Jeep Cherokee, according Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda. Grove was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Reese was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital (AVH). They suffered “life-threatening injuries,” authorities said. On Friday both were airlifted to a Denver hospital. No information was available on their conditions.
Reese and Grove were married about one year ago, according to a family friend. Their dog, Sophie, was killed in the crash.
They were struck by a vehicle that police believe was driven by Oscar Canas Portillo, 32, of El Jebel. Witnesses said that Canas Portillo was drinking at a downtown Basalt establishment, then sped off in a black Chevrolet Blazer, according to Basalt Police Sgt. Stewart Curry. A short time later, those witnesses heard the ambulance sirens, Curry said.
The accident occurred at about 10:45 p.m. The Blazer crossed the center line and struck the Jeep of Reese and Grove. There were no signs of braking, indicating that Reese, who was driving the Jeep, had no time to react, Curry said.
The impact nearly knocked the Jeep into the Roaring Fork River, according to Cleve Williams, the incident commander for the Basalt Fire Department. The Jeep was “teetering” on the shoulder of Two River Road above a steep bank of the river, he said. Crews had to secure the vehicle before they could work on removing Reese and Grove.
“We basically tied the cars together,” Williams said.
Firefighters and paramedics found Conas Portillo lying on the road outside of the Blazer. All three victims of the crash were in and out of consciousness at the scene.
“I think all of them were life-threatening injuries,” Williams said.
Reese and Grove were returning from a Colorado Rockies game in Denver on Thursday night, according to Roger Marolt, a lifelong friend of Reese. Marolt said Reese was a big fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, who were visiting Denver.
Reese works for the Marolt accounting firm in Aspen. He is an Aspen native, according to Marolt, who said they were in the same grade in school. Marolt said Reese is 46 years old.
Canas Portillo told authorities Thursday night that he was walking along the road and was hit by the vehicles during the accident. Curry interviewed the man in the hospital on Friday and said he acknowledged being in the vehicle, but he didn’t admit to driving. Curry said Canas Portillo’s shoe was found under the gas and brake pedals of the Blazer. It is suspected that he crawled from the wreckage after the accident.
The owner of the vehicle gave police conflicting statements Friday on whether Canas Portillo had permission to drive the Blazer. Alcohol possibly played a role in the accident. Curry said he smelled alcohol on Canas Portillo when he went to the hospital after the accident.
Ikeda said Basalt police investigated but ruled out the possibility of another person in the Blazer. A witness reported seeing a person walking down the road after the accident, but investigators believe Canas Portillo was alone.
Fifteen firefighters and paramedics responded to the scene from the Basalt Fire Department. They were assisted by a paramedic from the Carbondale Fire Department.
Two Rivers Road was closed during the emergency response and investigation. Authorities said it was reopened between 12:30 and 1 a.m. Friday.
Reese was in stable condition at the time he was transported to another hospital, according to an Aspen Valley Hospital spokeswoman.
Marolt said he visited Reese at AVH Friday morning and found his friend unconscious, unresponsive and requiring assistance to breathe.
“It’s pretty bleak at this time,” Marolt said.
People at the Marolt accounting firm were obviously shaken by the news.
“The entire office is in shock because he’s such a warm and caring guy,” Marolt said.
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