Bus crash closes Highway 82 | AspenTimes.com

Bus crash closes Highway 82

Joel Stonington

Aspen firefighters work to extricate RFTA bus driver Stephanie Varley after Monday's crash. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

The downvalley lanes of Highway 82 were closed much of the day Monday after two cars, a van, three trucks and a Roaring Fork Transit Authority bus crashed. No one was killed, but four motorists were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital with injuries, including the driver of the bus, who was extricated more than an hour after the accident. The driver of a late-model Acura Integra, who did not want to be named, said she was traveling slowly in the right-hand lane around 11:20 a.m., when a dump truck pulled out to pass near the turnoff to the Pitkin County Landfill, just upvalley of Snowmass Canyon. A Coca-Cola truck, that she said likely was going too fast for the snowy conditions, hit the dump truck just after it had passed her, spinning it 180 degrees and jack-knifing the Coke truck.According to witness Mike Rhodes, the RFTA bus was following close behind and rammed into the Coke truck soon after the first collision, then slammed the Acura on the back and side.”The Coke truck and bus were going way faster than me … in the 40s, maybe even higher,” said Rhodes, who was driving a semi-truck. The front doors of the RFTA bus were ripped off and ended up 20 feet away. The windshield of the bus was also blown off and the driver, Stephanie Varley, was pinned inside the vehicle.After she was pulled out of by the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, blood was pooled below her chair and bandage wrappers lay strewn around. She was admitted to Aspen Valley Hospital in fair condition.

“It’s very heartening to hear she’s in fair condition,” said Dan Blankenship, RFTA chief executive officer. “That’s just fantastic news.”

Of the five to seven passengers on the RFTA bus, only a couple requested medical transport, according to Blankenship.Rhodes was able to stop his vehicle in time to miss the RFTA bus and Acura, but the pilot car for his 110-foot-long, oversized load rear-ended him.The seventh car involved, a red Ford Club Wagon van, rear-ended the RFTA bus. Pitkin County Assessor Tom Isaac was in the van and suffered minor injuries, but did not go to the hospital.

“The roads were very slick,” he said. Witnesses said snow was flying everywhere when the accident started and it was somewhat difficult to tell what was happening. The pavement at the accident scene was covered with debris and green liquid leaking out of the bus. The Colorado State Patrol still had not responded to the accident at 1:30 p.m., though it is the only agency that can investigate accidents on Highway 82. According to a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy, the state patrol was tied up with numerous other accidents downvalley The highway did not reopen until about 4:45 p.m.According to Brian Pettet, director of Pitkin County’s public works department, the highway turned slick when temperatures dropped during light snowfall Monday morning, creating black ice. Colorado Department of Transportation trucks were out in full force, spreading a de-icer on the highway.

“The temperature just fell off the table and everything froze. It’s hard to catch up when that happens,” Pettet said. Multiple fender benders and vehicles sliding off Highway 82 kept police agencies up and down the valley occupied throughout the day Monday.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.