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Crash survivor remains in critical condition

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

An El Jebel man remains in critical condition in a Denver hospital after a car crash on Highway 82 that killed two men almost two weeks ago.

Loren Cunningham, 29, has undergone surgeries to repair extensive injuries sustained when a car traveling nearly 100 mph crossed Highway 82 and collided with the truck he was driving on June 23.

His passenger, Eric Norton, 30, died that night at Aspen Valley Hospital from a closed head injury.

Angel Pacheco Pineda, 24, of El Jebel was driving the red Audi that crossed the highway and was sheared in two due to the force of the collision. He was killed instantly.

El Jebel resident Helen Yanaki is a friend of Cunningham’s who visited him at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver a week ago. Cunningham had just had surgery to repair his diaphragm and legs, but he was fortunate enough to not suffer spinal column or brain injuries.

“Day by day he’s getting better and stronger,” Yanaki said. “The family seems to be in pretty good spirits. He’s a good guy.”

Although witnesses to the crash described Pacheco Pineda’s red Audi as either racing with or acting aggressively with a dark-colored sedan, the drivers of the sedan have not been located. But State Patrol Captain Barry Bratt said after gathering tips from the public, they might not be far away from locating those drivers.

The question, he said, is whether or not they would be charged for their involvement in the crash.

“It’s possible there was a crime committed, but we won’t know until we talk to the people in the car – if they were racing, if it was road rage, or if they just saw a red car race by,” he said. “We don’t have a complete story until we talk to them.”

Bratt said patrollers are still seeking information from witnesses who saw what transpired between the two cars as they went downvalley on Highway 82.

Bratt said state patrollers have been focusing on patrolling Highway 82 during the past year. The highway, known locally as “Killer 82,” is statistically one of the more dangerous roads within their jurisdiction, with a higher number of accidents and fatalities .

“We always try and maximize our people out there – the biggest problem is rush hour,” he said. But since the Glenwood Springs office of the state patrol doesn’t have enough manpower to patrol Highway 82 all the time, Bratt said the office is trying to coordinate with sheriff offices and police departments throughout the region to work together.

In the near future “accident reduction teams,” teams made of troopers from Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction and the Steamboat Springs/Craig area will rotate from area to area, randomly selecting a road to patrol intensively where the biggest impact could be made.

“Our mission is to reduce traffic fatalities,” Bratt said.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]


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