El Jebel man injured in Snowmass Canyon pileup
November 4, 2002
Icy roads caused a three-car pileup in Snowmass Canyon on Sunday, seriously injuring one motorist and effectively closing a stretch of Highway 82 for nearly two hours.
The accident occurred just after 11 a.m. Sunday, when El Jebel resident Raul Mendoza Vasquez lost control of his vehicle about two miles east of the Snowmass Conoco. His car spun several times before veering from the downvalley lane into oncoming traffic, said Trooper Eric Gentry of the Colorado State Patrol.
“He was just going too fast for the conditions,” Gentry said. “He started to spin counterclockwise, then overcorrected clockwise and slid into the east-bound lane.”
Vasquez’s small car was struck in the driver’s side door by a larger Aspen-bound truck. A third vehicle rear-ended the stopped truck, though Gentry reported only minor damage from the second collision.
Firefighters from Aspen and Basalt were called to the accident scene to help pry Vasquez from his vehicle.
“He had a small car. I’m not sure of the make, but it was a little sedan,” said Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Bauer. “He had to be cut out of it ? it was pretty crushed.”
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Vasquez was transported to Aspen Valley Hospital for initial treatment, then flown by helicopter to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction for observation of a head injury. A St. Mary’s spokesman said that Vasquez was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit, where he was determined to be in a “guarded serious condition” ? though able to talk to friends and family, his injuries require a precautionary hospital stay.
The drivers and passengers of the other cars were not injured, Gentry said.
Traffic was diverted to Lower River Road for just over two hours while law enforcement cleared debris from the accident scene, Bauer said. The CSP reopened Highway 82 early Sunday afternoon.
Gentry called the Colorado Department of Transportation during his investigation to request a sand truck and a report on winter road management.
“He said on the weekends they don’t normally come out and patrol the roads unless it’s really bad, or unless they’re called,” Gentry said.
The CDOT sand truck performed four “dustings” of the highway to melt troublesome spots, Gentry said.
Though the road proved to be dangerous late Sunday morning, Bauer reported clear conditions during his patrol of the highway just a few hours before the accident.
“It was slick [then], but in their defense, I traveled through there a couple of times [starting at 7 a.m.]. It wasn’t slick really up until just a little bit before the accident ? [the snow] had melted just enough and then froze again,” Bauer said.
Sunday’s sudden change in road conditions should serve as a warning to winter drivers, Bauer said.
“We’re in the time of year now, when we get any moisture at all, people have to understand that they have to slow way down,” he said. “The road might be dry going into that [canyon], and all of a sudden there’s black ice.”
Gentry agreed, reporting that a majority of winter accidents are caused by inattentive drivers.
“The roads can be deceiving. They’ll be dry in one point, but when you get to another shaded area … ,” he said.