Former Pitkin jail head badly injured in bike crash on Maroon Creek Road
Don Bird was involved in a single-bike crash, remains in Denver hospital
Aspen resident Don Bird, retired director of the Pitkin County Jail, is under the medical care of a Denver-area hospital after a bicycle crash Wednesday left him with facial, pelvic, shoulder and spinal injuries, and brain damage, family and friends said Friday.
“You always hear about the community caring about its members, and I’ve always sort of wondered what that would be like if it happened to us,” said Bird’s wife, Molly Ireland. “People have already reached out and texted, and it’s very moving for us, so we hope they can just say a prayer and think of him.”
Ireland, an administrator at Pitkin County Library, said she rushed to Denver on Wednesday once she caught word and has been there ever since. Their daughter, Katie, also is in Denver, as well as their son, Jack. Both are Aspen High School graduates.
Bird, 73, was unconscious Friday morning, Ireland said. He suffered eight broken ribs, a broken pelvis and scapula, a spinal break, facial fractures and brain injuries. The extent of his brain injuries is unknown, she said. He is also on a ventilator yet is able to breathe on his own, according to Ireland.
He is showing signs of movement with one of his arms, which is encouraging at this point, she said.
“They call this purposeful movement,” she said. “He’s doing it to relieve the pain.”
The crash happened Wednesday morning on the upper portion of Maroon Creek Road and authorities were notified at 10:18 a.m., said responding Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Todaro.
“It was pretty obvious that it was a bad crash,” he said, “and right away I recognized that it was Don Bird because I worked (with him) for eight of the 10 years that I’ve been a deputy. Plus, I’ve always known him.”
Bird was lying on the ground, in the middle of the road, near the west portal. A Blazing Adventures driver who had driven a group of cyclists to Maroon Lake was first to provide aid, Todaro said. The driver, a medic, began to help Bird, who was the sole person involved in the accident, Todaro said.
“When we found him, he was unconscious but breathing,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, Birdie. It’s Anthony and we’re here to help, and we’re gonna get you taken care of.’”
While en route to help Bird, Todaro said his patrol vehicle’s emergency lights were on yet the sirens were off. Cyclists would not yield, the deputy said, making his trip more burdensome.
“The public needs to know they need to get out of the way for emergency vehicles,” he said. “I shut the siren off because we don’t want to blow anybody’s ear out because we don’t want to cause a bike crash on the way to a bike crash.”
One cyclist admonished him because she believed she had the right of way, he said. All told, about 100 cyclists on the road didn’t yield, he said.
“Not a single bike pulled over,” he said.
Bird, who retired in March 2018 after 27 years as the jail administrator, was transported by ambulance to Aspen Valley Hospital. There, he was stabilized and then airlifted to St. Anthony’s in Lakewood, which is a suburb of Denver.
Todaro said there was a single witness to the crash, and that was a person aboard the Blazing Adventures vehicle. The witness, however, saw it from a distance and lacked details of what might have caused it, Todaro said.
It appears that Bird crashed on his descent, Todaro said. He used a pedal-powered e-bike, a Class 1, to ride up and it was likely he wasn’t using any assistance on the way down, Ireland said.
“He’s been exploring on his bike and he’s been so happy,” Ireland said. “Katie got married three weeks ago and he was seeing friends a lot and doing a lot of volunteering, and just enjoying everything.”
Bird has lived in Aspen since December 1971 and is a devout member of Aspen Community Church, where he and the Rev. Jerry Herships have become good friends.
“This guy is just a mensch, whether it’s cleaning up the homeless camp or picking someone from the nursing home to go to church,” said Herships, who also went to Lakewood on Thursday to check in with the Bird family.
The Bird family needs whatever support they can get, he said.
“I don’t want to say ‘send them your thoughts and prayers,’” he said, “but good Lord, if there’s any way for people to keep him in their thoughts.”
As jail administrator, Bird brought a level of respect and compassion that dovetailed with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office’s community policing philosophy.
“It says much about Don that over his desk at the jail hung a Thomas W. Benton print with the quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky, ‘The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,’” Fernandez-Ely wrote in an email to The Aspen Times for an article about his retirement in 2018. “Don often said of the inmates in the jail, ‘They are members of our community and they will return to our community. While they are in this jail, they should be treated as members of our community.’”
Bird worked a total of 34 years for the Sheriff’s Office.
The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service, and the Pitkin County commissioners showed initial willingness this week to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.