Harrowing cliff crash injures man
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Colorado State Trooper J.J. Robinson was writing a speeding ticket yesterday on Highway 82 when the woman he was ticketing jumped out of her car and ran frantically back to his squad car.
“She said a car had just gone over the edge of Shale Bluffs,” Robinson said. “I looked up and saw a cloud of dust.”
Scott A. Lipke, a 36-year-old Marble resident, was in serious condition at Aspen Valley Hospital last night after being ejected from his 1996 Ford Bronco as it tumbled hundreds of feet down the steep hillside and into the Roaring Fork River. He suffered a dislocated or broken shoulder and at least a few broken ribs, according to Robinson.
Lipke’s dog, Elvis, also survived the crash, and was reported to be OK.
According to Robinson and other witnesses, Lipke was approaching Brush Creek Road while traveling downvalley on Highway 82 at 2:30 p.m., when he lost control and hit the outer guardrail along the edge of the road.
A concrete and steel guardrail lines the steep cliffs, known as Shale Bluffs, that fall more than 300 feet down to the river.
Robinson said the Bronco hit the guardrail 45 feet from its downvalley end and then continued down the shoulder.
After Lipke’s Bronco reached the end of the guardrail, it went off the shoulder and into the soft dirt near the cliffs. The Bronco was still pointed downvalley at that point, but it was turning to the right and started to slide sideways through the dirt toward the steep hillside.
Tire tracks left in the dirt indicate the Bronco continued to the right until it was pointed back upvalley and toward the edge of the cliff.
“It’s like he cranked the wheel hard to the right, did a 180 and went right back toward Aspen,” Robinson said.
“He was not controlling his vehicle,” said Abel Andrade, a witness who was driving behind Lipke when the accident occurred. “His truck was sideways. It wasn’t responding. He was probably scared when he pointed his wheels again. That’s when he went over the edge.”
Robinson said his investigation so far indicates that the Bronco’s steering was compromised by the collision with the guardrail, making it impossible for Lipke to turn any direction but right.
Andrade and two co-workers from trash hauler BFI pulled over and ran to the edge of the steep hill. The Bronco was out of sight, lying on its side in the river. Lipke was lying naked ? his clothing scattered all over the hillside, apparently ripped off during the accident ? under a scrub oak bush about 125 feet down the hill. His feet were pointed uphill, his head wasn’t visible, and he wasn’t moving.
“We thought he was dead,” Andrade recalled. Then he made a slicing motion with his hand and added, “I thought maybe he was decapitated.”
Then, suddenly, Lipke began moving. Witness reports vary ? Robinson said he was trying to get up and run, Andrade said he was moving across the ground without getting up ? but they all confirm that Lipke was trying to go downhill toward his vehicle.
“Next thing we know, he flips out from under a bush,” said Chris Preusch, a BFI employee who lives on Lower River Road. “He was thrashing, as if he was in a lot of pain.”
Preusch and Shawn Warner of Parachute, the third BFI employee, stepped over the edge and ran down the steep hillside to Lipke. Warner reached Lipke first and grabbed him by the arms. “I held him because if he had slipped farther he would have gone into the river,” Warner said.
Preusch continued past them toward the river, looking for other victims and to see what had happened to the Bronco.
Lipke continued to writhe and twist, dragging Warner farther down the hillside. Preusch ran back up the hill and planted himself beneath the victim, holding his legs steady while rescue workers descended to the victim and his good Samaritans.
Throughout the rescue, Lipke remained conscious and at least partially coherent. As he was being pulled up the hill, his hand kept an oxygen mask steady over his nose and mouth.
But Warner said that Lipke was badly disoriented. At times he had trouble breathing. He didn’t know what day of the week it was, he wasn’t sure which direction he had been traveling, and he began asking about his dog a half hour after the accident.
By early evening, Lipke was talking coherently about the crash, informing Robinson that he has no recollection of the collision with the guardrail or the tumble down Shale Bluffs.
Robinson said initially there was no indication that Lipke’s dog had been riding with his owner when the crash occurred, except for a leash in the cab of the Bronco. He said he looked for the dog around the crash site, in the bushes and under the overturned vehicle, but found nothing.
Elvis was picked up by a Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy about four hours after the crash. The dog was reported to be in good condition and is likely going to be given a checkup by a local vet.
“Elvis may have run away after it was ejected from the vehicle. It happens a lot that way,” the trooper said.
Robinson said he still plans to write Lipke a ticket even though there is no indication he was speeding or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “I’m going to go ahead and cite him for careless driving,” he said.
The accident interrupted Robinson as he was writing the ticket for the speeder who first reported the accident to him. He said he plans to “catch up with her” and give her the ticket.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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