One dies in 60-plus-car Vail Pass pileup |

One dies in 60-plus-car Vail Pass pileup

Steve Lynn
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Gilbert Gonzales from the town of Vail directs stranded travelers to Vail's parking garages while they wait for Interstate 70 to open after it closed due a crash that involved dozens of cars. (Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily)

VAIL, Colo. ” One person was killed Monday afternoon in pileup on the west side of Vail Pass that involved at least 60 vehicles, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

Other drivers have been seriously injured and Interstate 70 is closed in both directions, authorities said.

“We have up to 60 to 75 cars involved,” said State Patrol Trooper Gilbert Sullivan.

The pileup began when a semi-tractor trailer jackknifed at about 1:30 p.m. and one or two other vehicles ran into it, starting a chain reaction, said the patrol’s Trooper Ryan Sullivan.

Authorities are working to get the eastbound lanes open, Sullivan said, but he did not know when that might happen.

“The westbound lanes are going to be longer just because they have a lot more vehicles they have to tow out of there,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan did not know many people were injured. Those stranded but not injured in the wrecks were bused to nearby towns and interviewed.

At least 16 people with broken bones, bruises, and scrapes were taken to Vail Valley Medical Center, about 15 miles west of the scene, said hospital spokesman Don Bishop. Except for one patient who was to undergo surgery, all were in fair condition.

Three patients were transported to St. Anthony’s Summit Medical Center near Breckenridge, about 20 miles away. One patient was in critical condition while the condition of the others was not immediately known.

Laura Reichardt, a Vail Mountain School student and intern at the Summit Daily News, was traveling westbound on I-70 when she was stopped in the pileup traffic.

“There was a semi-truck jackknifed across the road with a crumpled Jeep and crushed van just to the side,” said Reichardt. “Cars were plowed into the snow on either side of the road and there was a mobile home completely on its side.”

According to Reichardt, people at the scene of the accident were exiting their cars and aiding ambulance crews that arrived to transport the injured.

“My car was one of the few that didn’t crash into the snowbank so the four kids that were in the crumpled Jeep piled into my car to get warm,” said Reichardt, who added that the driver of the Jeep and his wife were in critical condition after the accident.

An emergency shelter has been opened at the Vail Interfaith Chapel, 19 Vail Rd., south of the main Vail roundabout. The free shelter will be available to anyone who needs food and a warm place to stay until the pass is reopened. For more information, call (970) 479-2226.

The Inn at Beaver Creek and The Pines Lodge also are offering a stranded traveler rate of $79 on Monday night. Call (970) 754-5998 or (800) 859-8242 and press 2 to make a reservation. Ask about the stranded traveler rate.

Around 2:30 p.m., traffic was backed up on the interstate to the main Vail exit, said Kris Friel, spokeswoman for the town of Vail. Cars are being diverted from the interstate at that exit, but the roundabout on South Frontage Road was clogged, Friel said.

Parking is now free in both Vail Village and Lionshead parking structures for stranded travelers, Friel said. Authorities are asking people to avoid parking on the North and South Frontage Roads during the closure.

Eastbound traffic on the South Frontage Road is being stopped at Ford Park, and people are being told to return to the parking structures, Friel said. East Vail residents may continue on the road, but will be stopped at Ford Park first, she said.

Eastbound traffic also is being stopped at the Eagle and Dotsero exits and only local drivers or those traveling up U.S. Highway 131 are being allowed to continue, Sgt. Greg Daly of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said. Other drivers have been asked to return to Glenwood Springs or to find some place to park in Eagle or Gypsum so that the interstate does not become too crowded, he said.

Tracie Wright left Aspen Monday to go to Copper Mountain, where she is supposed to be in a snowboarding contest Tuesday morning. She decided against taking the long detour on U.S. Highway 24 and U.S. Highway 91 due to the poor weather.

“I’m going to go hang out and hope I can get over” Vail Pass, Wright said after she parked her car in Lionshead Parking Structure.

Vail Mountain reported more than a foot of new snow Monday and snow continued to fall Monday afternoon in the town of Vail.

Larry Montan, of Minneapolis, was vacationing in Vail to cross country ski.

“There’s no way I’d drive in this,” he said.