State police: RFTA crash investigation may take some time | AspenTimes.com

State police: RFTA crash investigation may take some time

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

The investigation into a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority midvalley bus crash Saturday evening that caused injuries to 11 riders could take several more days or even weeks, a Colorado State Patrol spokesman said Monday.

"It's going to take a bit of time," said State Trooper Nate Reid, public information officer. "We have to take the black box with the data that shows how fast the bus was going and send it off (for analysis). And there are more interviews to conduct."

Meanwhile, state police have released the name of the RFTA driver who was at the helm of the bus. He was identified as Jaime Nunez, 54, of Glenwood Springs.

Though he declined to provide the name on Sunday and Monday, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said Sunday that the driver has been employed by the public-transportation entity for about five years and that his safety record had been good. He said the driver would be placed on administrative leave, with pay, for a few days this week in order to deal with the trauma of the event.

Nunez, according to preliminary reports from state police, was ferrying 12 passengers on the Aspen-to-Glenwood Springs route at about 7 p.m. when he swerved left to avoid a slow-moving farm tractor in the right lane of Highway 82 near mile marker 16 between the El Jebel area and Carbondale. The driver lost control, and the bus began to skid, then passed the tractor, crossed the right lane and struck a concrete barrier on the right shoulder.

The bus then did a one-quarter roll onto its left side, state police said. Eleven of the 12 passengers required hospital treatment in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, and three of the 11 suffered serious injuries, according to State Trooper Graham Thorne, who is the lead investigator of the accident. One rider declined medical treatment, as did the bus driver, who suffered minor injuries, state police said.

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Though Thorne said Sunday that it appeared the bus might have been speeding above the 65 mph limit on that stretch of the highway — and that the tractor driver might have been going too slow — Reid stressed Monday that the investigation is still underway and that it's too early to determine exactly what occurred.

Reid said it's possible that the bus driver's view of the tractor's rear lights "may have been obscured" by the mowing equipment the tractor was pulling. A state police statement issued early Sunday pointed out that the tractor had running and flashing lights but did not display a slow-moving-vehicle emblem as required by law.

Blankenship said some of the injured passengers contacted RFTA following his statement through Monday media reports that the transportation entity's officials wanted to speak with them. He said passenger safety and the welfare of the injured passengers are RFTA's top concerns but also defended his decision not to release the driver's name to local, state and national news outlets.

"Here's my viewpoint: You put his name out there, and he starts getting calls from the press and so forth and so on," Blankenship said Sunday. "The name is going to get out there. The state police is going to release it at some point, and I don't think that we have an obligation to release it.

"He (needs) a little time to get some sleep. You put yourself in his shoes. His primary concern is for the welfare of his passengers. He is very concerned and worried about them and is having difficulty sleeping. It's very traumatic for him. He's a responsible person who tried to put the safety of his passengers first."

asalvail@aspentimes.com