Two severely injured in accident on icy Hwy. 82 |

Two severely injured in accident on icy Hwy. 82

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Five people were hospitalized, two with life-threatening injuries, after a driver lost control of her SUV and slammed into an oncoming vehicle on Highway 82 Monday morning.

The accident occurred at 8:35 a.m., less than a mile east, or upvalley, of Catherine Store. Michelle Smith, 48, of Glenwood Springs was traveling east on Highway 82 in a Chevy Tahoe with two juveniles, according to the Colorado State Patrol. After she lost control, Smith’s vehicle slid through the median, then continued broadside into the westbound lanes. The driver’s side of the Tahoe collided with the front end of a Cadillac Escalade driven by Christopher Welde, 42, of Basalt, the state patrol reported.

Both vehicles remained upright in the westbound lanes and shoulder but suffered extensive damage. Smith had to be extricated from her vehicle by rescuers from the Basalt and Carbondale fire departments.

The collision was one of the most violent that veteran rescuers with the Basalt Fire Department said they have seen.

“That [Tahoe] took a direct hit. It bent the frame into the gas tank,” said Basalt Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Peetz.

The first fire officer to arrive on the scene reported that gas was leaking from the vehicle’s ruptured tank, raising the risk of an explosion. “We took care of it right away,” Peetz said.

The driver’s side door took the brunt of the collision, and the door was bent into the driver. The entire front end of the Cadillac Escalade was obliterated by the impact, Peetz said.

All three occupants of Smith’s vehicle were taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, according to the state patrol. Cpl. Shauna Swale of the state patrol said Smith and her front-seat passenger suffered potentially life-threatening injuries. Smith underwent surgery for various injuries. The front-seat passenger suffered a head injury and also underwent surgery, according to Swale. Her name wasn’t released because she is a juvenile. She was described as a girl in her mid-teens.

The front-seat passenger wasn’t wearing a seat belt, Swale said. Investigators were still trying to determine if Smith and the rear-seat passenger were wearing seat belts.

Welde and his juvenile passenger were also taken to Valley View Hospital. Welde suffered a “severe leg injury” but was treated and released, Swale said. His passenger was also treated and released. Welde and his passenger were wearing seat belts, according to the state patrol.

The westbound lanes were closed for part of the morning for the investigation and clean-up. Downvalley-bound traffic was diverted onto old Highway 82, now a frontage road for a 3-mile stretch in that area. Eastbound lanes weren’t affected.

Swale said the highway was icy and snowpacked at the time, although it hasn’t been determined why Smith lost control of her vehicle. The investigation continues and charges are pending, the state patrol said in a press release.

Another SUV that was westbound went into the ditch to avoid the collision, Swale said. It was fortunate more vehicles didn’t get caught in the crash.

“We’re lucky it didn’t happen a little earlier,” Swale said. “At 6 or 7 in the morning it would have been busier.”

Ambulances and firefighter crews responded from Carbondale, Basalt and Glenwood Springs. The accident occurred in an area of the midvalley that is in Carbondale’s district, but Basalt often responds under mutual aid agreements because it is close to their El Jebel station. Glenwood Springs also responded because all five occupants needed to be transported to Valley View Hospital.

“It was a well-coordinated rescue operation,” Peetz said.