Two cats were the only survivors of an early morning semi-tractor-trailer rollover on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass Oct. 31 that claimed the life of a Wyoming man, who was driving a truck loaded with powdered cement when it went off the right side of the highway and rolled onto its top.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Nate Reid, of the CSP public affairs office in Denver, said Harry Milton Watson, 55, died at the scene. The first emergency responders were summoned at 6:43 a.m. Reid said the highway was closed, and both westbound and eastbound motorists were detoured over Gore Pass to the south via Colorado Highways 131 and 134.
The crash took place near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Sky Valley Drive where motorists descending the pass must negotiate a sweeping lefthand curve.
Reid said he was not aware of any information about factors that may have contributed to the accident — speed or failure to descend the pass in low gear for example. However, he said it was expected an inspection of the vehicle would take place as soon as Nov. 1.
“Hopefully, we’ll have more answers,” Reid said.
Watson was the only person in the vehicle at the time of the crash, but Routt County Animal Control retrieved the cats from the scene and took them to a local veterinary office to be examined. Routt County Humane Society Shelter Manger Karen Donoghue said Animal Control contacted her and asked for them to be placed in foster care here, which was accomplished.
Although the two cats did not require hospitalization, they were being monitored Monday evening for signs of head trauma, Donoghue said.
“They’ll have safe harbor until we get in touch with (Watson’s) family,” Donoghue said.
Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch said Monday there was debris at the scene of the wreck, and responders required significant time to locate the body of the driver in the wreckage. Based on police scanner traffic, the call summoning the coroner’s office didn’t go out until about 9 a.m.
Signs on Rabbit Ears Pass encourage truck drivers to stop at a pullout and check their brakes before descending from the summit of Rabbit Ears at about 9,300 feet in elevation. They are also advised to descend in low gear.
One of the most recent fatal accidents on Rabbit Ears took place in July 2012 when a small Jeep rolled down an embankment about 7 miles from where Monday’s accident happened.
In another incident in August 2003, an Indiana truck driver carrying a load of construction equipment to Craig lost his life when his rig left the road just beyond the runaway truck ramp near where this week’s accident happened.