Colorado trooper’s death highlights concern over first responders’ safety | VailDaily.com

Colorado trooper’s death highlights concern over first responders’ safety

Derek Maiolo
Steamboat Pilot
Steamboat Springs police officer Dan Kelliher, left, and Colorado State Patrol trooper Rick Kaspar investigate a two-vehicle accident Monday morning at the intersection of Amethyst Drive and Fish Creek Falls Road. Two people went to the hospital with minor injuries.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado State Patrol troopers buried one of their own Thursday.

Corporal Dan Groves, an 11-year member of the patrol based out of the agency’s Greeley office, was struck and killed by a car while helping a stranded driver during last week’s historic blizzard.

His death has highlighted a statewide concern over the safety of first responders who risk their lives during traffic stops and other roadside duties. This comes as traffic officials have reported a spike in fatal crashes in recent years, underscoring the need for more responsible driving.

Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Scott Elliott works in and around Routt County, but he knew Corporal Groves and mourned his loss.

“He was a great guy and a great trooper,” he said of Groves.

Elliott understands all too well the risks law enforcement officers take when they conduct traffic stops along increasingly busy roadways.

“It can be downright scary sometimes,” he said.

He vividly remembers an incident from more than 10 years ago when his own patrol car was hit while he was responding to a crash in the Denver metro area. Fortunately, he was unharmed.

That day has been stamped in his memory as a reminder of what can go wrong during seemingly routine incidents. He added that many other law enforcement officials have faced similar, life-threatening situations on the roads.

“It happens a lot,” he said.

A law actually exists to protect law enforcement during traffic stops. It is called the Move Over Law and requires drivers to, as the name suggests, move over when passing first responders. Those who can’t do so must slow down as they pass.

The law has been around since 2005, but lawmakers have buckled down on enforcement in light of subsequent tragedies.

In 2017, the state passed a bill increasing the fines and maximum jail time for offenders after another trooper, Cody Donahue, was killed during a traffic stop. Drivers now face 12 to 18 months in jail and up to a $100,000 fine if they do not move over or slow down for first responders.

Elliott explained troopers also do their best to stay out of harm’s way when walking and standing along busy roads. They go through rigorous training on topics like roadside safety and traffic incident management. Troopers know to watch for dangerous drivers and try to find the safest spots to stop along roadways.

Despite their best efforts, reckless drivers are always a risk factor, especially in inclement weather.

“A lot of drivers on our highway just go way, way, way too fast for the road conditions,” Elliott said.

The issue of first responder safety is two-fold, according to Sam Cole, communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s traffic safety unit.

First, most Coloradoans do not know about the Move Over Law. To that end, he and others from the department have taken to social media and digital message boards in the last week to inform the public and promote cooperation.

Second, drivers across the state have become more reckless in recent years as roadways get busier and more congested.

Cole explained fatal car crashes in Colorado have increased by 30 percent since 2014. That far outpaces the state’s population growth, which is up 7 percent from 2014.

“There’s just more people driving unsafely on the roadways,” Cole said.

He added that if people adopted safer driving behavior, especially around first responders, hundreds of lives could be saved.

“The best rule of thumb is if you see flashing lights on the side of the road ahead of you, slow down or move over,” Cole said.

Funeral services for Corporal Groves were held Thursday and included a seven-mile procession that started in Mead and ended at his church in Longmont.

An investigation of the accident that led to his death is ongoing.