To date, fatal vehicle crashes in Garfield County ahead of last year’s pace |

To date, fatal vehicle crashes in Garfield County ahead of last year’s pace

Ryan Summerlin

Memorial fund opened at Alpine Bank

A memorial fund has been opened at Alpine Bank to support the family of the 17-year-old victim in Sunday night’s wreck near Carbondale. Contributions can be made to the Ruiz Family Memorial Fund at any Alpine Bank.

Three fatal Garfield County wrecks this weekend and Monday highlighted the dangers of the road, during what’s been a particularly deadly beginning of the year.

To date in 2017, Garfield County has already seen seven fatal vehicle crashes that have resulted in nine fatalities. Last year, the coroner counted 12 fatal vehicle crashes that resulted in 14 fatalities, and that’s including a couple of off-road vehicle crashes. In 10 of last year’s fatal wrecks, alcohol and/or other drugs were found to be significant factors, according to the coroner’s annual report. In eight of those fatalities seat belts were not worn.

The three recent fatal crashes seem to have little in common that county leaders could pinpoint. One reportedly involved drinking. Another was a back roads jeeping accident. And the third was a head-on collision on a highway.

Colorado State Patrol must focus its limited resources in highly trafficked areas and doesn’t have the manpower to spread into back roads like where the Sunday night crash and Monday jeep wreck happened. “Our overall objective is to save lives on the highway, but we can’t be everywhere at once,” said CSP Captain Richard Duran.

Troopers are seeing higher traffic volumes around Glenwood Springs, South Canyon, Colorado 82 and Glenwood Canyon, said Duran. So troopers will stay homed in on those areas, especially as Grand Avenue Bridge construction increasingly impacts traffic, he said. And as summer comes around, you’ll see a heavier presence of troopers in the straightaways of the western part of the county, where higher speeds increase the likelihood of serious injuries and deaths. As summer is coming, the captain advises drivers to slow down and avoid distracted driving.

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Especially with young drivers, CSP relies on its educational outreach, for which it partners with Colorado Department of Transportation, on the importance of wearing seat belts and the dangers of drinking and driving, said the captain.

CSP used to more heavily patrol Colorado 13 north of Rifle when oil and gas activity made the route busier. And while they now don’t run that route as often, Duran said there are preliminary plans for troopers to have a more visible presence there soon, in the hopes of encouraging safer driving behaviors.

And while educational campaigns and enforcement didn’t stop the crash near Carbondale that killed 17-year-old Ayleen Ruiz Alvarado on Sunday, the prevention effort continues. Garfield County Public Health plays a key role in that effort, going to work after these kinds of tragedies to review and collect information on the wreck. They can’t bring victims back to life, but they can take as much information about the wreck as possible and use it to improve future prevention efforts.

The state mandates that fatal wrecks with child victims be reviewed and its information compiled into a child death review database, to help inform future efforts to prevent these kinds of tragedies, said Mason Hohstadt, a public health specialist for Garfield County. That information will go to a state review team that produces an annual Child Fatality Prevention Report and pushes for legislation aimed at reducing child fatalities on the roads.

A couple of well-known pieces of legislation the team is working on include making seat belt laws a “primary offense” and restricting the late hours that young drivers are allowed to be on the road.

Currently, not wearing a seat belt is only a secondary offense, meaning it will not normally be enforced unless a driver is pulled over for another reason. If it were a primary offense, officers could pull you over and ticket you for not wearing one. They’re also pushing legislation that would make an earlier curfew for the graduated driver’s license. Drivers under 18 are currently allowed to drive until midnight, but this effort looks to make that curfew earlier and bar young drivers from driving between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Unfortunately even that restriction wouldn’t have stopped the Sunday crash, as the driver was older than 18 and the wreck happened before 10 p.m.

“Even though we hope this is a one-time occurrence in the county, we do take notice of these tragedies and are working on preventing future occurrences,” said Hohstadt.

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