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Crashes leading cause of young deaths

EAGLE COUNTY ” Young Eagle County drivers are crashing cars on area roadways at an unhealthy clip.

“We noticed there was a spike in the number of fatalities in Eagle County … a lot of them young people,” said Cpl. Dennis Gibbons of the Colorado State Patrol.

A county group, formed in February to study and limit accidents resulting in serious injury and death of area youngsters, found car crashes are the leading cause of death for people age 15 to 25 ” much higher than the state average.



“We’re a group of individuals from various emergency medical services and we get sick of responding to situations after the fact,” Avon police Officer Dave Wineman said.

Now the group, dubbed Emergency Medical Services Council’s Safe Youth Driving Subcommittee, is searching for ways to stop the accidents.



“We want as much input as possible so we can intervene,” Gibbons said.

The group will present applicable information to a group of policy makers and law enforcement officials and ask for intervention options at an Aug. 25 meeting in Edwards. A public meeting will take place in the fall.

“Some of it is the awareness of the problem,” Gibbons added. “There’s probably some people out there… who don’t realize we’ve had this increase.”



Additional impetus for forming the group stems from two recent accidents. In December 2004 five teens ” three of whom were ejected from the car ” were injured in an Edwards accident. In March 2005, two Gypsum teens were killed in a car crash.

Motor vehicle crashes among all age groups are the third leading cause of death in Eagle County, compared to fifth in the state.

More than 450 injuries have occurred in crashes on I-70 between Vail and Gypsum since 2000, according to the State Patrol.

Problem areas include sharp curves at Dowd Junction, Wilmore Lake and Wolcott.

According to county death records, from 1995 to 1999, 41 fatalities occurred on county roads, 11 of which people for age 15 to 25. Of the 49 deaths from 2000 to the present, the number jumped to 25 in the youngest category.

Seventy-five percent of all these deaths occurred on the interstate from Vail to Gypsum, said Jill Hunsaker, county public health manager.

“What you have here on I-70 is speed limits, sharp curves and weather cause a disproportionate amount of rollover crashes,” Hunsaker said.

Inexperience, overcorrecting, weather, aggressive driving, feelings of invincibility and failure to wear seat belts contribute to teen car deaths, officials said.

Hunsaker is familiar with rollover crashes. Three weeks after she moved to the valley, her vehicle hydroplaned and went into a roll. She said she walked away with minor injuries because she had her seat belt on.

Gibbons said numbers from the National Safety Council show medical expenses associated with car accidents average $5,685 for a person wearing a seat belt. The average without a seat belt is $297,380.

To reduce the number of teen accidents, law enforcement agencies are running public service announcements, Gibbons said.

Other measures include defensive driving programs, including Alive at 25 and courses offered through Colorado Mountain College, which Gibbons said have been successful but not well-attended.

Future intervention could include an uptick of “You Hold the Key,” an instructional and eye-opening assembly held every other year at area high schools, Gibbons said.

The hour-long meeting features film of a mock crash scene and emergency room. One passenger dies, another is paralyzed and the driver is removed from the scene in handcuffs.

Gibbons said state legislators have been invited to the Aug. 25 meeting.

The purpose of the invitation is to consider limiting the amount of time teens can drive, the number of passengers allowed in a vehicle and laws other states have enacted to curb teen accidents.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or jkperry@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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