Drivers, parrot, sleep in Vail shelters |

Drivers, parrot, sleep in Vail shelters

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Tanya Kessenich/Special to the Vail DailyA wave of crashes on Vail Pass Thursday afternoon shut down Interstate 70 and stranded nearly 100 travelers in Vail

VAIL, Colorado – Ninety-nine people, five dogs and a parrot all sought shelter in Vail Thursday night when snowstorms closed Interstate 70 for about 12 hours.

The Vail Valley Salvation Army set up cots in Vail’s town hall and the chapel annex for drivers who got stuck in town overnight because of the highway closure.

Around 9:15 a.m. Friday morning, Kemper Towler, of Richmond, Va., emerged from town hall carrying his laptop, cooler and other belongings. He had been driving westbound on Interstate 70 headed toward the Colorado National Monument Thursday when he got “caught in the middle of a big wreck” and totaled his truck. He was grateful to people in Vail who put him up for the night, though he chuckled about how it wasn’t the most restful sleep ever.

“There was a baby crying every now and then and three people seemed to be having a snoring contest,” he said.

Dan Smith, board chairman of the Salvation Army, said all sorts of travelers stayed at the shelter, including a shuttle full of people bound for Breckenridge, a large family from Mexico City, plus the five dogs and the parrot. Guests were treated to cots, blankets, pizza and breakfast, he said.

Storms whipped through the region Thursday evening, creating icy conditions on Vail Pass and a slew of car crashes.

“It was like a junk yard up there,” Smith said.

Several accidents involving 20 to 30 cars, along with stuck vehicles and jack-knifed semi-trucks, shut the freeway Thursday around 12:30 p.m., according to Sgt. Marshall Schwarz of the Colorado State Patrol. At least one person sustained serious injuries, he said.

As of Friday afternoon, the crash remained under investigation and Schwarz said no more information was available.

Although the highway reopened in the middle of the night, most people slept through Friday morning in the shelters.

About a dozen marooned travelers also stayed at St. Patrick’s Parish in Minturn, town police chief Lorenzo Martinez said. The Western Colorado Red Cross briefly opened a shelter at Avon Elementary, but no one slept there overnight because the highway re-opened, school principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon said.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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