Rockslide crushes Jeff Borek’s truck, but leaves him mostly unscathed | VailDaily.com

Rockslide crushes Jeff Borek’s truck, but leaves him mostly unscathed

Jeff Mitchell, left, shows Rich Childs the damage caused by several boulders that smashed Mitchell's car on Dec. 27. The rockslide closed Highway 24 for three days.
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com |

When a 400-ton rock slide near Minturn came crashing down on the evening of Dec. 27, a bunch of it landed on Jeff Borek’s truck, but not on Borek.

Borek has been commuting that road for 20 years. He has a house on Tennessee Pass and works with High Altitude Home Improvement in the Vail Valley.

That evening, he was headed down to Eagle-Vail to have dinner with his son, brother and mom.

He was late for dinner, but not terribly and was rolling along at a respectable 45 mph, listening to rock music and following a Subaru Outback and a small pickup, he said.

Suddenly something in his peripheral vision caught his attention, then dead ahead a boulder crushed the tailgate of the pickup just in front of him, he said.

And that’s when things got weird.

Borek was in a 400-ton rock slide. Rocks of all sizes were pummeling his three-quarter ton Chevy 4-by-4 truck, shattering glass and pounding metal into shapes that GM engineers never intended.

“It was like an avalanche inside my truck. All around me was snow, glass, wind, rocks and darkness,” Borek said.

A big one punched a hole in the hood of the truck and crushed part of the engine.

Another one blew a huge hole through his windshield, crushed his dashboard and sheared off the driver’s side door. He jokes and says he would have looked for the check engine light, but both the dashboard and the engine were gone.

Borek, however, was not.

‘I’M ALIVE’

When the dashboard collapsed, his legs were pinned under it and the truck was still rolling, still at about that respectable 45 mph, which is one of those lessons in relativity. It doesn’t feel fast on a bright, sunny day, but when rocks are raining down upon you, it feels like something out of a Star Trek movie.

He couldn’t move his legs to hit the brakes, but God and a road crew put a snow-covered guardrail in his way that stopped him and kept him from going over a cliff.

“I started wiggling around to assess if I was damaged. I was mostly OK,” Mitchell said, although he has a couple nasty bruises.

The impact was so strong that it knocked his shoes off, which did not stop him from jumping up and down on the snowy road shouting, “I’m alive!”

“I jumped out of the truck and was dancing around in my socks because I was alive,” he said.

He and another motorist found his shoes and followed the trail of debris back up the road where they saw a boulder the size of a dump truck. Others were the size of small cars. Then smaller rocks started hitting the roadway around them and, because self-preservation is still the strongest instinct in humans, they took off.

The road was closed for three days.

Besides Borek, three things emerged unscathed: His cell phone, his Maglite and a cross his mother made him from palm leaves and gave him on Palm Sunday. These days he keeps it in an inside jacket pocket, next to his heart.

Borek’s Boulder work

Borek is adamant in pointing out that U.S. Highway 24 was closed twice by rock slides, one in April that dropped 150 tons on Highway 24, and this one good for 400 tons or more. In that April rock slide, a 20-year-old woman sustained minor injuries when she drove her car into a hole.

“Thousands of commuters a day travel that road. I’m not a mathematician, but it seems like a matter of time before one of those rock slides hits something like a school bus,” Borek said.

He’s asking for work similar to that in Georgetown along Interstate 70, or Red and White Mountain above Ouray, shaving off boulders perched precariously above the road.

Colorado Department of Transportation’s Tracy Trulove said specialists will re-evaluate the area in the spring once the snow melts to see what can be done to make the stretch safer. Trulove said that people often ask what can be done to avoid or prevent slides.

“Unfortunately, the answer is that we live in Colorado and in the Rocky Mountains, and while there are many natural disasters we don’t have, rock slides are one that we do have and that we have to deal with,” she said. “It’s not something that we can predict.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.