Fire killed truck driver in Sunday’s Avon crash | VailDaily.com

Fire killed truck driver in Sunday’s Avon crash

AVON, Colorado – The inferno from Sunday’s massive truck crash killed the driver, Eagle County’s coroner said Tuesday.

“He died because he caught on fire,” Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said. It’s being ruled an accidental death, Bettis said.

Officials have still not been unable to positively identify the driver, Bettis said, although his next of kin have been notified.

A male passenger in the truck survived with minor injuries, as did Avon residents Lara Wahl and Bradley Zellefrow. They were driving under the Interstate 70 bridge when the rear of the Yellow Freight truck’s two trailers flipped over the side and landed on them and their Honda CR-V. The tractor and other trailer plunged over the side and their car was engulfed in flames

Somehow, they escaped.

The driver, though, was found outside the cab, burned to death.

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The first firefighters from the Eagle River Fire Protection District were on the scene a minute and a half after the call came in, pouring hundreds of gallons of water on the fire.

“They were operating under the information that there were two people still in there, to cool the fire and begin the rescue – before stretching their hoses to a hydrant,” said Karl Bauer, chief of the Eagle River Fire Protection District.

“There was so much fire they emptied their tank. That’s why we always send more than one engine,” Bauer said.

That first crew launched into fast attack, Bauer said. They dumped their entire load of 750 gallons of water before they connected to a hydrant.

The second tanker truck arrived moments later, as still another crew was trying to connect to a fire hydrant.

The closest hydrant was behind the Christie Lodge, but it had been out of order since April 24. The hydrant needs a shaft that has to be specifically built by the manufacturer, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District spokeswoman Diane Johnson said.

The fire district had been told the hydrant was out, and it was marked with a white collar that says “Hydrant out of service.”

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District maintains more than 2,000 fire hydrants as part of its water system. Each one gets some attention each year, Johnson said.

“It’s a huge ongoing maintenance project we do every year as part of maintaining the water system. Occasionally that means a hydrant is out of service, and emergency personnel are notified,” Johnson said.

Even if the hydrant had been operational, it couldn’t have saved the driver, Bauer said.

Sunday’s crash sent flames hundreds of feet into the air and closed I-70 for hours.

At 9:50 a.m., Pat Casey was driving along U.S. Highway 6, trying to make a 10:10 a.m. tee time in Eagle-Vail.

“As my three partners and I were putting our clubs in the cart, one of the employees saw this huge billow of very black smoke rising from the ground way down valley,” Casey said. “At first people thought the gas station in Avon must have blown up. Then we heard all the sirens from the Eagle-Vail fire station and realized this was a very serious problem that needed a lot of first responders.”

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