I-70: Where the rough spots are | VailDaily.com

I-70: Where the rough spots are

Preston Utley/Vail DailyIn the past four years, there have been 118 vehicle accidents on a stretch of I-70 between Gypsum and West Vail for which statistics were available, reports the Colorado State Patrol.

EAGLE COUNTY – On Dec. 19, a Battle Mountain High School student was killed in a high-speed freeway race in Wolcott. Jerome Gallegos, 17, was killed in a 100-mph freeway race when his opponent lost control and they collided, sending the boy’s car rolling into the median. A week before, five teens, including four Battle Mountain High School students, were injured, some seriously, in one-car crash on Interstate 70, west of Edwards.Police said Cristobal Covarrubias, 18, of Avon, was driving fast and headed west on I-70 near Edwards when he lost control in a right hand curve just past Wilmore Lake. The three rear passengers weren’t wearing seatbelts and were ejected from the car.These were just the two of the recent serious accidents on I-70 that left people seriously injured or dead. In the past four years, there have been 118 vehicle accidents on a stretch of I-70 between Gypsum and West Vail for which statistics were available, reports the Colorado State Patrol. Nine people died and 260 were injured, police said.”The three real critical areas are Dowd Junction, the area just west of Wolcott between mile markers 155 and 157 and in Vail Pass, mile marker 186,” said Fred Morrison, operation manager for the ambulance crews that operate in the eastern half of Eagle County.”We go there more than any other place,” Morrison said. “And we get the most serious accidents there, too. All kind of trauma, head and chest injuries.”The Wolcott curseThough for many years, Dowd Junction was the most dreaded driving area on I-70 in Eagle County, Charlie Moore, chief of the Eagle River Fire Protection District, said the new hot spot is near Wolcott.”In the past, we seemed to have had the most accidents in Dowd Junction because of the curves and the ice,” Moore said. “The frequency of accidents there however has dropped in the past decade because the speed limit has been reduced.”Now, Moore said, firefighters are dealing with more to accidents around the Wolcott interchange. “Some semis have trouble dealing with curves a mile west of the exit,” Moore said. “It’s always on the curves, but strangely enough we have had some accidents on the bridge.”

According to a Colorado State Patrol report, in the past four years the Minturn exit at mile marker 171 has seen the most accidents – 25. Of those one that happened a mile west of the exit was fatal.In the past four years, four other people were killed in two separate accidents near Gypsum and two other in two accidents three miles west of Edwards near Wilmore Lake, where there is a rest stop, the state patrol report said.”The area near Wilmore Lake, west of Edwards, is becoming a dangerous spot, as well,” Moore said.Limited by natureThe geography of some areas on the interstate in Wolcott, Dowd Junction and near Edwards make it difficult not only for drivers, but for emergency workers who respond to an accident, Morrison said.”Some areas are in the shadows, there’s a lack of light and they have sharp turns,” he said. The Colorado Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining and plowing the freeway, “does great work, but they are limited by mother nature,” Morrison said. “It’s the way it is in the mountains,” he said. Speed control still is the key to avoiding accidents, said Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Shawn Olmstead.”I don’t think the speed limit should be reduced, but people should slow down when the weather is bad,” Olmstead said. The speed limit through Vail and Avon is 65, though that’s reduced in winding Dowd Junction. The speed limit on I-70 west of Avon is 75 mph, with reductions in the speed limit through the curves at Wolcott.”How much slower they should go would depend on the circumstances – the amount of traffic in the area, the time of day and the weather conditions.,” Olmstead said. “Accidents increased with winter driving conditions.”Two dozens tows

When the weather deteriorates in the High Country, Leroy Lopez, of the Vail Conoco Towing Service, said they go from towing four cars a day to up to 24.Lopez agreed with Moore and Morrison that Dowd Junction and the freeway west of Wolcott are the roughest spots on the interstate when the weather gets bad.”People go too fast and their cars aren’t ready for winter,” Lopez said. “Having four-wheel drive won’t save you either.”In the end, the most important thing is what you do before an accident, Morrison said.”Slow down, wear seatbelts,” Morrison said. “They reduce the severity of the injury because it prevents you from being ejected from the vehicle or bounced around the car.”Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. ==========================================Safe winter driving:• Be prepared for delays and pack safety kits, blankets, and water in case of emergency. If there is bad weather, leave earlier than normal.• Slow down. Certain stretches of road are more dangerous than others and driving the speed limit may not be driving at a safe speed for the road conditions. Slowing down by 10 to 20 mph during bad road conditions can make a huge difference.• Be aware of and courteous to other drivers on the road.

• Have proper tires for winter weather.• Always wear a seat belt and buckle up children in car seats or booster seats. The state patrol has a zero tolerance policy regarding children not properly restrained in cars. A ticket will be issued if a child is not in a restraining system.Source: Colorado State Patrol===================================================================================================Recent crashes• Dec. 19, 2004, Wolcott – A Battle Mountain High School student is killed in a 100-mph freeway race in Wolcott. According to police, Jerome Gallegos, 17, was killed when his opponent lost control and they collided, sending the boy’s car rolling into the median.• Dec. 12, 2004, Edwards – Five teens, including four Battle Mountain High School students, are injured, some critically, in a one-car crash on Interstate 70. Police said the driver was driving fast and lost control in a right hand curve just past Wilmore Lake.• Nov. 27, 2004, Edwards – A winter storm that blew through the area contributed to an estimated 60 accidents including one fatality. Mabel Fortin, 90, of Thornton, was killed when the car she was riding in spun out of control near Edwards and collided with two oncoming cars.========================================================Vail, Colorado

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