Illinois man plunges to death off Highway 24
The sole occupant of the vehicle, who was described by police only as a young, white male from Illinois, was pronounced dead on the scene.
“He left the road from the pullout just before the bridge. It’s the last left-hand curve. I’m not sure where he impacted,” said Jim Bradford, Red Cliff’s fire chief, who was one of the first responders on the scene. “The car was a complete mess. It just wasn’t survivable, even if he hadn’t been ejected.”
At approximately 12:05 p.m., police said, the Camaro went over the cliff and tumbled several times, ejecting the driver and leaving parts of the vehicle strewn down the hillside before coming to a final stop on its wheels near the Eagle River.
Police said an eyewitness on the Red Cliff Bridge saw the car speeding around a curve before plunging off the embankment. It is assumed the driver was going too fast for the windy mountain road, police said, adding that the incident so far is not being treated as a suicide.
Highway 24 between Red Cliff and Minturn, to the north, is a twisty, two-lane mountain road traversing high cliffs. It’s known for its spectacular views of Notch Mountain in the Holy Cross Wilderness above and the Eagle River far below, as well as the abandoned mining town of Gilman. Guard rails along many stretches of the highway have been installed only recently.
Bradford, however, said the driver of the Camaro apparently went off the road through a space between two guardrails at a spot popular for motorists to pull off the highway and take pictures.
“There’s a guard rail above and a guardrail below,” Bradford said. “It’s not a spot where there’s a lot of accidents. I guess he was just unlucky.
“This isn’t the first fatality up there, but it’s the first in quite a while,” Bradford added. “More people seem to walk away than seem to get seriously hurt.”
The Red Cliff and Minturn fire departments were joined in the recovery effort by members of the Colorado State Patrol, Vail Mountain Rescue, the Eagle River Fire Protection District, the Eagle County Ambulance District and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
The body, which took nearly three hours to extract from the scene, was too disfigured to make a positive physical identification, said Eagle County Coroner Donna Barnes. Fingerprinting will have to be used, and an autopsy is pending, Barnes said.
The driver most likely died from massive head injuries, Barnes added. The case is still under investigation by the state patrol.
Graziano said the name of the driver is being withheld pending positive identification.
“We haven’t been able to notify the next of kin,” Graziano said. “The victim was from out of state.
“The weather’s warmer now and people are getting out and enjoying the summer,” Graziano added. “We want to encourage people to use extreme caution. Roads can be as dangerous in the summer as they are in the winter.”
Vail Daily Assistant Editor Stephen Lloyd Wood contributed to this report.