Trooper hurt when big rig slams patrol car
State Trooper Richard Ojala received nine stitches in his head. The driver of the tractor-trailer, Larry Smithey, of Pierce, Colo., suffered minor injuries, as did the passenger. All were treated at Vail Valley Medical Center and released.
“Other than a couple of staples in my head, I’m fine,” Ojala said. “I’m a little stiff. I’ll be stiff tomorrow, I’m sure.”
Around 9:30 a.m., Ojala pulled over to the center median on Interstate 70 near Wolcott to help a motorist who had spun off the road in icy and snowy conditions, said State Patrol Sgt. Mark Mason.
Ojala and the motorist, 32-year-old Ian Carr of Clifton, were waiting for a tow truck when the 59-year-old driver of the semi lost control while moving from the left to right lanes and the back end of the rig struck the right side of the patrol car, Mason said. The patrol car, a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria, was shoved about 135 feet and off the right side of the freeway. The truck rolled onto its side and slid nearly 500 feet before coming to rest on its wheels, facing south and blocking both lanes.
“I saw the wheels coming out, and the next thing I knew they were cutting me out of the car – that’s all I know,” Ojala said. “They were cutting the passenger out of the back and myself.”
The passenger of the patrol car had just sat down in the right back seat when the big rig hit them.
“He’s lucky he was sitting where he was,” said State Patrol Sgt. George Dingfelder. “The car is destroyed.”
Smithey was issued a citation for reckless driving. The big rig, carrying gypsum board from Gypsum to Greeley, was from Cherokee Trading Co. of Greeley.
The eastbound lanes of the interstate remained closed for about six hours.
“Coming around the canyon, there’s a lot of sharp corners and it makes things dangerous,” one worker at the Wolcott Market said about the accident. “People are driving too fast, except the ones who know the area and know when and where to slow down.”
The snowy conditions and slushy roads resulted in a few minor accidents throughout the county, including one bus accident on U.S. Highway 6 in Eagle-Vail.
“It’s like roller derby out there,” said a customer at the Wolcott Market.
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or at email@example.com.