|The traffic slowed suddenly as we passed the Keyah Grande entrance on our way back to Pagosa Springs. Glenn Walsh and I had just been to Durango to pick up the first issue of the new Pagosa Post magazine — 7,000 copies stacked in the back of my Toyota van — and we were surprised to see a traffic jam forming ahead of us, just a short distance past the west entrance to Cat Creek Road. |
Then we noticed the flashing police car lights up ahead, at the bend in the road where the east end of Cat Creek Road joins Highway 160.
“Looks like we have an accident,” Glenn noted.
I pulled to a stop behind the line of vehicles, and climbed out to stretch my legs while we were waiting. It was a fine spring day and the afternoon air was pleasantly warm. Glenn climbed out of the passenger door and joined me in speculation about what might have happened. Continued...
I’ve heard stories about this curve — the east entrance to Cat Creek Road. One of the most dangerous intersections in the whole county, I’d heard, at a County Commissioners’ meeting a couple of years ago. The commissioners were discussing a proposal to eliminate the intersection, but first they wanted to repair the bridge at the west entrance, to handle the additional traffic.
The road closure never happened. Maybe they couldn’t find the revenues to fix the bridge?
I think I’d heard someone mention, at that meeting, that the intersection had produced a couple of fatal accidents in recent years. Traffic barreling along at 65 miles an hour on a paved highway, making a wide, slow curve right where a joining gravel road drops off down a hill, out of sight. If you don’t know about Cat Creek Road, you might not even notice the intersection exists.
I heard a voice behind me, and turned to see Gene Reilly walking up the road toward us.
“Aren’t you going to get out your camera?” he asked. “You’re the news reporters, right?”
I’d become acquainted with Gene during his tenure in the Sheriff’s office, working under former County Sheriff Tom Richards and Undersheriff Bob Grandchamp. Gene had been ‘laid off’ from the department shortly after Pete Gonzalez was elected in 2006 — due to budget cuts, according to new Undersheriff John Weiss. But Gene felt he had been fired for political reasons and had filed a claim against the County. That suit, I believe, is still pending.
I explained to Gene I’d neglected to pack my camera — actually, Glenn’s camera — and I wondered if he had a camera, by any chance? He walked back to his vehicle and returned with a compact digital camera.
“Run down there and snap some shots,” Gene told me. “I’ll pick up the camera from you when they let us through, and I’ll email you the photos.”
The traffic began to move slowly, and I asked Glenn to drive, so I could jump out and get some pictures. As we approached the intersection, Glenn slowed down and I stepped out onto the road and jogged toward the accident scene. I saw three or four law enforcement vehicles — County Sheriff deputies and Colorado State Troopers — and an ambulance. Two people were filling out accident reports, using the hood of a damaged Suburban as their table. I recognized the Suburban by the lettering on the side windows: “Angela’s Flowers”. And yes, one of the people filling out the forms was Jenny Hall, the owner of Angela’s Flowers. Continued...
Jenny had once been one of my employees at the Daily Post — my ad sales manager — for a brief spell, a while back. I also knew that Jenny had been one of the annual participants in the Demolition Derby at the Archuleta County Fair.
The rear end of Jenny’s older Suburban was smashed up, and the rear tire was completely flat, barely hanging onto the rim. I strongly suspected the vehicle was totaled, considering its age.
I walked across the highway to where a Subaru station wagon sat, with its front end severely damaged. Definitely a totaled vehicle.
“I was stopped, to turn onto Cat Creek Road,” Jenny explained as she filled out her report and as I snapped photos of the scene. “She didn’t even slow down.”
“She” would be the driver of the Subaru. That driver had already been taken to the hospital by ambulance — having survived the accident, in part, thanks to a deployed air bag. Continued...
The young man standing next to Jenny, filling out his accident report on the hood, blurted out, “That’s my truck.”
“That’s my truck. Out there in the field. I was airborne.”
I looked around for a truck, and couldn’t see one. Then, finally, I saw a black truck, 100 yards from the accident scene, out in the middle of a field. The side of the truck was smashed up. The driver, however, seemed in fairly good shape. Continued...
I snapped a few shots of the truck in the field, and then I heard Gene Reilly’s voice coming from his car. “Times up!” He was passing me slowly on the highway, and I handed him his camera. “I’ll email the photos,” he assured me as he drove off.
Glenn was parked a ways up ahead and I jumped into the passenger’s seat — and off we went, with our fresh load of magazines.
A few days later, I ran into Jenny Hall at her new flower store in the Mountain View Plaza, and heard some additional details.
She said she’d seen the woman in the Subaru following her all the way out to Aspen Springs, and Jenny had noticed her driving somewhat erratically — sometimes pulling up very close to Jenny’s Suburban, then dropping back.
Jenny estimated that the woman had been going maybe 60 miles an hour when she hit the rear of Jenny’s Suburban. The impact had pushed Jenny into the oncoming traffic, right in front of the man in the black truck. The truck had caught Jenny’s front bumper and spun her around 180 degrees. The truck had then left the road, flown through a fence and ended up out in the field.
The woman in the Subaru had survived the crash, and had been rushed off to the hospital.
Jenny’s left hand had been injured in the accident, perhaps when her steering wheel was jerked suddenly when her car had spun around. Other than that, Jenny seemed in reasonably good shape.
”I think it was from driving in all those Demolition Derby’s. I just knew how to get hit without getting injured.”
She mentioned the two white crosses that sit beside the intersection at Cat Creek Road, commemorating victims of previous accidents there.
I’m left wondering when we will be able to close off that intersection.