Joshua Kiser was driving west on Routt County Road 16 when the driver of a car on the side of the road flagged him down. They told him a vehicle was in the river.
“I said, ‘No way,’” Kiser said. “I was thinking I was going to have to pull him out.”
A Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk traveling west on County Road 16 towards the junction with Routt County Road 14 drove off the road, appearing to launch off a snow bank before landing in the Yampa River near the bridge.
Oak Creek Fire Protection District received a call about the incident just after 10:40 a.m. on Saturday, March 18.
First responders estimated the Jeep had flown 65 feet, as there were not tracks in the snow between where it went off the road and where it landed in the river just upstream of where the Yampa enters Stagecoach Reservoir.
When Kiser went to check on the driver, he had walked out of the wreckage on his own. Scanner traffic indicated the driver had minor injuries including a bloody lip and a racing pulse. A dog in the vehicle was also deemed OK.
An ambulance with the Oak Creek Fire Protection District took the driver towards UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, eventually meeting with Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue personnel who got the patient the rest of the way to the hospital.
The Steamboat crew also provided Oak Creek firefighters with more oil booms, absorbent pads and other equipment to contain and clean up oil that had leaked from the Jeep into the river.
“Thank you to Steamboat. For one, they did the (advanced life support) intercept for the patient,” said Oak Creek Fire Chief Brady Glauthier. “We’ve used up all of our absorbent right now, so they are also giving us some absorbent as well.”
While the vehicle was still in the river, firefighters placed absorbent pads on the ice below where oil was leaking and set up an oil boom across the river to prevent oil floating further down stream into Stagecoach Reservoir. Glauthier said he didn’t believe the vehicle was leaking gasoline, because there was not a rainbow hue in the water that would signal a gasoline leak.
Glauthier had initially requested a hazardous materials team out of Craig to respond, but eventually canceled that after deciding that his firefighters could handle the clean up.
Kiser, who owns Kiser Construction in Stagecoach, was on his way to pick up a skid steer when he came across the scene, so he offered to help plow out part of a parking lot to allow a tow truck to get closer to the river and remove the jeep.
“This is my first river one,” said Joe Wiens, with Rocky Mountain Towing and Delivery.
Once the path was clear, Wiens backed up the tow truck. Firefighters — who were in wet suits — attached the cable to the rear hitch of the Jeep. After the first attempt almost rolled the vehicle, Wiens stopped and had firefighters move where the cable was anchored to the vehicle. He then winched it the rest of the way out of the river and up a steep bank around 1:20 p.m.
Glauthier then directed three Oak Creek firefighters — Nathaniel Werhane, Dillon Sanders and Morgan Olufsen — as they worked to soak up oil in the water with absorbent pads and to remove discolored ice chunks from the water. The crew eventually got out a chain saw to cut up large chunks and remove them.
“If we don’t get this ice out of here, it is going to end up down there,” Glauthier said, gesturing toward the reservoir.
About two years ago, Glauthier said another vehicle went off the road in to the river in this same spot, but that one had been traveling east on County Road 14 and ended up on the other side of the bridge as Saturday’s incident. Glauthier said he was surprised to get such a call on Saturday, as it was a sunny morning and the road was dry.
Colorado State Patrol was on scene investigating what caused the crash. Glauthier said the driver told first responders that the dog in the vehicle had distracted him.
“Please keep your pets restrained inside the vehicle, because apparently the pet districted the driver and that’s what happen,” Glauthier said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email [email protected].