Runaway truck ‘close call’

A semitrailer driven by Kerry Carpenter, 42, of New Mexico reportedly lost its brakes Sunday about three miles west of the summit of Vail Pass. He was able to exit Interstate 70 on a runaway truck ramp, but the truckload of hazardous material spilled. Less than 100 gallons of a methanol-based mixture seeped into Black Gore Creek, but water district officials shut off equipment before Vail’s drinking water was jeopardized.

A Palisade man who witnessed a runaway truck accident Sunday on Vail Pass says he’s amazed it didn’t kill the driver or result in a bigger disaster.

Mike Kennedy said he doesn’t know how the truck kept from hitting other vehicles, including a fuel tanker, rather than managing to make it to a runaway truck ramp before spilling its hazardous material on board.

“It would have been a major disaster. It was a close call,” said Kennedy, who was driving one of three Xcel Energy vehicles the truck passed before reaching the ramp.

The incident closed westbound Interstate 70 for about seven hours. The truck was removed and the ramp reopened Monday.

The truck was hauling 4,950 gallons of a methanol-based mixture, and less than 100 gallons spilled into the Black Gore Creek, said trooper Heather Cobler of the Colorado State Patrol.

Vail’s drinking water remains safe, said Eagle River Water and Sanitation District spokeswoman Diane Johnson. Water district officials were notified of the accident quickly and shut off river intakes that collect water for the town’s drinking system.

Trooper Nate Reid, a State Patrol spokesman, said Kerry Carpenter, 42, of New Mexico was hauling a trailer owned by Sky Oilfield of Hobbs, N.M.

Carpenter reportedly lost his brakes about three miles past the summit of Vail Pass and called “mayday” on his CB radio, according to the town of Vail. He was unable to take a first truck ramp because of heavy traffic in the right lane and continued down the pass at speeds approaching 85 mph toward the lower truck ramp.

“He then reported almost missing that ramp due to traffic and managed to pull into the ramp at the last minute,” according to a town of Vail news release.

The truck exited the interstate two miles east of East Vail. It did not roll over, but tipped enough to lose its 15 330-gallon storage containers, all of which were ruptured in the crash, officials said. Several of the containers rolled back down onto the interstate.

The Environmental Protection Agency and hazardous materials teams responded.

Carpenter was uninjured, Cobler said. However, Kennedy, who pulled over with co-workers after the accident, said he saw blood on Carpenter’s forehead and arms. Reid said Carpenter wasn’t taken to a hospital.

Kennedy said his co-worker overheard Carpenter calling his employer after the accident to say, “I quit, I quit this job.”

Kennedy said he and co-workers were returning from snowstorm work in Denver when he saw a truck with smoking brakes fly past him. He didn’t hear a horn and radioed his coworkers to pull over fast.

Somehow, the truck managed to squeeze between his co-workers’ line of vehicles and a small car that was passing them on the left, then swerve onto the runaway ramp rather than hitting the tanker, Kennedy said.

The semitrailer wasn’t able to negotiate a curve on the ramp and was destroyed, he said.

“That gentleman, I don’t know how he survived. I’m glad he did,” Kennedy said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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