Deputy hit by two drivers ‘lucky to be alive’
Wounded with a shattered leg on an icy bridge along Interstate 70, 32-year-old John Brownlee wasn’t sure why his thoughts turned to house chores.
“I said something like, ‘I guess I’m not painting my house tomorrow,’ ” Brownlee, an Eagle County Sheriff’s deputy, recalled telling a colleague who rushed to the scene of Brownlee’s freak accident in the predawn hours of May 1, just west of Wolcott.
A Grand Junction native who worked three years for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, Brownlee faces several possible surgeries, and a minimum four months recovery, after being hit by two suspected drunken drivers as he was helping victims of another accident around 1:30 a.m. May 1.
“I’ll take a broken leg and not complain one bit,” Brownlee said. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
According to the Colorado State Patrol, Brownlee had stopped to check on a driver who crashed while crossing a bridge over the Eagle River, frozen over with black ice. Brownlee parked at the right eastbound shoulder of I-70 just in front of the bridge, with the patrol vehicle’s emergency lights activated.
Walking back to his patrol car to retrieve accident flares, Brownlee saw a car sliding head-on in his direction, roughly 20 feet away. “I thought about jumping off the bridge, but it’s a pretty far drop,” he said.
The Subaru Outback driven by Jamison Bair, 19, of Eagle, slammed into Brownlee, who rolled off the car’s hood on the passenger side.
He never saw the second vehicle.
“When I stopped rolling on the ground, the other one was on top of me,” he said. “I stood up, tried to run and realized my leg was broken after two steps.” Brownlee said he dragged himself roughly 10 feet to the side of the road. He couldn’t call for help because the collision had knocked away his personal radio. Bair immediately pulled over, while the man Brownlee had initially stopped to help came to the deputy’s aid and called 911.
The second man, Francisco Granados, 23, of Avon, drove his Chevrolet Avalanche another 10 miles but was stopped and arrested near Edwards.
“The first kid was apologetic, wasn’t passing blame,” Brownlee said.
Bair was suspected of driving under the influence and booked as well on suspicion of felony vehicular assault and careless driving causing injury.
Granados was arrested on suspicion of similar counts, in addition to fleeing the scene of an accident involving injury. A passenger in Granados’ vehicle was arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine.
Brownlee, meanwhile, was left with a lower right leg broken in five places, and doctors initially believed he might lose the limb.
Fixed with rods and pins after surgery at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Brownlee’s leg will be evaluated Tuesday in anticipation of at least one more surgery.
Brownlee said the accident happened nearly a year after a drunken driver in Grand Junction slammed into a vehicle carrying his 8-year-old son, Eric, leaving the boy with a broken collarbone.
“I don’t like drunks very much,” Brownlee said.