Icy cover turns highways into giant skating rinks

A car landed over the guardrail after an accident on Interstate 70 on Tuesday morning, one of multiple crashes that closed westbound lanes for a time.  See photo gallery on the fallout of the ice storm at gjsentinel.com.

A truck sits in the westbound lanes of the interstate after heavy fog and ice closed in the highway. See photo gallery on the fallout of the ice storm at gjsentinel.com.

Slick road conditions and adverse weather continued to plague drivers in western Colorado on Tuesday, contributing to a fatality in Montrose, a six-car pileup near the state line and numerous semis losing control and blocking Interstate 70.

Icy roads combined with high speeds likely caused the death of an Oregon man who was driving through Montrose County when he lost control of his vehicle and was hit head-on by oncoming traffic.

At approximately 6:47 a.m. Tuesday, the 40-year-old man was driving east on U.S. Highway 50, approximately 1 mile south of Olathe, in a 1997 Chevrolet Silverado when he lost control of his vehicle.

The man’s vehicle crossed the median and into the westbound lane of traffic and was struck head-on by a 2012 Dodge Ram.

The driver of the Silverado died at the scene. The driver of the Ram, a 49-year-old Montrose man, was taken to Montrose Memorial Hospital with minor injuries.

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Nate Reid said law enforcement is investigating excessive speed as a possible cause for the Silverado losing control. Drugs and alcohol are not suspected to be factors in the accident, Reid said.

Just after 8 a.m., traffic traveling west on I-70 near Mack started having difficulty navigating the slick roads. According to Trooper Dan Chermok, a semi lost traction on a hill near mile marker 8 and jack-knifed, blocking the interstate. This was the first of 10 semis that ended up blocking the highway, which some other cars ran into, causing serious injuries for two people.

The first SUV that hit a stopped semi was traveling 75 mph on cruise control when it crashed, according to Chermok. Altogether, six cars were involved in the accident.

A man who was driving a Ford Taurus that rear-ended one of the semi-trucks sustained serious injuries and was taken to the hospital by Lower Valley Fire District ambulance, according to Fire Chief Frank Cavaliere.

Emergency responders had to cut open the vehicle to rescue the man, who was trapped in the wreckage.

His agency took three people to hospitals via ambulance.

Two more patients were taken by the Grand Junction Fire Department to the hospital with non-critical injuries, according to spokesman Dirk Clingman.

Though hazmat crews staged in the area, a tanker involved in the crash was empty, Cavaliere said.

Low visibility from thick fog, combined with icy road conditions, contributed to the accidents, Cavaliere said.

“It was like you just hit a wall,” he said, describing the zero-visibility conditions.

Snow and rain are forecast for the Grand Junction area until Saturday, but it will not be like Monday’s freezing rain, according to Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office.

There are chances of snow and rain today, Thursday and Friday, though only 1 inch of accumulation is expected, Phillips said. 

“That can change as we continue to get into the storm,” he said.

The wave of storms affecting Grand Junction are coming from the Pacific Ocean, he said, where torrential rain is causing flooding and mudslides in California before moving toward the central Rocky Mountains.


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