Routt County sees plague of fatalities

Five people die on area highways during the first seven months of 2001

Gary E. Salazar

— Historically, August has been the month where the most alcohol-related crashes have occurred in the state, but in Northwest Colorado alcohol-related crashes have been an all-too common sight this year.

Since Jan. 1, 10 people have died on highways in Routt, Moffat, Jackson, Grand and Rio Blanco counties.

Of those crashes, seven were alcohol-related, said Colorado State Trooper Brad Keadle, who specializes in traffic accident investigations.

The bulk of the accidents have occurred in Routt County. Since March, five people have died, and four of the fatalities were alcohol-related.

“I have been coming to Routt County a lot and that is not a good thing,” said Keadle, who is the lead trooper on the Accident Reconstruction Team. “This is one of the worst years I have ever seen.”

Last year, six fatal accidents were investigated in this area by the Colorado State Patrol, which is based in Craig.

Two of those deaths were alcohol-related.

The number of deaths that have occurred this year does not bode well as August unfolds.

Over the past five years, August has been the worst month on Colorado highways for alcohol-related fatalities.

According to statistics from the Colorado Department of Transportation, 128 people died in alcohol-related crashes during August between 1996 and 2000.

By comparison, the total number of deaths in September from 1996 to 2000 was 90 and the total number of deaths in July was 89.

Because of the number of deadly crashes, the governor’s office, the state’s Department of Transportation and law enforcement agencies are stepping up enforcement to get intoxicated drivers off the road.

“Our goal this year is to make August a safer month through increased enforcement and greater public awareness,” Gov. Bill Owens said.

The stepped-up enforcement began Friday evening and will continue until the end of the month.

Since last fall, Keadle has been working as the unit’s lead accident investigator. The number of crashes that have occurred is a concern for Keadle, especially the number of crashes that occurred in April, May, and June.

In that time frame, Keadle investigated nine fatal accidents in the five-county area. Of those fatal accidents, four occurred in Routt County and three

involved alcohol.

Keadle becomes more disturbed at the number of deaths for this period when he compares the numbers to Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs.

“In that same time, Grand Junction had eight fatalities and Glenwood Springs had 11,” Keadle said. “That area consists of Interstate 70.

“The number of fatal accidents for this area is unacceptable. Nobody can believe how many fatal accidents we have had out here. It is just amazing. People have to slow down.”

Motorists also have to stop drinking and driving, Keadle said.

The five-year veteran said people have a misconception about the effects drinking can have on driving ability.

“Some people think they can drink over a long period of time and be able to drive,” he said. “The fact is anybody can die, and anybody can get in a crash.”

An accident that sticks in Keadle’s mind is the one that killed a 19-year-old Denver man in the early morning hours of July 1.

John Campbell was killed after he was ejected from a 1995 Toyota Celica on County Road 62.

The alleged driver of the sports car, Mario Lintz, 19, is suspected of being intoxicated. The Denver man faces felony charges for the accident that killed his best friend and also injured a 19-year-old Steamboat Springs woman.

“In that accident, they were going a couple of miles from their campsite,” Keadle said. “They were not even going two-tenths of a mile.”

Lintz lost control of the sports car at a turn in the road.

“When you are intoxicated, you can’t respond correctly to what the vehicle is doing,” Keadle said. “You can’t react.”

Keadle is hopeful as August unfolds he will not be called upon to investigate an accident.

“Our No. 1 priority is traffic safety,” he said. “Our guys will be going after intoxicated drivers this month. If we can get one impaired driver off the road, it is a tremendous success story.”

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