GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Colorado Department of Transportation officials will take another look at the Interstate 70 construction zone on the east end of Glenwood Canyon, following the second fatal car accident in the five-mile stretch during the past six weeks.
“Anytime there’s a fatality, whether it’s in a work zone or not, we review the incident to look into whether highway conditions played a factor in any way,” CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said Thursday.
“We will be getting a copy of the accident report when it’s complete, and our traffic engineers will be reviewing that,” she said.
According to the Colorado State Patrol, around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, the female driver of a Mazda sedan was killed in a fiery head-on crash with a semi truck hauling beer just west of the Reverse Curve tunnel. Three passengers in the car — an adult male, a male child and a teenage girl — were sent to the hospital with serious-to-critical injuries.
The Mazda, which was headed east in a two-way-traffic construction zone, had abruptly moved into the westbound lane as the truck emerged from the tunnel, and the two vehicles collided head-on, according to the State Patrol.
Both the car and the truck burst into flames after the collision. Bystanders were able to remove three of the four occupants from the car before it burned completely.
The driver of the car was pronounced dead at the scene, and the three passengers were taken to Vail Valley Medical Center. The child was later taken to Denver for treatment. The truck driver escaped his burning vehicle without injury.
The names of the victims had still not been released by the State Patrol on Thursday, pending positive identification and notification of family members, CSP Trooper Graham Thorne said.
“We are still working on the IDs, which was complicated by the extent of the injuries and the fact that the car was completely burned,” Thorne said. The State Patrol’s Victim Crime Unit is assisting with the investigation, he said.
The three victims who were hospitalized remained in “serious to critical condition,” Thorne said.
The exact cause of the accident also remains under investigation, he said.
Due to ongoing construction in that area of Glenwood Canyon, both westbound and eastbound traffic is on the elevated westbound section of I-70 between the Hanging Lake Tunnel and the Bair Ranch Rest Area.
The accident closed I-70 for eight hours until early afternoon Wednesday, leaving motorists and truckers stranded in Glenwood Springs or scrambling to find alternate routes.
It was the second fatal accident in that particular construction zone in just the past six weeks, with the death count now at four.
In another early morning accident, at 5:30 a.m. on April 14 approximately two miles east of where Wednesday’s accident occurred, Brianda Zavala, 18, and her two passengers, ages 16 and 24, were all killed when their Audi sedan slammed head-on into a semi truck. The driver of the truck was not injured.
An autopsy report revealed that Zavala was drunk at the time, with three times the legal limit of alcohol in her system.
In both accidents, the car was in the wrong lane. But a review of the safety measures following the April 14 accident determined all necessary precautions had been taken in setting up the construction zone, Shanks said.
“Our safety crews determined that the zone was set up per our standards, with the proper traffic control devices,” she said. “We have highways and work zones like this all over the state, and it’s not anything out of the ordinary.”
The speed limit in the Glenwood Canyon work zone is reduced to 40 miles per hour. Enforcing the speed limit in any work zone is a constant battle for state troopers, Thorne said.
“My own personal experience in that particular area is that people just need to slow down and be more aware of what’s going on in the canyon,” Thorne said. “We are trying to help keep it safe and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Shanks said the work in Glenwood Canyon is scheduled to wrap up in the next two weeks, and that eastbound traffic should return to the normal lanes by June 3, weather permitting.
Some work will continue on the westbound lanes, which could reduce traffic to one lane at times, Shanks said.