Summit County coroner identifies man killed in Highway 6 crash |

Summit County coroner identifies man killed in Highway 6 crash

Colorado State Patrol, coroner continue investigation

A Colorado State Patrol drone takes off to fly a mapping mission as part of an accident investigation. The drone flies in a grid pattern over the site taking pictures at set intervals, which investigators can then use to get a properly scaled aerial view of the crash.
Photo from Colorado State Patrol

The man killed in a head-on crash on U.S. Highway 6 last week has been identified as 32-year-old Andrew Robert Smith of Keystone, according to the Summit County Coroner’s Office.

Early June 21, Smith was driving along Highway 6 near Keystone when he collided head-on with a semitrailer. Smith was traveling eastbound in the wrong lane, according to the Colorado State Patrol. Smith was killed in the crash while the driver of the semitrailer was transported to a Front Range hospital for treatment.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons confirmed that one of his deputies witnessed the crash, but he declined to comment further until the State Patrol and coroner’s office investigations are complete.

Many details regarding how the crash happened are unknown. The Summit Daily is awaiting more comprehensive reports on the incident from records requests filed with the Sheriff’s Office, State Patrol and coroner’s office, including a video of the crash. The coroner’s office is not able to release any additional information because the investigation is ongoing, according to Chief Deputy Coroner Amber Flenniken.

State Patrol investigations often take weeks to finish, according to Colin Remillard, an investigator with the State Patrol’s vehicular crimes unit. But once completed, the report should provide better context on how the crash occurred.

How crashes are investigated

In an interview with the Summit Daily, Remillard provided an in-depth look at how crash investigations work.

Remillard said investigators with the vehicular crimes unit handle a majority of fatal, high-profile and felony offense crashes, like vehicular assaults. As part of Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, all Colorado law enforcement agents are required to complete Level 1 basic on-scene crash investigation training, according to Remillard. State Patrol troopers are required to complete Level 2 technical crash investigation training, and members of the vehicular crimes unit are required to complete Levels 3 and 4 of the training, which qualify them to handle crash reconstructions and computer-aided crash reconstructions.

Upon arrival on scene, Remillard said one of the primary factors investigators are trying to determine is the change in velocity those involved suffered in the crash.

“Change of velocity is ultimately what usually ends up harming or killing passengers,” Remillard said. “To find those, we have myriad equations depending on the situation of the crash. … Our job is to get measurements and the data we need to be in front of those equations.”

Investigators will begin by mapping the scene using one of two primary technologies. The first is a Topcon Positioning System, which includes two receivers — one typically mounted on a patrol vehicle and another carried around on a pole — which communicate with each other and GPS satellites to triangulate points at the scene, accurate to within about 2 millimeters. Once completed, investigators can overlay the data on top of a Google map, which will serve as a diagram of the crash scene.

The second method, which is relatively new, is flying a drone over the crash scene. The drone flies in a grid pattern over the site taking pictures at set intervals, which investigators can then use to get a properly scaled aerial view of the crash.

“Once we have a scale diagram, we can get measurements of point of impact to the area of rest for each vehicle,” Remillard said. “That allows us to not only produce a diagram so people can see what happened but be able to get the numbers we need for those equations.”

Investigators will also speak with any witnesses on scene, extensively photograph the crash for later reference and look for any other evidence in the area, like tire marks that can indicate a vehicle’s movement and rotation, or debris fields that can indicate the point of impact and principal direction of force.

The investigation continues after leaving the scene, beginning with efforts to determine if weather or any mechanical problems could have contributed to a crash. Subsequent efforts will also be made to determine driver behavior leading up to the crash, such as tracking down video surveillance of where they were coming from or obtaining a warrant to search phone activity to see if they were distracted.

Crash investigators can also get a considerable amount of information from power control modules and, more frequently, from airbag control modules. Remillard said the module contains an accelerometer that triggers whenever it reaches a certain threshold — a dramatic acceleration or deceleration — which kicks on an event data recorder that captures data on speed, throttle, braking, revolutions per minute and steering inputs.

“We try to compile all this data we get, along with the scale diagram, into the report. And from there, we try our best to re-create what exactly happened, what resulted in the crash,” Remillard said. “… For me, it’s really a giant puzzle. These are all the pieces on scene, and the night of, I have to get there and make sure I’m getting every single puzzle piece I need. From there, it’s putting together the puzzle. Sometimes it’s relatively obvious; sometimes you see a vehicle traveling in the wrong lanes, and that’s probably the proximate cause of the crash — probably, not definitely.

“Then the puzzle becomes, ‘Why was that happening?’ That’s a whole different puzzle we start to piece together: Was it impairment, was it medically caused, was it disorientation, was it a roadway design flaw? So our job really, in the beginning stages especially, is to go down every reasonable rabbit hole we can.”

There are four members on the vehicular crimes unit in the region, which includes Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Lake, Mesa, Moffat, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt and Summit counties.

Over the past five years, from 2016 to 2020, an average of about 50 crashes per year have been investigated in the region, according to data provided by Remillard. He noted that the summer season is typically the busiest.

“I would say because there’s not really as soft of a landing for a lot of vehicles because there’s no snow, and speeds are definitely up in the summer,” Remillard said. “Those are verifiable. Anecdotally, I think people have a more carefree attitude; I think they think the opposite, that it’s more dangerous in the winter.”

Remillard said most crashes involving fatalities or serious injuries boil down to four factors: speed, impairment, distraction and people not wearing seat belts.

“Those are time and time again coming up as the main causal factors in these crashes that result in these fatalities,” Remillard said. “I would say go the speed limit, put your seat belt on, put your phone down and don’t drive impaired. It would be nice if we weren’t needed, frankly. But unfortunately we are. I would urge the public, especially in this summer season and coming out of confinement, to keep those things in mind when they’re operating a motor vehicle.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.