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Summit County’s death toll rising, could surpass all-time high

Following a relatively light month for deaths in Summit County, the month of March has been especially heavy, from skiers to auto accidents. The year-to-date total also puts the county near the pace of the all-time high of 87 last year.
Alli Langley / Summit Daily File Photo |

The calendar is flipping toward just its fourth month, and the death toll in Summit County is already on a potentially historic pace.

Last year marked an all-time high for deaths in the community, at 87. That was up from 60 in 2014 and a then-record 76 in 2013. By Feb. 2 of this year, there were already 11 deaths in the county before an unusual, but welcomed, month with no new cases.

But the following month saw a particularly heavy volume, with eight deaths by this last day of March, approaching 20 year-to-date. That comprises two skier deaths, two accidental drug overdoses, two violent car accidents, one from natural causes and finally longtime Summit County resident, 56-year-old Paige Nance, on Sunday, March 27.

“It’s been kind of a crazy year, we’ve been busy,” Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said earlier this year. “It’s because the economy is good, gas is cheap, Summit County is just busy. More people, more deaths.”

“It’s been kind of a crazy year, we’ve been busy. It’s because the economy is good, gas is cheap, Summit County is just busy. More people, more deaths.”Regan Wood, Summit County Coroner

Always in the scope of possibility are fatalities on the region’s ski hills. There were four skier deaths in 2015, down from six in 2014. The total number of snow sport-related deaths for 2016 currently stands at three with under a month left in the season at most area resorts.

Jason Taylor, 27, passed away at Keystone Resort on Jan. 20, Christopher Dutko, 26, at Breckenridge Ski Resort on March 1, and most recently Nathan Rom, 19, at Copper Mountain Resort on March 9. All three died after colliding into a tree while skiing.

Taylor was a resident of Boulder and up at Keystone to ski for the day; Dutko an employee of Breckenridge Resort from Pennsylvania skiing on his off-day; and Rom from Arlington, Virginia and on spring break with his family. Both Taylor and Dutko were not wearing helmets, while the Summit County Coroner’s Office stated in its incident report that Nom was wearing one.

Perhaps the highest-profile deaths during the month of March were those from car accidents. Lauren Hoover, 26, of Breckenridge passed away on March 23 at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood following a head-on collision on State Highway 6 near Dillon Dam Road on March 2, and 17-year-old Mackenzie Forrest of Lakewood died on March 13 after an early-morning crash on Interstate 70 near Frisco.

Hoover was widely-known around the community and nationally from her role in the CNN docu-series “High Profits” (now available on Netflix). She was in a medically-induced coma after sustaining serious brain injuries from a crash during poor weather while on her morning commute to Silverthorne for work.

Forrest, a senior at Lakewood High School who was to play basketball at Regis University in the fall, was heading eastbound on I-70 when her car hit an embankment after she lost control of her car at approximately 3:25 a.m. Her 1997 Toyota 4Runner rolled twice, and she was ejected from the SUV because she was not wearing a seatbelt.

“Four-wheel drive does not mean four-wheel stop,” said Tracy Trulove, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “We’ve had some of those accidents when squalls move in quickly and drop a lot of wet, heavy snow. People need to slow down because often they end up having traction issues.”

She re-emphasized the fact that Forrest was not wearing a restraint, and, that aside from increased CDOT-sponsored public safety messages on the subject, Forrest’s parents also requested the agency use their daughter in a social media push given the circumstances.

“We’ve seen kind of a rash of that happening currently,” said Trulove of the lack of seatbelt use. “The enforcement period on the Click It or Ticket campaign, a heavier enforcement, last through April 4.”

March’s deaths also included two suspected accidental overdose deaths, with toxicology reports still pending on both. The first was 44-year-old Jeremy Cupit, who was visiting Breckenridge from Manitou Springs, on March 12. He came before 26-year-old Silverthorne resident Susan Domain. There were a total of seven drug overdose deaths in 2015, four from non-prescribed fentanyl, a powerful painkiller.

“The accidentals went way over (last year),” said Wood. “Seven accidental drug overdoses — just bizarre.”

The March 15 death of 62-year-old Jon Mingo, who was visiting Keystone from Wisconsin goes down in the report as natural causes due to acute heart failure. In 2015, cardiac issues were by far the leading cause of death by natural causes, with 31.

In a previous interview, Wood stated that in her experience, it’s not uncommon for older individuals to receive clearance from their doctors to visit the thin air of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, including Summit County — even when the person has recently had a minor heart surgery — and pass away at elevation.

Not all deaths can be prevented, but officials remind people to use additional caution locally, even in the spring — as heavy snowfall continues to blanket the region — to avert those that can. In this case, the focus is on driving in dangerous or unfamiliar weather conditions.

“Take it slow, and give the car in front of you plenty of distance,” said CDOT’s Trulove. “A lot of it comes down to common sense and practice if you’re a new motorist. There’s so much moisture and it can really come down with these quick moving storms, then temperatures drop and black ice becomes an issue. It makes for a crazy combination of ice and snow.”

Update: On May 24, 2016, the Summit County Coroner confirmed Silverthorne resident Susan Domain’s death as being caused by a drug overdose, while Jeremy Cupit of Manitou Springs did not pass from an overdose, but instead from natural causes due to acute heart failure.


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