Survivor recalls details of fatal trip |

Survivor recalls details of fatal trip

BRECKENRIDGE – The road trip to the Great Sand Dunes was supposed to be a respite from the challenges life in Summit County can present.

It was supposed to be a time to relax, breathe deeply and get back to nature.

Instead, David Szmyd and six others spent Monday night sorting dealing with the deaths of their two friends.

The nine friends – seven men and two women – left Summit County between 3 and 4 p.m. Monday to spend some time at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in the southeast corner of the state and to camp at a UFO watchtower that night.

Szmyd was driving one car, accompanied by the two women. Following him was a Jeep driven by John Kenneth Gill of British Columbia and his passenger, Jared Michael Roschak, 22, of Breckenridge. A third car was occupied by three Alma men and another from Denver.

Szmyd was the first to arrive at the sand dunes in Alamosa County. He waited for 45 minutes when the men in the third car joined him at the ranger station gate.

“I had a bad, bad feeling about it,” Szmyd said. “But I didn’t want to think dark thoughts.”

The four men told Szmyd their friends had been in a severe wreck on a wide, sweeping turn near the park’s gift shop and gas station. Gill missed the turn and drove 182 feet off the road. The vehicle crossed back onto the road for 70 feet, rolled almost two times and went another 200 feet before crashing into a post, sliding 13 more feet and stopping on its left side.

“I heard sirens peal out behind me, and I thought, “Definitely something happened for sure,'” Szmyd said. “It was a really, really bad scenario. I’ve never seen a car roll that far in my life.”

Gill, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, was ejected 41 feet from the car. Roschak, who was still in the car, was wearing a seat belt. Szmyd said both were still breathing after the accident.

Szmyd said the sweeping turn was one Gill should have been able to negotiate.

“Something made him do something to jerk that wheel,” he said. “The only thing we could think of was a deer or rabbit ran across the road. Maybe a CD fell on the floor, and the turn was coming up. I’m brain-boggled as to how that could have happened.”

Despite the park’s popularity, no one witnessed the crash. And while police reports indicate alcohol was likely a factor in the incident, Szmyd said he “highly, highly doubted” Gill was drinking. But he agreed with reports that speed might have played a part in the accident. Police say they were driving an estimated 85 mph in a 65 mph area.

The men had alcohol in the car, Szmyd said, but they were bringing it to the campground.

“The raging begins only when you start camping,” Szmyd said. “Everything was perfectly fine. It was such a nice, beautiful day, nothing could have gone wrong. Something happened around that turn. Something distracted him from going down that road.”

Emergency personnel arrived 45 minutes later and took Roschak to San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center, where the coroner pronounced him dead. Gill was taken to the Alamosa hospital, then flown to Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, where he was pronounced dead late that night. Both had suffered massive head injuries.

In the meantime, park rangers secured a campsite for the seven other friends, who took advantage of the fading sunlight to hike to the top of the massive sand dunes and talk about their friends’ fates. The Flight For Life helicopter passed over the campground en route to Colorado Springs.

Upon their return, Szmyd said he approached a police officer and asked him to find out the status of his friends.

“He wouldn’t even look at me,” Szmyd said. “He finally said, “The passenger didn’t make it.'”

Szmyd, who attended elementary, middle and high school with Roschak, said he will remember his friend for his spontaneity and for being a “true mountain kid.” Szmyd had only known Gill for three years but had recently returned from a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, with him.

He’s not sure how to deal with the memories of that day – which included returning home to learn his grandmother had died.

“It was a trip for people to get cured, to get away from the county and its obstacles,” Szmyd said. “It was such a nice day. It turned out to be a very dark one.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or

Services set for 22-year-old Breck man

BRECKENRIDGE – Memorial services will be held Saturday for Jared Michael Roschak, who died in a car accident in Alamosa County Monday. He was 22.

Roschak was born July 7, 1980, to parents Mike and Terry of Breckenridge. He attended Carriage House preschool, Breckenridge Elementary School and Summit middle and high schools, graduating in 1998. He skied for Team Breck, took theater technique classes at the high school, studied theater lighting in Phoenix and was an avid fly-fisherman.

After his stint in Phoenix, Roschak returned to Summit County to work for his family’s painting company.

He is survived by his parents, maternal grandmother, Judy Hansen; sister Kelli Roschak; and members of the Enyeart family, to whom he was a cousin and nephew.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. at Upper Blue Elementary School on Airport Road in Breckenridge. In lieu of flowers, the family asks people make contributions to the Jared Roschak Memorial Fund at Community First National Bank in Breckenridge, Frisco or Silverthorne. Funds will be used for a charitable organization in Roschak’s name.

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.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User