Rabbit Ears Pass wreck critically hurts woman

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— A Steamboat Springs woman listed in critical condition was flown to Denver Health Medical Center after a Sunday afternoon accident on Rabbit Ears Pass, a spokesman for Yampa Valley Medical Center said.

State trooper Chris Tafoya said the accident, which is still under investigation, involved a Jeep Cherokee driven by James Harned of Woodland Park and a Subaru Outback driven by Paul Herrmann of Steamboat Springs.

The Cherokee was headed east and the Outback was headed toward Steamboat Springs when the accident occurred near milepost 150, Tafoya said.

Keith Lightfoot, the Yampa Valley Medical Center administrator on call Sunday evening, said Herrmann's female passenger, whose name was withheld, suffered multiple head, chest and abdomen injuries.

Herrmann suffered multiple trauma and was admitted into Yampa Valley Medical Center, Lightfoot said, while Harned was treated and released.

The trooper said the accident was still under investigation Sunday evening and a cause had yet to be determined.

The primary officer handling the case was Cpl. Brian Bagley of the State Patrol. He could not be reached Sunday night for further information on the accident.

Ironically, the state Department of Transportation recently started treating Rabbit Ears Pass with a mixture of magnesium chloride and sand to deice the highway and make it safer for driving.

Tafoya said road conditions at the time he arrived at the accident scene were "fairly clear."

"There were no visibility problems as I was going up," Tafoya said, adding that he was one of the first officers on scene. "There were patches of ice and some snowpack."

Since 1998, eight motorists have died because of accidents on the pass. Two have occurred this year with the most recent involving a trucker who was killed on Nov. 6. There were no fatalities in 1997. The 1998 accident rate on Rabbit Ears Pass, calculated by the Department of Transportation as the number of injury accidents per million by vehicles, ranged from 2.72 to 5.81.

The fatal accident rate in the 10-mile section at the Routt-Grand County line was 24.31.

Three years ago, the speed limit on Rabbit Ears Pass increased from 55 to 60 mph in some places.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner has said speed is a factor with many accidents on the pass. Other state officials have said many people who drive Rabbit Ears Pass are not experienced with mountain driving.

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