Steamboat Springs Longtime Yampa Valley resident Eileen N. Nelson was killed Friday morning when her red Geo Metro slammed head-on into a semitrailer on fog-shrouded Colorado 131.
Nelson, who lived in Oak Creek, was 56.
Heading north toward Steamboat, Nelson was hit at about 8 a.m. by the southbound semi as she tried to pass two vehicles, said Trooper Brad Keadle, who was one of six troopers investigating the accident.
"She was killed instantly," Keadle said.
The collision of Nelson's compact car and the 1998 green Kenworth about three miles south of Steamboat Springs set off a chain reaction that caused two more accidents involving five vehicles and also sent two cars off the side of the highway into a ditch filled with snow.
"All of it happened really quick," Keadle said.
Three people were taken to the hospital for minor injuries and released later in the day, Keadle said. All the drivers involved in the accident were reportedly wearing seat belts.
Nelson was pronounced dead at the scene by Routt County Coroner Doug Allen, who expects an autopsy and a toxicology test to be completed sometime early next week.
Because of the seriousness of the accident, Capt. Gary Torgerson, who commands the Routt and Moffat county troopers, was called to the scene from his Craig office.
"Anytime you have a fatality, it's as bad as it gets," Torgerson said. "This type of accident is senseless. You have fog and limited visibility. When you pass someone in these conditions, you are asking for problems."
Investigators believe the fog cut visibility to between 30 and 40 feet. Some drivers reported to the troopers that Nelson had passed them in that fog just prior to the accident.
"It sounds like she was in a hurry to get to work," Keadle said.
The driver of the semi, 34-year-old Thornton resident Ken Koch, tried to avoid the accident and collision on his brakes, Keadle said. The truck left a skidmark on the road 65 feet long.
Nelson, however, did not apply her brakes, Keadle said.
"According to witnesses, she could not see the truck until it was right on her," Keadle said.
Steamboat Springs firefighters had to cut Nelson out of the small car. The front end of the Metro was obliterated by the impact. The semitrailer, which belongs to Younger Companies of Loveland, sustained extensive front-end damage to the driver's side fender. The fender was smashed and the tire collapsed into the wheel well.
Koch was taken to the hospital for back and neck injuries.
After colliding with Nelson, Koch continued southbound. The empty flat-bed trailer he was pulling struck a second northbound vehicle, a red Nissan Sentra being driven by Ann Arnett, 35, of Oak Creek. The impact caused Arnett's car to spin. Her car came to a stop facing southbound in the northbound lane.
A white Ford truck being driven by Tamara Ray, 20, of Yampa was behind Arnett. Ray was able to stop the truck before hitting Arnett's vehicle.
However, Ray was rear-ended by a green Toyota truck driven by Kevin Kelley, 31, of Steamboat Springs. Ray was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center for minor cuts.
Josh Langerfeld, 20, of Steamboat Springs saw Kelley hit Ray and stopped his red Chrysler LaBaron, Keadle said.
Kathleen Foos, 47, of Oak Creek then rear-ended Langerfeld in her 1993 red Ford minivan. A passenger in the van, Titus Larson, 20, was taken to the hospital for a head injury. He was the only person not wearing a seat belt, he said.
Theresa Leen, 32, was driving the eighth vehicle involved in the accident. She attempted to miss Foos' vehicle by swerving off the right side of the road, Keadle said.
As she went off the road, she caught the right edge of Langerfeld's vehicle, he said.
Brad Barkey, 38, of Oak Creek was driving the last vehicle involved in the accident.
To avoid hitting any of the cars ahead of him, Barkey drove his red 1990 Subaru station wagon off the side of the road.
"All of a sudden there was this scene in front of me," Barkey said of the row of cars stopped on the street. "When I got here I had to drive into the ditch. I didn't take a chance."
Moments after the accident, Barkey and the other drivers involved were kept warm on the cold morning in a Steamboat Springs Transit bus. The bus was parked yards from the accident.
Inside the bus, three Routt County victims' advocates were made available.
"It was a traumatic experience for them," Torgerson said of the other drivers involved in the accident. "Many are upset. One of the drivers told me he thought he was going to die."
Trooper David McKee was the first officer on the scene. He was headed south on the narrow state highway when he saw a person standing on the side of the road flagging down vehicles.
"It was very foggy," McKee said. "You couldn't see anything."
As McKee cautiously approached milepost 65, he saw two vehicles off the side of the road in deep snow and three others parked on the highway with front-end and rear-end damage.
McKee stopped and got out of his cruiser. He saw a woman covered in blankets in what remained of a red Geo Metro.
"It was really quiet," McKee said. "I don't know if it was because of the fog. All the drivers were standing around. They had piled blankets and coats on the woman.
"I checked for a pulse, but I could not find one."