A truck driver escaped serious injury Tuesday morning after jumping from the cab of a runaway tanker on Rabbit Ears Pass. After hurtling up a bank and back onto the road, the tanker, which was carrying diesel fuel, came to a stop without injuring anyone else.
The accident impeded traffic for five hours early Tuesday morning on Rabbit Ears Pass.
At about 5 a.m., Lee Thoes, 59, of Cahone, was westbound on U.S. Highway 40 near milepost 143, when he lost control of his 1994 Kenworth cab pulling 80,000 to 85,000 pounds of fuel on a steep downgrade, Colorado State Patrol Trooper Kirk Gardner said.
Thoes told troopers that he was attempting to shift the tanker into a lower gear and was unable to do so. He could not put the tractor back into gear, and it started gaining speed quickly on a downward grade, Gardner said.
Thoes jumped out of the cab, which was 4 to 5 feet off the ground, while the truck was traveling at about 50 mph. He was unaware of an upcoming runaway truck ramp, which was about a mile away, Gardner said.
"His rationale at that point was (that) he wasn't going to be able to get it stopped, and he decided to jump out," Gardner said, noting it was an action he would not recommend.
After Thoes abandoned the truck, it went off the right side of the road. It crashed into a steep embankment and then hit a road leading into the Ferndale picnic area. The cab then slid back onto U.S. 40, blocking the entire westbound and some of the eastbound lane. The tanker remained off the road, still attached to the cab.
In all, the semi-trailer traveled about one-tenth of a mile from where Thoes jumped. It stopped on its wheels and none of the diesel fuel was spilled, Gardner said.
Thoes suffered a bump on his elbow and the back of his pants tore, but he refused to be taken by ambulance to Yampa Valley Medical Center. He was heading to Utah with the diesel fuel.
Thoes was cited for careless driving.
The accident reduced U.S. 40 to one lane, with the Colorado Department of Transportation controlling east and westbound traffic through the site. For about 15 minutes, the entire area was shut down to traffic while crews removed the totaled cab and the cargo tanker.
The accident ripped out the front suspension of the cab and caused heavy damage to the front. The tanker did not have much damage.
The Routt County Sheriff's Office and the Steamboat Springs Fire Department also assisted at the scene.
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