Vail Pass pileup kills 1, many injured

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— One person was killed Monday afternoon in a 60 to 75-car pileup on the west side of Vail Pass that snarled traffic in Vail for hours, authorities said.

At least 22 people were injured, according to news reports.

The pileup closed Interstate 70 in both directions after a semi truck jackknifed near the summit of the pass around 1:30 p.m. One or two cars ran into it, starting a chain reaction in which up to 75 cars were involved, said Trooper Ryan Sullivan of the Colorado State Patrol. He did not know the exact number of cars involved in the pileup.

The east lanes of the interstate opened around 8:30 p.m. The westbound lanes remained closed at press time Monday evening.

"The westbound lanes are going to be longer just because they have a lot more vehicles they have to tow out of there," Sullivan said.

Authorities did not release the name, age or hometown of the person who died in the crash by press time, and Sullivan did not know how many people were injured. Those stranded but not injured in the wrecks were driven in busses to nearby towns, he said.

At least 16 people with broken bones, bruises, and scrapes were taken to Vail Valley Medical Center, about 15 miles west of the scene, said hospital spokesman Don Bishop. Except for one patient who was to undergo surgery, all were in fair condition.

Six patients were transported to St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center near Breckenridge, about 20 miles away. Two women there were in critical condition and another woman and a boy were in serious condition. The other two patients were treated and discharged.

Laura Reichardt, a Vail Mountain School student and intern at the Summit Daily, was traveling westbound on I-70 when she was stopped in the pileup traffic.

"There was a semi-truck jackknifed across the road with a crumpled Jeep and crushed van just to the side," said Reichardt. "Cars were plowed into the snow on either side of the road and there was a mobile home completely on its side."

People at the scene of the accident left their cars and helped ambulance crews that arrived to transport the injured, she said.

Her car was one of the few that didn't crash into the snowbank so four people that were in the crumpled Jeep piled into her car to keep warm, she said. The driver of the Jeep and his wife were in critical condition after the accident, she said.

'It's just a mess'

An emergency shelter was opened at the Vail Interfaith Chapel for people who needed food and a warm place to stay, and authorities planned to keep it open overnight.

Colleen Thompson Wilken, who lives in Dillon and had been skiing on Vail Mountain, said she and her husband were going to stay the night at the church regardless of whether the east lanes of Vail Pass ended up opening.

"We're looking at it as an adventure," she said.

She decided against taking the long detour on U.S. Highway 24 and then to U.S. Highway 91 to Copper Mountain due to the poor weather.

At least two jackknifed semis near Red Cliff and one near the abandoned town of Gilman made for slow travel in both directions of Highway 24 Monday night, said Sherrie Johnson, dispatcher for the State Patrol.

"It's not closed officially, it's just a mess," she said.

In Vail, eastbound traffic on the South Frontage Road was stopped at Ford Park, where people were told to return to the parking structures if they did not live in East Vail.

Eastbound traffic also was stopped at the Eagle and Dotsero exits and authorities let only local drivers continue upvalley on Interstate 70 or toward U.S. Highway 131, Sgt. Greg Daly of the Eagle County Sheriff's Office said.

Other drivers were asked to return to Glenwood Springs or to find some place to park in Eagle or Gypsum so that the interstate did not become too crowded, he said.

'No way I'd drive'

Peggy Bair was stranded for one-and-a-half hours in the crowded parking lot of City Market, next to the interstate in Eagle, after she went shopping. She estimated around 500 cars filled the lot.

"It was probably five hundred cars, but it seemed like Woodstock," she said.

Scores of travelers were stranded in Vail.

Tracie Wright left Aspen today to go to Copper Mountain, where she was supposed to be in a snowboarding contest tomorrow morning.

"I'm going to go hang out and hope I can get over" Vail Pass, Wright said after she left her car in Lionshead Parking Structure to spend time in Vail Village. The town of Vail let people park for free.

Vail Mountain reported more than a foot of new snow Monday and snow continued to fall Monday afternoon in the town of Vail.

Larry Montan, of Minneapolis, was vacationing in Vail to cross country ski.

"There's no way I'd drive in this," he said.

- The Associated Press and Summit Daily News contributed to this report.

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