Photo by Matt Stensland
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Tonya Cowan, right, and Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg investigate an accident Friday on Colorado Highway 131 that killed 37-year-old Oak Creek resident Joseph Hehr.
Steamboat Springs An Oak Creek man known as the town’s banker for many years died in a car crash Friday morning on Colorado Highway 131 about five miles south of Toponas.
Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg identified the man as Joseph Hehr, 37.
The three-vehicle crash occurred at about 9:45 a.m.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Rick Kaspar said in a news release that the crash investigation is ongoing but that it appears Hehr was driving south in his 1996 GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle when he lost control and hit the back of a 1985 Chevrolet flatbed pickup that was stopped along the side of the road. The driver of the pick up, 44-year-old David Heppenstall, of Steamboat Springs, had stopped to help the driver of a 2009 Audi that slid off the road into a ditch. The Audi driver, Cilli Angelo, 65, was inside the cab of the pickup when the crash occurred.
The driver’s side of Hehr’s vehicle hit the bed of the pickup.
The driver of the flatbed truck was transferred to Yampa Valley Medical Center and released Friday with minor bruising to his left side. The driver of the Audi suffered a minor head laceration and was treated at the scene.
Kaspar said the driver of the pickup pulled his vehicle as far off the highway as he could to help the driver of the Audi and no citations were issued.
“Slushy covered roads, poor visibility and less-than-sufficient tread on Mr. Hehr’s (tires) are all contributing factors to this crash,” Kaspar wrote.
Neither drugs nor alcohol are suspected as contributing to the crash. None of the three men involved was wearing a seat belt.
Ryg said Hehr was traveling to Arizona, where he was moving. Hehr’s parents were following their son and witnessed the accident.
Oak Creek resident Cord Beaty, a former emergency responder and current salesman with B&K Distributing, was driving to State Bridge on business and stopped to help shortly after the accident happened. He said that Hehr’s parents were very upset and that they tried to comfort their son. Hehr died at the scene.
Beaty said weather made for poor visibility and bad road conditions.
“The roads were horrendous,” Beaty said. “We had an inch or two of just slush on the road.”
The accident closed the highway for more than two hours. The road was reopened at about 12:30 p.m.
Responding agencies included the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, Yampa Fire Protection District, Oak Creek Fire Protection District and Colorado State Patrol. An ambulance from Eagle County also helped.
Hehr was possibly best known in Oak Creek for his role as the town’s banker. First National Bank of the Rockies human resources director Patti Roberts said Hehr was hired as the manager in fall 2002 and left in August.
“He was a very nice young man,” Roberts said. “It’s very sad to hear.”
Former Oak Creek mayor and bank customer Kathy “Cargo” Rodeman said Hehr made sure the bank did its part to contribute to the community.
“He was just fabulous to everyone I know,” Rodeman said. “He made things as easy as he could.”
Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel said she was Hehr’s neighbor.
“He was a great guy,” Knoebel said. “A family man.”
Knoebel said Hehr was separated from his wife, who lives in Steamboat with their 9-year-old daughter. Hehr was moving to Arizona to start a fresh life, Knoebel said, and had most recently worked at Tri-State Equipment in Craig.
According to Hehr’s Facebook page, he was from Ellendale, N.D., and graduated in 1999 from Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., with a degree in marketing and finance. His interests included hunting, fishing and golfing.
“No need for much else,” Hehr wrote.