Phippsburg Alcohol is suspected as contributing to a crash Wednesday afternoon that sent a car airborne alongside Colorado Highway 131 near Phippsburg and into the Yampa River.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Duane Burton said the driver of the Hyundai Santa Fe, Elizabeth Christensen, 42, of Steamboat Springs, was treated at Yampa Valley Medical Center for minor injuries and released to authorities. She was taken to Routt County Jail on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, careless driving and driving under revocation, Burton said.
He said Christensen refused all alcohol tests but was suspected of being drunken because of her speech, demeanor and smell. No phone number could be found Wednesday for Christensen.
Burton said Christensen did not say what caused her to crash her car at about 2:40 p.m. Wednesday.
Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup said Christensen was traveling north on Colo. 131 and went off the right side of the road, down an embankment, launched about 20 feet into the air off a driveway, clipped a willow tree, crashed into the ground and drove into the Yampa.
Burton said the river was about 330 feet from where she left the road.
This all happened in Ruby Lou Peters’ yard. She has lived at the property just south of the South Routt Nursery since 1955. She said she was in the house and heard a “big pop.”
“I looked up and thought it was a bale of hay falling from a truck,” Peters said. “I guess it was a car flying through the air.”
After entering the frigid river, the car floated upright about 200 feet downstream, stopping short of a rail bridge crossing the Yampa. A measuring station downstream reported the river was running at about 450 cubic feet per second.
A passer-by saw the car leave the road and go airborne and called 911, Routt County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Ryan Adrian said.
Oak Creek Fire and Yampa Fire Protection District emergency responders then started the swift-water rescue, which Wisecup said was the first in South Routt in his 28 years with Oak Creek Fire.
“The biggest concern was the car was kind of rocking in the river,” Wisecup said.
He said rescuers threw Christensen a rope and then Yampa Fire Protection District Capt. Ralph Bracegirdle and Oak Creek Fire Capt. Jeff Buffetti entered the river in dry suits. They secured the car with a cable and pulled Christensen out of the car, where water had reached the seats. The rescue took 10 to 15 minutes, and Wisecup said Christensen had cuts on the back of her head.
No one else was in the car.
Bracegirdle said Christensen was shaken up and cold.
“She is the luckiest woman in the world,” he said.
— To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com