A woman driving north on Colorado Highway 131 south of Phippsburg left the road and hit a driveway and a tree before ending up in the Yampa River on Wednesday. She was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center with injuries.

Photo by Matt Stensland

A woman driving north on Colorado Highway 131 south of Phippsburg left the road and hit a driveway and a tree before ending up in the Yampa River on Wednesday. She was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center with injuries.

Car leaves road, ends up in Yampa River

Troopers arrest woman, who had minor injuries, on suspicion of DUI


— 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


River rescue

Joe Opp with the South Routt Nursery took this video of Wednesday's rescue on the Yampa River.


Pulling car out of Yampa River

Emergency responders recover a car that crashed into the river June 8 along Colorado Highway 131.


Brian Kotowski 5 years, 10 months ago

Sloshed - allegedly - at 2:30 in the afternoon. Ye gods.

Given the temp of all that snow melt, she's about as lucky as it's possible to be.


kathy foos 5 years, 10 months ago

Good thing this driver didn't land on Ruby Lou's house.


Scott Wedel 5 years, 10 months ago

I have no sympathy for anyone caught driving under revocation or driving under restraint.

She could have just as easily missed a turn in the road and killed a car full of oncoming passengers. Anyone that drives hwy 131 can recognize that we are all lucky she ran off into the river instead of crashing into us in a head on collision.

These are people that have been shown to be menaces and yet insist on operating a couple thousand pound vehicle at speed on roads shared by everyone.

If Sheriff Wiggns wants to make a difference that saves lives then stop worrying about mmj for a few minutes and do something useful like put up a website of routt county residents with revoked or restrained drivers licenses and offer a $100 reward for tips leading to arrests of violators.


canyonwind 5 years, 10 months ago

 If she was drunk and had no DL I hope she plans on Paying the Town of Oak Creek for the rescue

upstream 5 years, 10 months ago

impressive display of the hardwork the OC and Yampa volunteer rescue crews have put into their training- thanks guys for all you do! equally impressive display of careless, wreckless behavior. would expect to see fines levied not just for the rescue, but for the hazmat discharge into OUR water.


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