Man involved in serious accident on Rabbit Ears reunited with first responders
December 13, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — These days Matt Ingles takes life at a little slower pace. You won’t find him driving on mountain roads at night, and he gives a little more thought about what the future might hold.
It's been a little over a year since an accident on Rabbit Ears Pass changed the life of the 33-year-old, medical device sales representative who made his living driving across northwestern Colorado.
"In the simplest terms possible, it slowed me down in terms of my thinking, in terms of what I want for the future," Ingles said. "It throws that in your face and makes you ask those questions of yourself — what you want out of life."
On Dec. 8, 2016, as Ingles was driving from Steamboat Springs to Longmont, he was involved in a head-on collision with a semi-truck that transformed his full-sized pickup truck into something that looked like a soda pop can that had been kicked down the road. It was 5:30 a.m., it was dark and it was cold.
"I was blown away by how cold it was," said Reed Clawson, a flight paramedic with Classic Air who was working that day. "It was bitterly cold to the point to where a lot of our interventions and tactics to treat somebody or extricate them out of that situation were proving to be much more difficult because we had to work around things that were freezing. We had to wait on doing certain medications and things like that because … things were freezing as soon as we took them out of our jackets."
Many of the details of that day, including how his four-door Silverado pickup ended up as the hood ornament of a much larger semi, are still unclear. But Ingles said he will remember, for as long as he lives, the care he received from the local first responders and crews from Classic Air.
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Ingles met with many of those men for the first time last week as part of a Trauma Conference hosted by UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs. He greeted one of those men, Troy Kuhl, with a warm hug and a heartfelt “thank you.” Kuhl had shielded Ingles from the frigid temperatures as crews worked to free the injured man from the wreckage.
The process to extricate Ingles took more than three hours in minus-20 degree weather at the top of the pass near mile marker 155. The pickup was so damaged that crews discussed the possibility of amputating Ingles’ left leg just to get him out of his vehicle.
"To me that was one of the most astonishing things was to see that not only the surgeons and the whole team at the hospital was able to save his leg, but that he walked into this conference a year later," Kuhl said.
While the memories of the cold and the pain were diluted by shock, Ingles has not lost sight of what those first responders endured that day.
"My pickup was essentially fused with the semi truck, and the whole dash and my engine compartment was on my lap," Ingles said. "They were trying to extricate me from there, but their tools were not working because it was negative 20, their hands are freezing and they are trying to keep me warm. There are all these things they were trying to deal with, but I don't remember a single time any of them wanted to give up or saying it’s too hard. They had a calm demeanor the entire time that was helpful to me and helped keep me calm."
Ingles suffered multiple fractures in the accident. He had a femoral break about four centimeters above the knee that exited laterally near his IT band. He also had multiple tibia and fibula fractures below his knee and above his ankle, and the brake pedal of his pickup was actually inside his right knee.
Once extricated from his vehicle, a Classic Air helicopter transported Ingles to Denver Health, where he spent two and a half weeks undergoing six surgeries to repair the damage to his legs. He had to have another surgery this summer to replace a nail in his femur that didn’t heal properly.
In addition, Ingles spent a month at an inpatient rehabilitation center in Aurora, and then in January, he returned home and has been living in an apartment in Denver.
"It was very fulfilling to see that I was a part of this guy’s process in recovery," Clawson said. "Selfishly maybe, it was a reward to see that he still has a life ahead of him that isn't going to be as changed as it would have been if he had lost that leg, or if he had died."