2016 was deadliest year on Routt County highways since 2009 | SteamboatToday.com

2016 was deadliest year on Routt County highways since 2009

Emergency responders tend to a fatal crash in October near mile marker 141 on U.S. Highway 40 about 7 miles from the Grand County Line. Photo by David Reilly/Courtesy. 

— Scott Elliott is a walking encyclopedia of fatal car crashes in Routt County.

As a sergeant for the Colorado State Patrol, he's had to respond to many of them.

He remembers many of the milepost numbers and the general descriptions of the drivers who perished.

He remembers the causes behind the wrecks, and he laments that so many of the crashes he has been called out to in the area could have been prevented.

"It's very sad and very frustrating," Elliott said Tuesday. "Our common message is don't drink and drive and don't drive without a seat belt on. And yet drivers are still doing it. So many of these crashes and deaths are preventable."

Five people lost their lives driving on Routt County highways in 2016, making last year the deadliest year on local roads since 2009.

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And a majority of these crashes were blamed in part on drivers who were impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Most of the victims also were not wearing a seat belt.

The uptick in fatalities mirrored a statewide trend of rising traffic fatalities that state transportation officials have labeled as "troubling."

The number of traffic fatalities in Colorado went up 24 percent during the last two years, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Last year, 605 people lost their lives in crashes around the state.

In Routt County, drug and alcohol use was reported as a contributing factor in three of the five fatal crashes.

Three of the five victims also were not wearing seat belts.

A review of crash statistics data shows that in the last decade, drug and alcohol use reportedly contributed to 40 percent of Routt County's 42 fatal vehicle crashes.

Other crashes have been blamed on a number of factors ranging from not paying attention to stop signs to driving too fast on ice.

There are some common factors to the crashes, Elliott said, but several have unique causes.

Last year, the fatal crashes in Routt County claimed the lives of men and women who ranged in age from 22 to 56.

All but one of the victims were from outside Routt County.

Statewide, traffic fatalities rose to a level last year that the state hadn't seen since 2005.

With 125 deaths, motorcycle fatalities also hit an all-time record high last year.

For 2017, the Colorado Department of Transportation has awarded $3.5 million to nonprofit groups, law enforcement and government agencies to support programs that aim to reduce the number of crashes.

The state is also continuing education campaigns aimed at getting more drivers to buckle up.

Elliott said fatal crashes in small communities like the ones here in Northwest Colorado are especially impactful.

"Every death touches everyone's life, because they know everybody," he said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10