JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
HERMOSA – Three people were killed in a head-on collision Wednesday morning just south of the entrance to Glacier Club on U.S. Highway 550, about 14 miles north of Durango.
Three additional patients were taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center with nonlife-threatening injuries.
The crash occurred shortly before 10:30 a.m. in the 40000 block of Highway 550. The highway was closed in both directions before reopening to normal traffic at about 1:20 p.m.
A driver in a black Toyota Avalon sedan going southbound crossed the center line into the far northbound lane, striking a silver Nissan Xterra SUV head-on, said Cpl. Chris Balenti of the Colorado State Patrol.
The dead were identified as John Lyle Bennett, 61, of Olathe; Keith Duane Marksberry, 61, of Delta; and Ruth Shields, 91. Colorado State Patrol did not know Shields’ hometown Wednesday.
Bennett and Marksberry were passengers in the Avalon, which was driven by Kenneth Johnson, 60, who survived. Johnson’s son, Brian, unknown age, also survived. Kenneth Johnson was treated and released from Mercy, while Brian Johnson was listed in fair condition at the hospital.
Ruth Shields was a passenger in the Xterra, which was driven by Patrick A. Shields, 60, who was listed in good condition at Mercy.
Balenti said investigators didn’t know if speed, alcohol or drugs played a role in the collision. It was unclear why the Avalon crossed into oncoming traffic.
The Avalon came to a rest on its side off the east side of the highway. The Xterra was stopped near the middle of the highway. Both vehicles had Colorado license plates.
Connie Simonson of Austin, Texas, witnessed the collision while driving northbound.
“One (vehicle) was on the wrong side of the road for no apparent reason,” she said.
The highway is three lanes at the accident site, with two lanes northbound and one southbound.
A double-yellow line indicates no crossing lanes to pass.
A Life Flight helicopter landed on the highway to transport one victim. The other two were taken by ambulance.
Traffic was backed up for nearly three hours on the busy highway, including a busload of Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad passengers waiting to go north.