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Texas woman crashes ATV, requires rescue outside Silverton

Victim flown to Grand Junction hospital
A Texas woman who crashed an ATV outside Silverton on Wednesday required a helicopter flight to a hospital in Grand Junction.

A Texas woman required an emergency helicopter rescue Wednesday after crashing an all-terrain vehicle on a backcountry road outside Silverton.

San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad said he ran into the Texas family Wednesday, while off-duty near the Silverton Grocery, riding a number of ATVs, side-by-side vehicles and motorcycles.

Some of the minors, Conrad said, were not wearing helmets or eye protection, which is required by local ordinance for people younger than 18. One of the minors was also driving a motorcycle at 30 mph in a 15 mph zone.

“I talked to them about the rules ... and the (adult female driver) was polite and immediately went back to their camp to get ... eye protection and helmets for the kids,” Conrad said.

Around 7 p.m., emergency responders were called to an ATV accident with injuries about 4 miles up County Road 33, which travels around Kendall Mountain.

“I immediately recognized it was this same family,” Conrad said.

It appeared the brakes went out on the ATV, and the adult female driver made a high-speed turn into a ditch. Two tires broke off the vehicle, and the woman was ejected about 12 feet.

The three minors in the vehicle, wearing helmets, were not ejected and were uninjured. The woman, however, was not wearing a helmet, and suffered a head injury.

“It would have made a huge difference (had she worn a helmet),” Conrad said.

Instead of loading the woman into a backcountry vehicle for a 4-mile trip down a backcountry road, only to be transferred to an ambulance for a more-than-one-hour drive to a Durango hospital, a helicopter was called.

A Flight For Life crew arrived near the crash site and was able to take off with the woman around 8:30 p.m. for a hospital in Grand Junction. Conrad said Thursday morning the woman is doing well in her recovery.

July is typically one of the busiest months for emergency crews responding to crashes, illegal off-roading and banned campfires in San Juan County.

But this year, Conrad said, feels different.

“People were pent up for so long (with the COVID-19 shutdown) and ready to get out, their travel mentality is different,” he said. “They’ve been held back for so long, now they’re letting loose.”

DeAnne Gallegos, spokeswoman for San Juan County, said more people than usual are coming to town who are unfamiliar with the terrain or proper precautions that must be taken when traveling into the mountains.

“We’re seeing more unprepared guests not seasoned to our backcountry,” she said. “So we want to remind people how easy it is to get yourself in a treacherous situation. ... You have to do all the right things to ensure your own safety.”

Silverton was closed to outsiders during late winter and early spring. But since reopening, town officials have grappled with the balance of bringing in guests to support its tourist-based economy and protecting its residents.

The town is seeing strong visitation even without the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad bringing hundreds of tourists to town each day, Gallegos said.

“People just went through quarantine, and the mountains feel like a good place to social distance and reconnect with nature,” she said. “But we’re experiencing a surge of guests in the backcountry.”

In the past few weeks, there have been a number of people who have required rescue.

A Florida couple who recently moved to Durango required rescue two weeks ago after becoming stuck while attempting to cross the Animas River in Silverton.

A 57-year-old man from Oklahoma drove off U.S. Highway 550 last week near Molas Pass, rolling 95 feet down an embankment and off a cliff.

And last month, an armed man led law enforcement on a 50-mile chase over two mountain passes from Silverton to Hermosa with speeds reaching 97 mph.

Conrad added that his deputies have been patrolling the county looking for illegal campfires to prevent a potential wildfire during the extreme drought.

“It’s exhausting every July,” he said. “There’s so many people here, and these are just the directions we’re being pulled into this year.”


Jul 14, 2020
Driver tumbles 95 feet down embankment, cliff on U.S. Highway 550 near Molas Pass
Jul 1, 2020
Couple requires rescue after becoming stuck in Animas River
Jun 15, 2020
Armed man arrested after 50-mile chase north of Durango

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