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Two trucks carrying onions crash in matter of weeks on Coal Bank Pass

Driver of first rig not surprised a second vehicle also lost control
Truck drivers face steep grades and narrow lanes of travel on Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank passes on U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Is U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango a corridor for transporting onions?

It’s not a crazy question considering two semitrucks crashed within six weeks of each other while coming down the 10,640-foot Coal Bank Pass in Southwest Colorado.

Both trucks were hauling onions.

Road conditions weren’t even that dicey.

The first crash occurred at 12:09 p.m. Oct. 22 near mile marker 54, which is about halfway up Coal Bank Pass on the south side. The second crash was reported at 1:58 p.m. Dec. 7, near mile marker 51, also on the south side of the mountain pass near Cascade Creek, according to Colorado State Patrol.

Charles Jones, the driver in the first crash, said he isn’t surprised a second truck toppled within weeks of his crash.

“Hauling onions, coming down that hill?” he asked Friday upon learning of the second crash. “Yeah, well those onions are heavy loads.”

Jones said he picked up his onions in Olathe, north of Montrose, and was taking them to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, where he had two stops.

“I was looking forward to getting down there,” he said.

His truck weighed 79,000 pounds, just under the 80,000-pound limit, he said.

Jones, who is based in Boise, Idaho, made it over Red Mountain Pass and Molas Pass, but he began to experience “brake fading” coming down Coal Bank Pass.

“You don’t even have time to be scared,” he said. “I realized what was happening, but I didn’t have time to be scared.”

The truck lost control and went off the shoulder of the road, according to a CSP crash report. As it left the road, the truck rolled onto the passenger side. It then traveled another 28 feet before “striking the side of the mountain,” the report says.

Jones was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released the same day.

The crash left him with a “big scar” on his forehead, a “whacked out” left arm, and a sore hip and buttock that “could just be old age,” he said.

He was back on the road as of Friday, where he was reached by cellphone.

Jones has no idea what happened to the load of onions.

“I don’t know, man. I went to the hospital. That was the last time I saw that truck,” he said. “The wrecker company was supposed to clean it up. Whatever they did with them, I don’t know.”

Jones said he put his destination into GPS, but certain roads were closed, so it rerouted him onto the mountain passes.

Sgt. Nathan Lyons with the State Patrol said Jones was cited with careless driving. The responding trooper attributed the crash to driver inexperience.

Lyons didn’t have much information about the Dec. 7 crash, saying an accident report hadn’t yet been approved as of Friday. But he said the truck lost control and went through a guardrail.

“It made a tremendous mess,” he said of the onions.

He said driver inexperience played a role.

Jones said he has plenty of experience, and no amount of down-shifting or Jake braking would have prevented the crash.

“I think they need to ban trucks that heavy coming over those three hills – rain, shine, sleet or snow,” he said.


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