Transportation officials have opened all lanes of Interstate 70 over Vail Pass after a fatal accident involving as many as 70 vehicles shut down the highway for most of the day Monday.
The Colorado State Patrol said a semitrailer jackknifed and a man driving a Kia Sonoma couldn't stop and slid underneath the semi, shearing off the top of his car. He died at the scene.
From there, it was chain reaction after chain reaction as cars continued to crash into the wreckage. Two hours later, cars were still skidding into the wreckage and the total count of damaged vehicles had climbed to about 70, according to the state patrol.
"The conditions were just horrible at that time," said Master Trooper Ron Watkins with the Colorado State Patrol. "There were white out conditions, the roads were slick and there was poor visibility."
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Colorado State Patrol Trooper Gilbert Sullivan confirmed one fatality and said at least 22 people were seriously injured.
At least 16 people with broken bones, bruises, and scrapes were transported to Vail Valley Medical Center, about 15 miles west of the scene, said hospital spokesman Don Bishop. Except for one patient who was to undergo surgery, all were in fair condition.
Six patients (three adults, one teenager, and two children) were transported to St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center near Breckenridge, about 20 miles away. Two people, an adult and a child, were discharged Monday night, said St. Anthony's spokeswoman Bev Lilly.
One of the children was upgraded to serious condition and will be transferred to Children's Hospital in Denver. The others remained in the hospital, she said.
The crashes occurred within a one-mile stretch on I-70, and traffic was backed up for miles for most of the day. The pileup occurred on in Eagle County on the west side of Vail Pass, about a mile west of the summit.
Authorities spent the evening busing drivers caught in the pileup to nearby towns and clearing the dozens of tangled vehicles from the westbound lanes of the highway.
Kenny Griffin was one of the last people to make it over Vail Pass when he saw the crash.
"It was just a big pinball wreck," Griffin said.
Griffin said he saw six semitrailers-- two of them jackknifed -- at the front of the wreck with at least a dozen of cars jammed in-between. There appeared to be a second group of crashes farther behind, he said, with cars upside-down and pinned under one another.
An emergency shelter opened in Vail at 7 p.m. at the Vail Interfaith Chapel, located at 19 Vail Road just south of the Main Vail Roundabout. The free shelter will be staffed by the Salvation Army and Red Cross and will be available to anyone who needs food and a warm place to stay.
The Colorado Department of Transportation said the road is snowy, icy and snow-packed in the area.
This year is shaping up to be a costly one for CDOT. CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said I-70 has been partially closed for about 298 hours this season. It was closed 203 hours last year.
"I have chained up 18 times this year, actually 17," said truck driver Phil Port. "Last year, I chained up once." "I haven't seen a winter like this in ages," he said.
Stegman said CDOT anticipates spending $71 million on snow and ice removal. It had budgeted for $43 million.
"We have never had a winter like this," she said.
The crash occurred at about 1:20 p.m. I-70 wasn't fully reopened until 9:50 p.m.
Because of the magnitude of this episode, CSP said it will take investigators at least two days to sort out the change of events and generate a complete report.
The victims' identities have not been released.
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