Couple survives after car crushed by lumber that fell off truck on I-70 near Georgetown

Lumber truck shoves car against guard rail

GEORGETOWN - It’s a vacation that one Minnesota couple will never forget.

Albert and Julie Watkins had spent some time hiking in the mountains near Vail. They were driving back to Denver early Friday when they noticed a lumber truck spewing smoke on I-70 east of the Continental Divide.

“We had just come out of the Eisenhower Tunnel,” Albert Watkins told 7NEWS. “There was a cluster of vehicles. We saw the truck with smoke. We watched.  It looked like he was slowing down and under control.”

Watkins says that a few minutes later, the truck began passing everyone in the right lane.

“I told Julie, ‘the trucks in trouble,’ he said. “And a few seconds later I said, ‘we’re in trouble.’”

The truck, driven by Justin Knapp, began fishtailing and slammed into the Watkins’ rental car, pushing it into the guard rail and spilling its load of lumber onto their car and all over the highway.

“The car sounded like it was in a junkyard compacter,” Julie said. “We could hear the crunching.”

“You could hear it popping,” Albert said.

“I thought for sure they were going to pull us out of there like sardines,” Julie added.

But once their car came to a stop, the Watkins climbed out through the passenger door window.

“We got out of there as fast as we could,” they said.

Georgetown resident Richard Gorman heard the crash.

“Didn’t hear any brakes,” he said. “I did hear a roar and this sliding/grinding sound.”

Gorman says he ran to his window, looked up the hill and saw a plume of dust “that just kept coming.”

He said at first he worried that a truck might come tumbling over the guard rail and down the hill into his house.

“I was ready to run outside,” he said.

A few minutes later he walked up the embankment to the crash scene.

“I did not want to look into the car,” he told 7NEWS, fearing there might be carnage inside.

But Gorman was surprised to learn that the occupants, the Watkins, were already standing outside, shaking in disbelief, but grateful to be alive.

“I asked if they needed anything,” he said. “They wanted to know where you can rent a car in Georgetown.  I explained that we don’t have a car rental place in Georgetown.”

Gorman said the only injuries he saw were a couple of scratches on Julie Watkins’ arm.

The truck driver told authorities that his truck lost oil pressure and that the engine seized up.

“There was no power for the brakes or the horn,” he said.

The accident forced the closure of both eastbound lanes of I-70 for about two hours. Work crews were then able to open one lane to traffic, but it took several more hours to remove all the lumber from the highway.

“I will never, ever again pass a truck that’s starting to smoke,” Watkins said. “That’s what I take away from this.”

“Our angels were very busy today,” Julie said, “because we are here.”