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BAILEY, Colo. — A southbound truck careened out of control on Crow Hill and smashed into Aspen Peak Cellars in Bailey early Tuesday morning, demolishing the winery.
The driver, 34-year old Charles Constant, of Boynton Beach, Florida, suffered lacerations and bruises and a moderate head injury. He was transported by ambulance to a metro area hospital.
Investigators are now trying to determine whether it was human error, or a mechanical failure, that caused the crash.
“It (the truck) went through a gap in the median,” said Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener. “It never touched the light poles. It never touched the median, itself.”
The truck, owned by 353 Cargo in Chicago, smashed through the north side of the winery, obliterating tanks, barrels and bottles of wine.
“There was the equivalent of 25,000 bottles of wine stored in barrels and bottles,” Wegener said.
Much of the inventory ended up in a big puddle in an adjacent parking lot.
Firefighters were called in to hose it down.
“We’re trying to make sure we dilute it as much as possible, since we’re right next to the river,” Wegener said.
The owners of Aspen Peak Cellars told Denver7 their business a total loss.
“I bought my wife a wine making kit for Christmas about 10 years ago,” Marcel Flukiger said. “We made five gallons of wine and then the hobby got out of control.”
He said they continued to make and perfect wine and started the winery in 2009.
This isn’t the first time the couple has faced adversity.
“We lost the first property due to a barn fire in Conifer,” Flukiger told Denver7. “We had to move down here and now this.”
Flukiger said he and his wife were getting ready to work on their next batch of wine. He said they purchased some freshly harvested grapes and that the grapes were going to be trucked over from Palisade Tuesday night..
“We had to cancel them,” he said, his voice beginning to choke with emotion. “And we were supposed to go to the Colorado Mountain Wine Fest in Palisade this weekend. We’re going to miss it.”
Friends say the Flukigers had expected to sell a lot of their premium wine at the festival. Now, they have nothing to sell.
Some Bailey area residents are stepping forward to help anyway they can.
“I’m more than happy to be the first one to sign up,” said Gavin Boley. “I’ll volunteer to help clean up, or do whatever he’s got to do to get back on his feet.”
Another resident, Megan Ehrenberg, who is part of the staff at the winery, started a GoFundMe page to help the owners rebuild.
“We get knocked down, we get back up again,” he said.
But he’s not sure he wants to rebuild in the same location.
“I’m not sure if anybody would want to sit in the winery if we don’t have some kind of safety measures at the bottom of this hill,” he said.
Flukiger added that he’s grateful the driver wasn’t killed, and grateful the accident happened when it did, just after midnight.
“I can’t imagine what this would have been like if it had happened on a Saturday afternoon,” he said, “when we have 40 – 50 people in the building.”
When asked if there was any indication of a problem with the brakes, or whether anyone fell asleep, Sheriff Wegener said, “The State Patrol is investigating the accident, so they’ll find out if there was anything wrong with the truck.”
A man who answered the phone at 353 Cargo said the owners weren’t there and he couldn’t comment. He declined to take a message.
Denver7 checked federal records and found that 353 Cargo is a small, two truck operation, with two drivers.
The company has been inspected eight times in the last 24 months. Maintenance violations were found in five of the inspections. There were no previous crashes.
The Colorado State Patrol said the truck, which was heavily damaged, was taken to a garage in metro Denver. Normally, crash experts would re-inflate the tires and check to see if the brakes were functioning properly.
That may not be possible in this case, because some of the wheels broke off.
Wegener says there have been numerous truck crashes at the base of Crow Hill.
“We’ve had a Coors truck,” he said. “We’ve had an oil tanker. We’ve had a crane. We’ve had all sorts of things that crash.”
When asked what needs to be done to make the highway safer, the Sheriff replied, “You can’t build a wall. It’s not long enough for a runaway truck ramp. Maybe education, especially for out of state drivers. Crow Hill is about two miles long. It has a 6 percent grade. Folks don’t realize how steep it is, so when it says ‘Get in low gear,’ at the top, you should be in low gear at the top.”