A truck driver making his maiden voyage over Wolf Creek Pass avoided serious injury Wednesday but found out the hard way why the pass is one of the most dangerous in the state of Colorado.
“It almost never happens to people who drive over it a lot,” said Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Ben Stuever. “It’s always first-time drivers.”
The semi-trailer truck was hauling a load of lumber about 10:15 a.m. while traveling westbound on U.S. Highway 160. The truck was traveling too fast as it descended the steep south incline of the pass when the truck’s brakes started to smoke, Stuever said.
“He was probably in an improper gear and had to use his brakes more than he should have,” Stuever said. “The brakes over-heated, and he was off to the races.”
As the truck approached a series of hairpin turns at the steepest incline of the descent down Wolf Creek Pass, the vehicle flipped on its side at the entrance just before the last runaway ramp on the highway, near a popular scenic overlook.
The crash initially closed Highway 160 near milepost 161 until authorities were able to direct traffic with alternating lanes. The highway was reopened around 2:45 p.m.
The driver, identified as 46-year-old Milton Parada, of Virginia, sustained minor injuries, Stuever said. He was cited with careless driving. No other vehicles were involved in the incident.
According to Stuever, Parada is an owner/operator of a hauling company that was taking lumber from Del Norte to California. As a result of the crash, about 46,000 pounds of lumber spilled onto the highway.
“That’s quite a few sticks,” Stuever said.
The final runaway ramp on the west side of the pass remained closed as of 4 p.m. while crews removed lumber.
Stuever said brakes on the truck were still smoking when he arrived 30 minutes after the crash.
There have been 49 truck crashes, two of the fatal, from 2011 to 2015 at that exact location of Wolf Creek Pass, according to Colorado Department of Transportation.
The section of highway has become so notorious for crashes that CDOT launched a “Beware the Wolf” campaign last summer to warn truck drivers to use extreme caution when traveling over the pass between Pagosa Springs and South Fork.
“Trucks get going too fast and they don’t have control of their brakes, and then pretty soon they can’t control the truck,” Bob Pentek, CDOT deputy superintendent of maintenance, said in a previous interview.
The problem, in most instances, is that truck drivers come down the hill in too high of a gear. State Patrol estimates trucks are traveling more than 50 mph, sometimes even reaching 70 mph.
“Most of the crashes are due to speed,” Pentek said. “I just don’t think they realize what they’re in for until they get down there, and then they’re like, ‘I got a problem.’”
CDOT conducted a road-safety audit two years ago to figure out where improvements could be made to cut down on the number of crashes in that section, which included adding more signage about the potential dangers.
It’s not clear if improvements were made over the last year.
Lisa Schwantes, spokeswoman for CDOT, said an improvement project on Wolf Creek Pass is expected to take place this summer, and should take two to three months to complete.
Some of the improvements include enhanced striping, lane reconfiguration, construction of a concrete barrier near the scenic overlook and additional signage.
One sign, Schwantes said, will alert truckers to “USE THE RAMP” if they have exceeded the speed limit to safely make the hairpin turn near the scenic overlook.
firstname.lastname@example.orgAn earlier version of this story misstated the direction of travel for the truck.