On the morning of March 12, an avalanche tumbled down a mountainside outside Lake City, obliterating the home of Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey while he and his two daughters were inside sleeping.
Miraculously, Casey and his daughters survived with only cuts and gashes. But, on the verge of another winter in the high country, the trauma for the Casey family appears to be too much to face once again.
Last week, Casey announced he is resigning his position as sheriff of Hinsdale County.
“This year I have had unexpected personal challenges that have changed my life,” Casey wrote in his resignation letter. “The avalanche that my daughters and I survived has taken its toll in many different ways.”
The 2018-19 winter season was a historic year for avalanche activity in Southwest Colorado, with slides coming down avalanche paths that had not run in recent memory.
Casey’s home was one such location.
Around 6 a.m. that morning, the avalanche came down a path known as Sunshine, which officials said hadn’t run in the recent past. As a result, there was no indication that the area and homes were at risk of avalanche danger.
But a storm dropped heavy snow fast and hard the night before, with upward of 17 inches reported in some areas.
Casey and his two daughters, Sara, 17, and Kristy, 15, were inside sleeping. The avalanche wiped away the home and buried the family under a barrage of debris and snow.
Attempts to reach Casey on Tuesday morning were not successful.
Casey told CBS4 (Denver) News in April, “Suddenly, it seemed like the house exploded. I was completely enveloped in snow.”
His daughter, Kristy, said she was sleeping and then suddenly heard a “bang!”
“I jumped out of bed and I felt the house, like it was falling,” she said. “I was knocked unconscious. Later, I remember waking up in the snow. I was just praying ... trying to get out.”
Sandy Hines, a spokeswoman for Hinsdale County, told The Durango Herald at the time that Casey was able to get himself out of the snow. He ran to his truck and called 911, then went searching for his daughters.
“I was outside. ... The house was completely gone,” Casey told CBS4.
Sara and Kristy were found buried under about 3 feet of snow.
“I heard Dad walking over me,” Kristy said. “I did not hear him yelling.”
Casey and first responders were able to rescue Sara and Kristy. The family suffered minor to serious injuries, but in the months since, they have fully recovered. A family dog did not survive the avalanche, according to reports.
Casey has worked for the Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Office since 2007 and was elected sheriff in November 2018. His resignation takes effect Jan. 15, 2020.
Casey said in his resignation his family plans to relocate to a different area, preferably one with less snow.
“Or at least in a place where the snow doesn’t move so much,” he wrote.