GOSHEN COUNTY – A combination of strong, powerful winds and loose dirt created a treacherous situation on US Hwy. 85 Monday afternoon for drivers and emergency personnel alike.
Winds blowing in excess of 50 miles per hour blew dirt and sand into the air near Yoder to create a dust storm that has drawn comparisons to the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s. The storm reduced visibility for motorists to zero and resulted in two multiple vehicle accidents during the storm. The accidents caused several serious injuries and three people had to be manually extricated from their vehicles.
The highway was closed from Torrington to Silver Tip early in the day due to the crash. It was reopened after the first crash, then was later closed from Torrington to Cheyenne.
According to past Torrington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dennis Estes, who led the brigade on Monday, the storm presented emergency personnel with a situation that was impossible to prepare for.
“It was something I had never dealt with, and I have been in smoke and situations with blowing snows,” he said. “That sand was blowing so hard that it hurt. We were having a hard time finding our equipment and keeping it straight. Once we got everything straightened out, I worked in conjunction with Albert Lira, who is the EMS foreman. We work pretty good together. It went pretty well once we got started.
“It was hard getting there. When we got on scene, it
The first crash, which happened around midday, resulted in four people transported to Community Hospital by Torrington EMS. Estes said the crash occurred when a pickup stopped on the highway due to the visibility issues, and was hit head-on. Another car rear-ended the pickup.
“We got called out there right at about noon for the first wreck,” Estes said. “When we got there, the conditions were horrible. It was the worst I’ve ever seen and I’ve been on the department for a long time. We couldn’t see a foot or two feet in front of our face. When we got there, there were two pickups and a car that had been involved in the crash.”
The visibility proved to be a challenge for the first responders.
“When we first got into the dirt, you could not see,’ he said. “In my command unit, I got within three feet of the first vehicle before I could see it in the middle of the highway. I know the sheriff and those guys would be out there to take care of that traffic and stuff for us.
According to Estes, emergency personnel were able to capably handle the situation after they got a full grasp of the dangers the storm presented.
“We just got to work. The ambulance was already there. Once we got situated, we got everybody lined out. I had two people taking care of the most critical people and we got them out first. Then we moved around the scene and got the less critical patients out.
We fit all four patients in two of Torrington’s ambulances. Some of our firemen drove the ambulances back.”
The second crash, which occurred in the afternoon, did not result in any serious injuries, Estes said.
Two of the victims of the first crash, Marilyn Dalton and Jack Pafford, suffered serious injuries. According to Dillon Simmons, who organized a fundraising page for the couple, the couple believed they had stopped their truck out of harm’s way.
“What she told me is that they thought they had pulled way over into the ditch because they couldn’t see,” Simmons said. “Then someone hit them head on going pretty fast, and then someone hit them from behind. From there, other cars came in and they got rear-ended, and it was just a mess.”
Simmons said Dalton suffered a crushed pelvis and hip, broken ribs and a punctured lung. Pafford broke both arms and legs, several ribs and sustained an injury to the back of his head.
“They were worried about that because they couldn’t get the blood to clot because he is on blood thinners,” Simmons said. “He was losing a lot of blood. He is getting his legs operated on. They’re both awake and they can comprehend what happened, but they’re going to have a really long road to recovery.”
Due to the severity of their injuries, the couple was separated after the crash. That has been the hardest part for them, Simmons said.
They haven’t even really been able to talk. They finally got to talk on the phone. She is in Aurora at the UC hospital in the ICU trauma unit, and Jack is in Scottsbluff.
“They went to town just like a normal day. They were just running errands and whatnot. It’s so crazy. You know the wind blows in Wyoming but you don’t think it’s going to cause something that bad.”