Serious accident on Highway 135 injures three locals last week

First responders aware of need to get the word out

by Mark Reaman

Three longtime Crested Butte residents were seriously injured in a three-vehicle accident just south of Crested Butte on Wednesday, December 16. The accident closed Highway 135 for hours and the most seriously injured, 52-year-old Donna Perkins, remains at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. She had surgery on Monday.

Local residents Joe and Jenny Knox were also injured in the accident and while they have a long recovery period due to the injuries sustained in the accident, neither will apparently have to undergo surgery.

According to Colorado State Patrol trooper Josh Lewis, Perkins was in a Suzuki heading south and attempting to make a left turn off Highway 135 into a driveway. Her stopped car was struck in the rear by a 1997 Ford pickup driven by 47-year-old Alan Eldridge. That pushed the Suzuki into traffic heading north. A Toyota SUV driven by Joe Knox, 65, struck the Suzuki. His wife, Jenny, was a passenger in the Toyota.

Lewis said Eldridge has been cited for three counts of careless driving resulting in bodily injury. The accident took place about 4:40 p.m. Wednesday at mile-marker 26 just south of Crested Butte.

Eldridge was wearing a seatbelt and not injured in the accident. Perkins sustained serious injuries and was taken immediately to the Gunnison Valley Hospital and then transported to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction.

Joe Knox sustained moderate injuries. Jenny sustained serious injuries. Both were transported to the Gunnison Valley Hospital.

Trooper Lewis said drugs, alcohol and speed did not appear to be a factor in the incident but there was the possibility of “distracted driving.”

According to people who have visited Donna and her husband, Donnie, in Grand Junction, she has several broken bones and is apparently recovering well from surgery on Monday.

There is a box at Pitas in Paradise in Crested Butte where you can drop off a card for Donna.

One issue that came up as a result of the accident was the idea of overall community communications during such an incident. Literally thousands of cars were stuck on both sides of the accident scene and drivers had no idea how long it would be before the road was reopened.

Crested Butte chief marshal Tom Martin said state patrol handled the actual accident scene and he was located on the south edge of town. “Information on openings, closings and one-lane information from the top of the hill was changing every 10 minutes,” he explained. “We attempted to contact all southbound vehicles in line and told them our best guess about when traffic might start again. We did not reach out to KBUT and other resources because throughout the incident it sounded like it was set to open on numerous occasions. As a side note, that incident did consume our available resources for the first hour or so.”

Mt. Crested Butte police department spokesperson Marjorie Trautman said generally, the Gunnison Regional 911 Center and its social media outlet is the primary source for credible information.

“A Facebook page is managed by Gunnison Communications [Dispatch]. This page is listed under the Gunnison Regional 911 Center. The page is used for informational purposes and contains road conditions/closures, press releases and other information of interest to the citizens and visitors of the county. Information is shared on this page only when deemed to be from credible sources related to the information being provided, such as local law enforcement agencies, CDOT, the county roads and bridges department, local newspapers, etc.,” she explained.

“In the case of a motor vehicle accident, the incident command officer will generally provide a status update to dispatch as frequently as possible knowing that they are fielding the majority of phone calls regarding the incident,” Trautman continued.

“Typically, these updates occur once the incident is evaluated and under control. For example, shortly after arriving on scene to the accident last week, Highway 135 was closed and dispatch immediately notified. A short while later as one lane was opened and traffic was alternated through the scene, dispatch was again notified. Dispatch in turn updated the Facebook page accordingly. This page is an excellent resource for anyone seeking current information about such an incident. We encourage all who are seeking information regarding such an event to check this page first and frequently as the information will be updated as circumstances change.”

Martin said during major accidents, the first priority is on the accident but there is an understanding that the public be kept in the loop.

“We recognize the need for the information to be disseminated and put forth every effort, when possible, to get the information out. This would especially apply in an emergency situation or an incident that involved public safety,” Martin said.

“The information the night of this particular accident was basic guesswork and even though it was an inconvenience to a lot of people it wasn’t a top priority. Had we known it was going to be longer than it was or if it was going to be longer into the night, we would have started contacting available social media options,” Martin concluded.

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