Lake City avalanche warrants evacuations; help from Gallowich

Three injuries, including sheriff

By Katherine Nettles

An avalanche in Lake City, approximately 80 miles south of Crested Butte, struck the home of Hinsdale County sheriff Justin Casey and his two daughters in the early morning of Tuesday, March 12. The incident occurred on County Road 30, destroying the home and causing injuries to the sheriff and his daughters that varied from minor to critical, according to Hinsdale County administrator Lynn McNitt.

McNitt said the avalanche struck at 6:40 a.m. It took about an hour for 15 rescuers to locate and evacuate the three people involved. The rescuers included police and fire rescue, road and bridge personnel, search and rescue, emergency medical services and others.

Following the incident, the county recommended self-evacuation for all those living in areas prone to potential avalanche activity. The Gunnison Regional 911 Center issued a warning stating, “Hinsdale Sheriff Office recommends voluntary evacuations of community members living below steep hills or west of Bluff Street due to severe avalanche conditions. Those who are evacuating should do so in the next hour as snow conditions are expected to worsen over the next several hours. The Lake City Armory is open to anyone needing somewhere to go.

“Community members in a safe area away from steep slopes are encouraged to stay in their homes and limit travel due to additional snow slides in the area. If you see a new slide please report it… Natural avalanches may hit the roads and we do not want anyone to get stuck on the roads.”

Gunnison County sheriff John Gallowich, along with his undersheriff and another deputy, traveled to Lake City that morning to assist with any law enforcement needs.

“There wasn’t too much to do. They had it pretty much under control, but we are standing by to provide them with any assistance we can in any way. And you know when something like this happens, we try to be there to help in any way we can,” said Gallowich upon his return to Gunnison County later in the day. He confirmed that sheriff Casey was in the hospital in Gunnison, as were his daughters.

“Our concern is do they need help on the back roads, with people… knowing that the sheriff had gone out of service on that,” said Gallowich. Gallowich said the drive was long, and “It was snowing very, very hard.”

A second avalanche took place on the same road just before noon, according to McNitt, but there were no injuries or people involved.

“Overall, Hinsdale County did a great job,” said Gallowich. “I think the danger is extremely high and I would encourage people to stay out of the backcountry. And it is so obvious with what has happened in the last week in our county, and throughout the state, really,“ he said.

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