Beware of springtime black ice

on the way up

Barbara Lawlor

A firefighter held her hand.

After the slide, the flight, the crash, the panic, the arrival of help, the ambulance, the hospital, and the recovery, Mona Crowe looks back on last Thursday and remembers that one of the emergency responders held her hand as the Jaws of Life cut through the metal of her roof.

She was on her way to work down below, heading south on Coal Creek Canyon in her recently purchased 2003 Jeep Liberty, when she felt something go awry with her steering wheel.
She hadn’t had the Jeep very long. A couple weeks ago, heading down the same canyon, she hit an elk who ran in front of her last car. She stopped immediately. The elk ran off but Mona figures she was badly injured as the collision did so much damage to her vehicle it had to be totaled.

Known to be an extremely cautious, slower than most driver, Mona was traveling about 30-35 mph in her Jeep when she thought something had gone wrong with her steering wheel. The Jeep was veering to the left and as she tried to get it under control, she realized that her tires weren’t gripping and she was going sidewise to the edge of the road.

It had been a wet, cold night and a sheet of black ice covered the highway. She felt the vehicle leave the road and knew she was airborne. Although she had her seatbelt on, her head slammed to the left, to the driver’s door when she rolled and the Jeep landed on the driver’s side. She felt her head hit other things and then everything stopped.

“After a quick assessment I knew I wasn’t dead, I knew my head was hurting and I figured out I was trapped on the driver’s side. The sun roof was dented and I could stick my head out.”

Mona had flown about 35 feet through the air and landed in the willows near South Boulder Creek. She heard a few cars go by on Highway 72 and knew no one could see the car. She felt fairly calm and had the presence of mind to pull her phone out of her pocket and dial 911 for help. She knew she had to keep calm, not to panic, even though her seatbelt was pressing her against the seat and the steering wheel and dashboard had her pinned in.

It was around 7 a.m. when Timberline Fire Protection District received the call, saying that a female was trapped in a rollover accident. They knew their extrication equipment was in south Gilpin County so they had Boulder County Sheriff’s dispatch tone out of Nederland for mutual aid and equipment. Boulder Emergency Services arrived as well as BC deputies and the firefighters and EMTs from both departments worked together to begin the extrication.

By this time they had ascertained that Mona’s injuries were not life-threatening. After covering her with a tarp they began punching out the window shards and to get a look at what was needed. They realized they were going to have to cut the top of the Jeep off to get her out.

Mona says one of the men reached into the Jeep and held her hand, explaining what was going on step by step. “I was so happy they were there. They worked in synchronicity, coordinating what they were doing with each other. When one tool didn’t work, one of them calmly asked for another one. The firefighter holding my hand told me there was going to be a loud noise and that was okay. He said they knew what they were doing. They were all wonderful, kind, and professional. They deserve many kudos.”

The ambulance EMTs cut her jacket away and then handed her a scissors so she could cut her seatbelt off. By this time she was feeling trapped and getting out of the seatbelt was a relief. Although she was not always religious about strapping herself in, she says she will never go without it again.

Without the roof and the doors and the windows and the seatbelt, the emergency workers were able to stabilize Mona and get her onto a litter. Once she was ready, other firefighters worked a technical haul line to help bring her up the steep embankment and into the ambulance. As the medics prepared to leave, a state trooper handed a ticket for driving too fast for the conditions.

After a cat scan, it was determined there were no broken bones. There were bruises everywhere and Mona resembled a raccoon, her eyes black and blue and becoming more swollen every minute. But she would make a full recovery.

A few days later, still recovering, Mona said she was going to skip Coal Creek Canyon for a while. She also says that Gilpin County and Nederland residents should be proud of the firefighters that protect them. “They worked together so well, it was beautiful, like a ballet.”

good closeup

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.