Failed brakes cause of fatal crash

WOLF CREEK — A five-vehicle accident on Monday on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass on Highway 160 resulted in the death of a New Mexico man and the closure of the highway for several hours.

According to the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) at about 4:30 p.m. Trooper Scott Fenwick was patrolling Wolf Creek Pass when he observed a westbound motor home pulling a boat and trailer that was having apparent difficulties with overheated brakes as it descended the pass.

The driver and sole occupant of the motor home, 63-year-old Joseph Guarino, of Elephant Butte, N.M., was able to indicate to the trooper that he was unable to stop the motor home after he had successfully navigated both the upper switchback curve within the active construction zone at the scenic overlook and the lower switchback curve.

As its brakes completely failed, the motor home proceeded past Treasure Falls as a downhill runaway reaching speeds in excess of 60 mph, according to CSP.

Fenwick followed the runaway vehicle with lights and sirens activated to warn nearby construction workers.

West of Treasure Falls, the motor home entered a second active construction zone at 4:31 p.m., with the roadway restricted to one lane in that section.

At that location, the motor home collided with the rear of a westbound Ford pickup-and-trailer combination driven by a 23-year-old male from Florida.

It then continued westbound and hit the rear of a parked and unattended dump truck, the rear of a westbound Hyundai sedan driven by a 53-year-old from France, and the side of a parked and unattended water hauling truck.

Guarino was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

The French driver and a passenger were transported via ambulance to Pagosa Springs Medical center with non-life-threatening injuries.

No construction personnel were injured in the crash.

Due to the nature of the incident and the extreme amount of debris and wreckage, U.S. 160 was completely closed from the time of the crash, about 4:30 p.m., until approximately 8:15 p.m.

Although the investigation is ongoing by a CSP crash reconstruction unit, it is believed that brake failure due to overuse and overheating was the cause of the crash.

“The Colorado State Patrol would like to use this tragic crash as a reminder to motorists on Wolf Creek Pass of the importance of using lower gears when descending our mountain passes and having an adequate braking system on both motor vehicles and trailers,” Master Trooper Doug Wiersma stated.  “Brake overuse and subsequent overheating is the number one cause of the many crashes we respond to on Wolf Creek Pass, especially in the cases of larger and heavier vehicles.

“We cannot overemphasize that especially during this time of heavy road construction on Highway 160, it is paramount that motorists exercise EXTREME caution in and around the work zones by reducing speeds to posted limits or lower, and ensuring that brakes are not being overused on long downgrades. Our CDOT and contracted construction employees work in very dangerous conditions in any work zone, but especially on the steep grades like those on our mountain passes.  Troopers have been, and will continue to be, actively patrolling in these areas with a zero-tolerance policy towards speeders and reckless drivers. Please do your part in helping us keep our road construction crews safe as they do their important work.”