DURANGO Authorities have identified the victims involved in a fiery crash that killed three people Tuesday evening between Hesperus and Mancos Hill.
A Colorado Springs family was passing through the area on spring break when the accident happened, said Don McDonald, brother of Robert Bobby McDonald, who was killed in the accident.
Bobby McDonalds son, Jaden, 10, also was killed in the accident, Don McDonald said. Bobbys wife, Leslie Wachter McDonald, and another son, Kellen, 12, are in critical condition, the brother said.
Authorities said the driver of a second vehicle, who also died, was identified as David James Hooper, 51, who was from Farmington but was living in Cortez.
Efforts to learn more about Hooper were unsuccessful Wednesday.
A witness observed Hooper swerve once off the right shoulder and he was tailgating before the crash, said Trooper Jonathan Silver with the Colorado State Patrol. However, no determination had been made about whether alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash, he said.
The mother and son suffered burns over 60 percent of their bodies, Don McDonald said Wednesday when reached in Florida. Leslie McDonald was flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque with internal injuries. Kellen was flown to a burn unit at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.
The family visited Mesa Verde National Park on Monday, he said.
That was one of their favorite places on the planet, he said.
The accident happened just after 5 p.m. Tuesday in the 7000 block of U.S. Highway 160, about three miles west of Hesperus and seven miles east of Mancos Hill.
Hooper was traveling westbound in his 2011 Chevy pickup when it crossed the double-yellow line and entered the eastbound lane, colliding head-on with the McDonalds 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser, authorities said.
Both cars were traveling about 65 mph, the posted speed limit, and collided almost head-on, Silver said.
Shortly after impact, both vehicles caught fire and burned.
It is fairly rare to see two vehicles combust like they did in this type of collision, Silver said.
Leslie McDonald and Kellen exited the passenger side of the vehicle on their own, he said. The mother was on fire, and passers-by helped stabilize her and her son, Silver said.
We really appreciate people who are willing to help, especially in these types of violent crashes, he said.
Authorities were unsure why Hooper crossed the center line. A toxicology report will reveal whether alcohol or drugs played a role, Silver said.
The witness said Hooper was following cars too closely up Hesperus Hill and swerved once off the right shoulder after passing Hesperus Ski Area. She witnessed the accident in her rear-view mirror.
The drivers behavior did get her attention, and ultimately, it was the drivers behavior that led her to keep watching him in the mirror, which is why she ended up seeing the crash unfold as it did, Silver said.
McDonald said he is searching for answers about how the accident happened.
What I dont understand is why the cars burst into flames, he said. Cars dont generally burst into flames.
Bobby McDonald, 53, was a manager in the Colorado State Parole Department. He had a masters degree in anthropology.
He was a great man and a wonderful father, Don McDonald said.
In addition to the two sons involved in the accident, McDonald had a son and a daughter from a previous marriage who were not involved in the crash.
Leslie McDonald is director of a surgical center in Colorado Springs, Don McDonald said.
My entire family is crushed by the enormity of this tragedy, Don McDonald wrote in an email to the Herald.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation. The roads appear to have been dry and no weather conditions contributed to the accident, said Doug Wiersma, spokesman for the Colorado State Patrol in Durango.
The road was closed from just after 5 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, he said.
It was a significant crash, and there will obviously be an extensive investigation, Wiersma said.