Three people were injured after a two-car crash Tuesday afternoon shut down U.S. Highway 160 near Towaoc, Colorado.
The crash occurred on U.S. 160 south of the Ute Mountain Casino just after noon, said Shawn Bittle, assistant chief of the Cortez Fire Protection District. Both lanes of the highway were closed for about two hours before opening about 2:15 p.m.
Corp. James Proctor, of the Colorado State Patrol, said preliminary investigations showed one of the drivers, Kelly Beall of Utah, had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving northbound on the highway and pulling a U-Haul trailer. She had reportedly drifted into the southbound lane, colliding almost head-on with a Toyota Corolla being driven by Zhilong Bian, who Proctor said was from Washington.
John Trocheck, chief of the Ute Mountain Ute Fire Department, said Beall’s vehicle caught fire near the engine after the crash. He said a “passerby” used a fire extinguisher on the vehicle, and firefighters finished putting out the flames with water. Trocheck said Ute Mountain Ute and Cortez firefighters worked together to extricate a passenger from the vehicle.
That passenger, whom Proctor identified as Nicholas Beall, sustained serious injuries and was transported to San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington on a Flight for Life helicopter. Both drivers were transported to Southwest Memorial Hospital, although Bian was later flown to another hospital, said Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputy Bryan Hill.
Proctor said Kelly Beall was cited on suspicion of careless driving leading to injury and failing to provide proof of insurance.
Emergency responders from the Cortez Fire Protection District, Colorado State Patrol, Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and Bureau of Indian Affairs were at the scene. The Flight for Life helicopter left the crash site about 1:55 p.m., according to a Journal reporter at the scene, and two ambulances from Southwest Health System left about 12:45 p.m. Tow trucks arrived about 1:08 p.m.
Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said State Patrol troopers had taken over the investigation by 1:10 p.m. The crash occurred within Ute Mountain Ute jurisdiction, but the State Patrol took over the case because no Native Americans were involved in the collision, Nowlin said.