It started out as a routine call for Donnie Curnow, owner of Animas Towing in Silverton.
On Wednesday afternoon, May 2, a fierce spring storm hit the high San Juans and a motorist slid off U.S. Highway 550 at mile marker 57, near Coal Bank Pass.
Curnow hit the road in his 2006 Ford F450 tow truck, along with his sidekick, a pit bull named Dozer.
But going into the Lime Creek curve near milemarker 60.5, Curnow’s truck began to slide.
“Coming down Lime Creek, everything was fine,” Curnow said on Tuesday. “But then going around the corner, it just tried to slide. I knew I was going over the edge, so I steered into it (to avoid rolling over).”
That maneuver worked, at first, but with the truck bouncing down the embankment amid huge boulders, it went into a roll anyway.
“The first roll I took, the roof hit my head,” Curnow recalled. “I thought, if that happens again, I’m not going to make it.”
But he was, in fact, hit in the head again as the truck continued to roll, eventually landing on the driver’s side partially in the creek, after a plunge of more than 200 feet.
Curnow said he was in pretty bad shape but still conscious.
He called to the dog, but it didn’t want to go near him after the trauma.
Curnow figured it would take a while for rescuers to arrive.
“I knew I had to get to the side of the road,” Curnow said, so he started climbing despite suffering what later turned out to be a broken sternum and three broken vertebrae and head lacerations.
Once reaching the highway, he rested in another motorist’s car.
“I just remember sitting in that car and I couldn’t get my neck right,” Curnow said.
Then rescuers, including San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad and a Silverton Ambulance crew, arrived.
“They were there immediately. I said, ‘Bruce, you’ve got to go find Dozer,’” Curnow recalled.
As Curnow rode off to Mercy Regional Medical Center in the ambulance, Conrad climbed down to the creek and eventually found Dozer, soaking wet and very frightened after having been in the creek.
Conrad figures he would not have survived much longer given how hypothermic he was.
And Conrad said conditions on Highway 550 that afternoon were incredibly treacherous. He said he almost lost control himself coming down the grade to the Lime Creek curve in his 4-wheel-drive pickup.
“It was crazy slippery,” Conrad said. “It was one of those cases where they should have closed the highway.”
He said Curnow was “very, very lucky to be alive” after the truck plunge.
Despite his severe injuries, Curnow was treated and released at Mercy without staying the night.
And on Tuesday this week, he was walking around town a bit, though in obvious pain.