Saturday afternoon was a busy fall day in the gold-tinged mountains east of Telluride, with hikers, Jeepers and nature lovers enjoying the last of the fall colors in the area surrounding Bridal Veil Falls. A little after 1 p.m., however, two vehicles descending the one-way, technical switchbacks of Black Bear Pass towards Bridal Veil road encountered a difficult turn. What resulted was the impetus for the fourth San Miguel County Search and Rescue mission over the past three weeks.
According to the driver of the first vehicle, a red Jeep Wrangler Sport, he stopped, cut the engine and applied the emergency brake before stepping out of the Jeep to assist the driver of the other vehicle in navigating the tricky turn.
Upon approaching the other vehicle, the 22-year-old male driver heard the sounds of crunching gravel and turned back to see a horrifying sight: the Jeep was sliding on the rocky, off-camber roadway towards the edge. Rushing toward the Jeep in an effort to regain the driver’s seat and control of the vehicle, the man was thrown into nearby rocks as the Jeep tilted over the edge of the roadway, rolling down six switchbacks before coming to a stop on Bridal Veil road below.
Inside the Jeep when it began its roll down the steep mountainside was a friend of the driver’s, a 23-year-old female, and two puppies, a chocolate Lab and a black Lab.
As the Jeep continued its harrowing descent towards Bridal Veil road, the passenger was ejected from the vehicle on the second of the six switchbacks down which the vehicle tumbled.
Susan Lilly, public information officer for the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, noted that around 1:30 p.m., over two dozen calls from eyewitnesses came into emergency dispatch to report the accident, initiating an immediate response from Telluride Marshal’s Department deputies, Telluride Fire Protection District, EMS personnel, and San Miguel County Search and Rescue.
Though paramedics en route to the patient were initially blocked from continuing up the switchbacks in their vehicle by the wreckage of the Jeep, they proceeded on foot while authorities quickly moved the Jeep to allow emergency vehicles to pass. Bystanders assisted the female patient until the arrival of paramedics, who subsequently loaded her onto a litter before transporting her to further care at the Telluride Medical Center. She was then flown to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction where she is being treated for traumatic injuries sustained in the accident.
“She is not believed to have life-threatening injuries but her injuries are serious,” noted Lilly.
The driver, who sustained minor injuries when tossed into the rocks, was treated at the Telluride Medical Center and released.
The details surrounding the two puppies were initially unclear, with one puppy found “safe” on the roadway. The 10-month-old black lab, Decker, remains missing as of press time Tuesday, though volunteers have searched the area repeatedly since the time of the accident.
One volunteer, Kevin Pisters, has searched the area each day since Saturday without locating the puppy, though he remains hopeful in part due to a bystander account from the scene of the accident reporting seeing the puppy running along the roadway.
“I’ve got dog treats, squeaky toys, my own dogs with me,” said Pisters of his efforts to locate the puppy. “The family’s going through a lot right now, and I know that Decker’s on their mind. Anything I can do to help find Decker and bring him back to his family and give them that peace of mind, I’m happy to do it.”
Lilly, meanwhile, expressed best wishes for the recovery of the patients and gratitude for the rapid response by those involved in the rescue.
“On behalf of the Sheriff and those who participated, we are truly thinking of this woman and wishing her all the best for her recovery,” Lilly said. “The Sheriff would like to thank everyone for doing such a great job and getting up there speedily.”