Me­dian should’ve pre­vented crash

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom McGhee

The grassy me­dian along In­ter­state 70 near Mor­ri­son should have pro­vided more than enough room for the driver of a pickup truck to stop or cor­rect his tra­jec­tory Sun­day morn­ing, but the west­bound motorist still shot across the me­dian into east­bound traf­fic, killing him­self and an­other driver.

In the wake of the five-ve­hi­cle crash, which also in­jured six, the Colorado Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion is ex­am­in­ing 20 years of crash data on nearly a mile of I-70, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the past five years to en­sure that that sec­tion of high­way is as safe as pos­si­ble, CDOT spokes­woman Sta­cia Sellers said.

“We will take a closer look to see if there is any­thing we can in­stall” to im­prove safety on that stretch of road, which is near mile marker 259, she said. The me­dian in that area ranges from 75 to 90 feet wide.

Jef­fery Stumpf, 54, was driv­ing a Chevro­let pickup truck west when he drove across the me­dian. There was no in­di­ca­tion that Stumpf tried to change di­rec­tion or stop be­fore en­ter­ing on­com­ing traf­fic, Colorado State Pa­trol spokesman Trooper Nate Reid said.

Troop­ers found an empty quar­ter-pint bot­tle of Fire­ball Cin­na­mon Whiskey and an un­opened con­tainer of beer in the truck, Reid said. Reid didn’t know whether the al­co­hol was found in the truck’s cab or bed.

It could take sev­eral weeks for test re­sults to de­ter­mine whether Stumpf was in­tox­i­cated.

Stumpf’s truck trav­eled di­ag­o­nally through the me­dian, dip­ping into a de­pres­sion that runs through the grassy strip, be­fore climb­ing back onto the road and strik­ing a 2006 Toy­ota 4Run­ner, killing the driver, Jodie Ste­wart, 52.

The truck then hit three other ve­hi­cles in the east­bound lanes.

Meets safety rule

The road meets Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion safety guide­lines for high­ways where daily traf­fic ex­ceeds 20,000 ve­hi­cles, which only re­quire a guard rail or con­crete bar­rier when the width of the me­dian is less than 50 feet, Sellers said.

In the past 20 years, there have been 210 ac­ci­dents on that stretch of road. Most were rear-end col­li­sions or crashes that re­sulted when ve­hi­cles changed lanes. Of that ma­jor­ity of wrecks, two were fa­tal, one that oc­curred when a driver slammed into a stopped ve­hi­cle at a high rate of speed, Sellers said. “We can’t do any­thing to mit­i­gate that.”

It is un­usual for a head-on col­li­sion to hap­pen on a road with such a wide me­dian, Sellers said.

The av­er­age width of a me­dian on in­ter­states and state high­ways na­tion­wide is 52 feet.

Those who drive onto the larger me­dian have an 80 per­cent chance of stop­ping or cor­rect­ing course be­fore mak­ing it to the other side of the road, Sellers said.

“About 20 per­cent of the time, peo­ple can go over that me­dian, but it is likely they are un­con­scious,” oth­er­wise im­paired or speed­ing, she said.

Other in­ci­dents

On that same stretch of I-70, there have been three fa­tal­i­ties and one se­ri­ous­in­jury ac­ci­dent caused by a driver jump­ing the me­dian and col­lid­ing with on­com­ing traf­fic.

A po­lice re­port de­scrib­ing the first of those — in 1997 — at­trib­uted the ac­ci­dent, near mile marker 260, to driver in­ex­pe­ri­ence, Sellers said. In that case, in which two peo­ple died, the ve­hi­cle was trav­el­ing 87 mph on the wrong side of I-70.

CDOT last year in­stalled a cable guard rail run­ning west from mile marker 260.

In 2011, there was an­other fa­tal head-on ac­ci­dent at mile marker 261.

Rain led to an­other non­fa­tal, head-on col­li­sion in 2006. Dur­ing that year, the agency did a safety as­sess­ment along the road to pre­pare for resur­fac­ing — a rou­tine prac­tice for any con­struc­tion pro­ject. The study de­ter­mined there was no need for ad­di­tional guard rails.

If the re­view of Sun­day’s ac­ci­dent scene sug­gests ad­di­tional mea­sures to im­prove safety, traf­fic en­gi­neers can rec­om­mend adding a guard rail, con­crete bar­rier or other changes, she said.

“Now we have more traf­fic than we did in 2006,” Sellers said. “We are just try­ing to be more proac­tive.”

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