Median should’ve prevented crash
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.
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.”