Accidents, crowds and COVID-19: Eagle County law enforcement preaches patience as tensions rise

Four Colorado State Patrol vehicles were struck by uncontrollable drivers on the I-70 mountain corridor this week.
Courtesy photo

Eagle County law enforcement is asking for patience as peak season, snowy weather, staffing issues and mask return warrants collide, leading to an increase in accidents and more public safety incidents.

“Let’s all practice patience on the roads, on the trails, with masks,” said Amber Mulson-Barrett of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

While a snowy holiday season was ideal for opening more ski runs in the mountains, almost all local law enforcement agencies reported an increase in car crashes and “skids.”

The Avon Police Department received 28 calls regarding motor vehicle accidents between December 23 and January 6, compared to just 15 calls in the same two-week period a year ago.

The Vail Police Department has reported 20 accidents in the past two weeks and Eagle has reported 10, according to spokespersons for both agencies.

The sheriff’s office reported 50 traffic-related complaints between late November and early January, many of which were weather accidents, Mulson-Barrett said.

The snowy conditions have also resulted in frequent Vail Pass closures and two rounds of avalanche mitigation, both of which can be frustrating for drivers but pose a potential danger to law enforcement, Commander Justin said on Friday. Liffick from the Vail Police Department.

Liffick also preached patience, asking residents to keep in mind that local law enforcement agencies have not been immune to the effects of the nationwide labor shortage and of the latest wave of COVID-19 infections.

“Law enforcement in general is understaffed right now and with the blizzard over New Years Eve and around this time the number of slips and calls from people stranded in their vehicles was absolutely insane.” Mulson-Barrett said.

The Eagle County Colorado State Patrol Regional Troop was particularly understaffed to respond to crashes and skids on Interstate 70, with only one soldier on duty on New Years Eve for the ‘entire region of the four counties, she said.

Master Trooper Gary Cutler said this was a combination of a particularly strong class of recruits reaching retirement age and having difficulty retaining and recruiting due to the current political climate around the police in the USA.

“We have these personnel issues that have plagued us a bit here, but we are also taking action right now to try to get those numbers back,” Cutler said. In the meantime, the agency has brought in soldiers from other areas to help it.

In cases of minor accidents in which both parties have insurance and are not injured, the Colorado State Patrol requires drivers to exchange information, leave the roadway, and complete a report on the company’s website. agency, rather than waiting for a soldier to arrive at the scene. That way, drivers don’t get stuck in unsafe conditions and soldiers can spend their time on more serious crashes, Cutler said.

Cutler advised tourists to be cautious when driving in the mountains or in snow and ice conditions they may not have experienced in their home country. He also reminded local drivers to prepare and slow down regardless of their level of experience.

“When we have that weather and it causes accidents, it comes down to two main things,” Cutler said. “One is speed. So, it’s the state of the road … Are you going too fast? And the other follows the other vehicles too closely. That’s the reason we have these big pile-ups because people don’t give themselves enough ability to see it, react to it, and have the right conditions to slow down before hitting another vehicle.

Colorado State Patrol on Twitter reported that 17 vehicles were involved in a shipwreck in Glenwood Canyon on Monday, January 3. Courtesy / Colorado State Patrol

“People are on the alert”

Before the holidays, Mulson-Barrett said he felt sheriff’s deputies were also called to the mountain more often than usual because “the crowd was large and the ski area very small.”

Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek fall under the jurisdiction of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, so they respond to any criminal incidents at both complexes.

Now, “the mountain is open and the tensions are still high,” Mulson-Barrett said. “We see it on the roads. We see it on the mountain.

Between December 16 and December 31, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office was called twice in Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek once following reports of minor assaults.

The victim of the alleged Beaver Creek assault, Eagle resident Steve Litt, was left with a displaced rib and numerous bruises after the Dec.31 incident.

It was a busy day on the slopes when a man bumped into Litt while skiing, Litt recalls. It wasn’t a big collision, but the man had hit it anyway, so Litt found him at the bottom of the trail to talk about it. When the man laughed at him for drawing his attention to the brush, Litt said he became frustrated, exchanged a few unsavory words, but decided to walk away.

Litt skied to the Beaver Creek Landing near the Strawberry Park elevator. It was then that he saw another man hurtling down the mountains towards him, he recalls.

“(The man) started taking off his skis and started rolling down the mountain towards me, then he completely tackled me… and started hitting me,” Litt said. “And I hadn’t even said a word to that guy.” Then they took off and left me there lying on the mountain.

He believes his alleged assailant was a friend of the man who hit him while skiing shortly before the assault, as the two were with a group of people.

Litt filed a report with the Beaver Creek Public Safety Department and eventually with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. The case has since been closed without any indication of the identity of the alleged assailant, Mulson-Barrett said.

Litt received initial treatment at Beaver Creek Medical Center and his primary care doctor later confirmed he had a broken rib as a result of the assault, which means eight weeks of rest and recovery. He also reported bruising and other pain, mainly in his legs after being hit while wearing skis.

He said he believes the overcrowded conditions on the mountain caused an increased level of frustration and may have added to the escalation of the interaction that day.

After correspondence with a company spokesperson, Vail Resorts did not comment on the incident or answer questions about what the past few weeks have been like for their public safety departments.

“In my opinion, they’ve completely oversold these mountains,” Litt said. “I’ve been skiing here for 32 years and it’s amazing what you see now for the lifts and the people on the slopes.”

The mountains are understaffed, the buses are crowded and the lift lines are long, he said.

“People are on edge,” Litt added.

“Everyone is just agitated by COVID and everything that is going on in the world and it feels like everyone is… almost at the boiling point,” Litt’s wife said.

A view of I-70 in Vail on the morning of Thursday January 6.
John LaConte / Vail Daily

Friction mandate mask

The sheriff’s office has apparently borne the brunt of COVID-19 frustration, responding to 64 disruption calls between late November and early January, with the return of the indoor mask warrant causing tensions for some businesses.

They were called to the airport most often – 11 times in just over a month – to keep the peace amid “flight delays”, “mask problems” and “rental car problems” , taxi, ”said Mulson-Barrett.

“We don’t write tickets. We keep saying that we are not the mask police. We are just trying to keep the peace, ”she said. “Business owners have every right to deny you service if you don’t want to wear a mask and follow county mask guidelines.”

Sheriff’s assistants continue to take an educational approach to support the application of mask warrants and only get involved when someone refuses to mask themselves or leave a business, she said.

Avon, Vail and Eagle Police Departments have reported very few issues with the masks, officials said.

On the mountain safety front, the Avon Police Department sends officers to work with the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol on a semi-regular basis as a form of community policing and support, although the area falls under. within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office, Chief Greg Daly said. . Chef Daly took his equipment and went up himself on Friday morning to check in.

The Beaver Creek Ski Patrol can be contacted at (970) 754-6610 and the Vail Mountain Expedition is at (970) 754-4610.

Trackers can intervene quickly and “very effectively defuse these situations on a regular basis.” It’s part of their role, ”said Daly.

In general, “I always recommend taking a deep breath first,” Daly said.

“You have to care about yourself, you can’t care about others,” Commander Liffick said. “As long as you protect yourself and you are masked, be patient when those lift lines are long or traffic has stopped for a while. Being patient will help you a lot and help us. “

About Michael C. Lovelace

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