It didn’t take long for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department to receive a tip that led to the identity of the driver who destroyed the Maroon Bells closure gate on Tuesday.
“We got in touch with him pretty early in the morning,” deputy Ryan Voss said. “A good Samaritan called in from reading the paper that she noticed a car parked in town that matched the description.”
The black Subaru Outback showed significant damage that was clearly indicative of a head-on collision.
“He fessed up that he was distracted by nature, and he drove 35 miles per hour into a steel gate,” Voss said. “He wasn’t hurt, which was good. Definitely a little embarrassed. He learned a lesson.”
The 18-year-old driver was new to the area, Voss explained, adding that he presented a driver’s license from South Carolina and was cited for not reporting the incident.
“He did get cited for leaving the scene of an accident and careless driving. He didn’t get anything else because he did admit to it and he wasn’t intending to do it,” he said. “There was no intent. His car took the brunt of it, but that doesn’t get him off from not reporting.”
Voss was confident that no alcohol or marijuana was involved in the incident.
“He didn’t admit to any alcohol or marijuana, and [there was] nothing in the car,” he said. “That would be difficult to prove without someone else in the car.”
At the end of the day, it was just an accident — albeit one that resulted in other vehicles using the road Tuesday without realizing it was technically closed. The county road accessing the popular and scenic Maroon Bells recreation area closed for the season on Friday. The closure gate is located just above the T-Lazy-7 Ranch.
T-Lazy-7 Ranch staff were already on the scene when Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies arrived Tuesday. A snowcat tour was returning to the ranch mid-morning to find much of the gate lying on the side of the road, about 20 feet from where it should have been.
While the county had repaired the gate to full functionality by Wednesday morning, additional repairs likely will be made next spring. In the immediate aftermath of the collision, though, T-Lazy-7 snowcats bolstered a temporary roadblock.
Regardless of the necessary repairs and any inconvenience, there was no ill will shown toward the driver, even before he was identified.
“It was pretty funny,” one ranch staffer said Tuesday.
Voss chalked much of it up to the driver’s age.
“[A] young, inexperienced driver,” he said. “And honestly, he was new to the area. He’s only been living in town three months, so he’s a freshman.”
That said, the county “would like to remind people to keep their eye on the road and reduce speeds when unfamiliar [with the area],” Voss added.