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Crashes during snowstorm overwhelm Durango police

No serious injuries reported in town Friday through midday Saturday
The driver of a pickup pulled over on U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango to help get a vehicle out of a ditch on Saturday. Durango Police Department was overwhelmed by the number of crash reports in the city on Friday to the point that it issued an accident alert, a protocol that prioritizes crashes with injuries and suspicious behavior over minor fender-benders. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango Police Department officers were dispatched to the scenes of six crashes and nine stranded motorists on Friday as the area’s first snowstorm of the season took hold of roads in and around the city.

Durango proper received between 5 and 10 inches of snow over the course of Friday, said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction. Early on Friday, between 4 and 8 inches of snow accumulation was forecast.

More than six crashes occurred by Friday evening, but DPD Sgt. Kevin Hoy said Saturday morning he is only aware of three additional reported accidents because the police department was placed on accident alert at about 6:30 p.m.

Accident alert is a protocol DPD enacts when it becomes overwhelmed with calls. During an alert, officers won’t respond to reports of minor crashes – crashes where injuries aren’t suffered and suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not suspected.

“It can have to do with either an exceptional amount of accidents, or we can also have other calls going on,” Hoy said. “... Just your average fender-bender, we won’t respond due to call load.”

He said officers waiting at crash scenes for tow trucks was the biggest contributing factor to the need for an accident alert.

“We were spending so much time on the road just waiting for tow trucks,” he said.

Tow trucks are usually pretty adept at handling snowy and icy conditions, he said. But at least one tow truck was delayed from getting to the site of an accident because it was temporarily stuck in a tow yard.

He said all but one of the crashes on Friday involved collisions between two vehicles. The one outlier involved a driver crashing their vehicle into a cement barrier in the Walmart parking lot.

Hoy said he spoke to two people involved in a minor crash where one of the people had complained of a head injury in their report to the police. At the scene, Hoy didn’t notice any blood or other indications of injury, and the person didn’t mention their complaint.

The person was checked out by medics and did not require medical transport, he said.

He said “quite a few accidents” occurred on the stretch of highway between Santa Rita Park and the U.S. Highway 160 and Camino del Rio interchange.

Hoy advised commuters to be cautious while driving in wintry conditions. Drive slow and keep a good distance between other vehicles, he said.

“You might be in a shady spot where it’s all iced up. You never know how long it will take you to stop,” he said. “Be cautious and make sure you have enough space.”

No crashes within city limits were reported Saturday morning or early afternoon and the accident alert has been lifted, he said.