In the pre-dawn darkness on Tuesday, a man and his dog died on Highway 260 when their small white pickup pulling a trailer veered over the center line and crashed head on into a Forest Service truck.
Remarkably enough, the four securely belted Forest Service contract employees walked away without a scratch from the 4:10 a.m. accident on Highway 260 at mile post 259.6, beyond the elk crossing signs just east of Star Valley.
The man, apparently from the Taylor area, and his dog were killed instantly — crushed between the big, four-door pickup apparently on a tree thinning operation and the trailer behind the small white pickup, said Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch.
Hatch said it appeared the victim fell asleep at the wheel, since the truck crossed the center line coming out of a curve and apparently never slowed.
Hellsgate ultimately dispatched two fire trucks and as many as 13 paramedics and EMTs, six of them volunteers. The crash could have strained the department’s resources, with five potential victims in a serious crash. The department’s newly hired battalion chief responded to the first fatal crash since July on his third day on the job, said Hatch.
“This was an all hands on deck situation,” said Hatch.
Fortunately, between the airbags and the seat belts none of the people in the Forest Service truck apparently suffered injuries.
“The driver of the pickup was killed instantly,” said Hatch. “It was a tangled mess. It didn’t hold up well. Cab was destroyed. He was pulling a trailer and we had parts of the trailer scattered along a 150-foot path. He was going at a good rate of speed and the trailer came forward.”
The driver of the heavy Forest Service pickup loaded with chain saws and tree cutting equipment “looked up and all of a sudden he’s seeing the other car in the center lane. At that point, they had less than five seconds to even react. All they could do was slow down.”
The paramedics urged the contract employees to seek treatment, but all refused. “Normally you’d have people go to the hospital after a head-on, but not a single one of them had a mark on them. They’ll probably be sore in the morning. If they didn’t have seat belts on, they would have had injuries — no doubt about it.”
Crews had a helicopter on standby and called up a second ambulance, but didn’t need the extra equipment. It took hours to extract the victim’s body from the crumpled wreckage.
The district will likely bill the driver’s insurance for the response, since none of them lived in the district, in accordance with state law. However, the maximum bill will likely come in under $500, said Hatch.