As a winter storm blew through Rim Country this weekend, police rescued from Tonto Creek a couple who drove around barricades and responded to at least 40 vehicle slide-offs and collisions.
On Highway 260, police blamed snow and slush for a one-vehicle rollover 15 miles east of Payson Friday. The driver “just lost control,” said Sgt. Erik Axlund with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
“Fortunately, the driver was wearing their seat belt and was not hurt,” he said.
In all, DPS got calls for five vehicle collisions and 40 vehicles that either slid off or ended up blocking the roadway with their tires spinning due to the weather.
The Arizona Department of Transportation at one point restricted travel on Highway 87 to chains or four-wheel drive north from Home Depot in Payson to about Long Valley. ADOT also closed Highway 260 from the ADOT yard at Colcord Road to the top of the Mogollon Rim for several hours due to treacherous driving conditions.
“Vehicles and semi trucks were unable to get up the hill due to icy roads and snowy conditions,” he said. “We were able to get the vehicles through and the roads plowed so traffic could get moving again. We were extremely busy on Friday and Saturday but were pleased that no one was seriously injured.”
Down in Tonto Basin, the flow of water in Tonto Creek increased 100-fold, prompting a helicopter rescue that also resulted in an injury to a Gila County sheriff’s deputy.
The deputy injured his knee during the swift water rescue involving a couple stuck in their truck. Deputy Wayne Dorsett was walking along the flooded shoreline during the rescue to help when he tripped and hurt his knee, said Lt. Tim Scott with the GCSO.
Dorsett was the only person injured during the rescue.
The couple, which had reportedly driven around closure signs, was safely airlifted from their waterlogged truck. The floodwaters quickly pushed the couple’s maroon truck 400 yards downstream Sunday, Scott said. Sensors in the creek show the discharge went from 60 cubic feet per second to nearly 6,000 Friday during the peak of the storm. While the flow subsided slightly on Saturday, it remained high throughout the weekend.
A helicopter landed one skid on the pickup bed, picking up the woman and leaving behind a medic to help the man. The helicopter then returned and hauled the man out by rope.
It is unknown if the driver was cited.