WOODLAND PARK - For nearly six hours Tuesday night, Sandy Mileto fought to survive.
With one shoe missing and only a blanket to keep her warm, the 43-year-old Lake George woman, struggled to climb a few hundred feet to safety after the Jeep SUV she was driving launched off Colorado 67 as Mileto headed to Cripple Creek.
“It was all snowy and freezing,” Mileto remembered from her bed at the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital in Woodland Park on Thursday morning.
Mileto did not remember her Jeep going off the road shortly after 11 p.m. on Tuesday.
She had no clue that the Jeep had left a path of destruction along the slope. It mowed down several aspens, jumped one set of 10-foot tall boulders and left a long, dirt skid mark for another 50 feet to 100 feet before getting launched again. This time the vehicle dropped about 25 feet, taking out a pine tree about a foot-and-a-half in diameter before coming to rest on its side.
The woman was partially in the driver’s seat when she awoke and saw the sky above her. She managed to pull herself from the wreck that was wedged between two trees.
“I saw a rock and went and laid on it, so I could be out of the snow,” she said. “As I was laying there, all I could think is, ‘I’m going to die.’ I just laid there and hugged that rock.”
Mileto guessed she was on the rock just short of an hour. Thenshe went back to the Jeep in search of a blanket and some sweaters she knew were inside. A Teller County deputy told the woman on Wednesday that overnight temperatures were barely in double digits along that stretch of highway, and that was likely closer to zero in the canyon where Mileto found herself stranded.
Mileto, who had been heading to a casino to “have some fun on my day off,” found the clothes, the blanket, her wallet, her cell phone, some matches and an “always with you angel” coin that her boyfriend Craig Landals had given her.
She tried make a call but couldn’t get any reception in the remote, southern Teller County area south of Divide. Mileto moved from tree to tree, searching for a signal and actually got one faint connection.
“I pushed the button and the phone tries, and tries, and tries, and it tries,” she said, noting the signal faded and she realized it was a moment of false hope.
Then, she decided to make a fire for warmth using one of the sweaters.
“I had just filled the gas tank that day,” Mileto said. She when she smelled gasoline and realized “a fire probably wasn’t a good idea.”
The Jeep immediately exploded into flames and she knew staying near the burning car was a dangerous idea.
So, Mileto began her almost paralyzing journey up to the highway. It began with a traverse over and around icy boulders.
She said the snow and ice and the pitch of the slope made her slide down five steps for every two steps she moved upward. Finally, she managed to make progress.
“I would take a couple steps and then I’d lay down and cover the blanket over me like a cocoon,” she said. “That blanket probably saved my life. That’s no joke.”
The woman used the moonlight to find fallen aspen branches. She set them horizontal on the slope to use as steps, grabbing other trees to help pull herself up.
Whenever Mileto came to a rock face or the hill got steeper, she would think about her grandson, 11-year-old Ontonio Perez, and ask herself, “What would ‘tonio do?”
Those thoughts pushed her forward, Mileto said.
Mileto made the journey with an aching, exposed left foot, hands bruised from the crash. When the moon dropped behind the hills, the forest was pitch black.
Finally the battered, freezing woman saw headlights.
Mileto scrambled over icy, loose gravel covering the final 30 feet or so to the edge of the winding highway near Milepost 61, which the Jeep just missed before its perilous descent.
As her head reached road level, Mileto lunged forward tossing the blanket to the top first. She saw another set of headlights coming around the bend and made one last push to the highway.
“I thought, ‘This is do or die. This is show time,” Mileto said, thinking that she would have slid all the way down if she lost her footing.
A man in a camper stopped when he saw the woman waving the blanket in the air. And right behind the camper was a Teller County Sheriff’s deputy in his patrol vehicle.
It was 5:06 a.m. Wednesday when the deputy called the Colorado State Patrol, said Trooper Nate Reid. Mileto was rushed to the hospital.
Doctors determined Mileto had severe frostbite on her feet, especially on the left foot that had been shoeless. She also had frostbite on both hands and a minor fracture in a vertebra.
The cause of the crash is unknown, but Landals suspects Mileto hit a patch of black ice. He said his girlfriend was ticketed for careless driving.
Doctors were monitoring Mileto on Thursday as she was joined by Landals, her daughter Nichole Perez and some friends. Mileto displayed her blackened, swollen toesand bravely described the pain in her hands. She said doctors told her “worst case scenario” is she might lose her toes.
“She is a survivor,” said Mileto’s friend Jude Ruddy. “She has a strong personality and a strong heart. It didn’t shock me that she survived.”
Landals, who lives with and works with Mileto, said he couldn’t believe what happened when he learned of the ordeal his girlfriend had just been through.
He repeatedly remembered Mileto telling him something that she usually didn’t say as she left the house on Tuesday.
“For some reason, when she left that night, she said, ‘Say a prayer for me.’ And so I did,” he said.
Mileto’s daughter celebrated her 25th birthday Thursday, smiling as she tended to her mother at the hospital. Perez said, “I’m just happy my mom is alive on my birthday. I know she is tough. But I didn’t know she is this tough.”