August 14, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013 at 7:52 am
Dana Collins strolled through a garden Wednesday morning behind her Divide home, pausing to admire the fruits of her husband's work.
Cacti peaked out from between carefully placed stones, pea plants and lettuce bunches flourished in a greenhouse that John Collins built.
Dana Collins paused once more as she opened the door to the structure.
"He loves peas. It's about the only vegetable I can get him to eat. He would stand out here and eat them right off the plant." she said, remembering John, who died after his 1986 Mercedes became trapped in a flash flood Friday evening on U.S. 24 near Manitou Springs.
Before Dana Collins shared memories of her evening strolls around the garden with her husband, she and family friend Ian Dyer outlined the events of Friday's storm that dumped about 1 1/2 inches of rain on the Waldo Canyon burn scar in about 15 minutes.
Flash flood waters, mud, rocks, trees and other debris came pouring out of Waldo Canyon and onto U.S. 24 exactly one month after a similar, but less intense flood, had closed the roadway.
Dana Collins said her husband was supposed to meet her for dinner at McGinty's Wood Oven Pub in Divide that night. He called her about 5:15 p.m. on Friday and said he was on his way home from work.
But he never arrived. By 7 p.m. Dana Collins hadn't heard from him.
During that time, Dyer was on his way to Colorado Springs and talked to John Collins via cell phone.
"He called me," Dyer said. "He was saying, 'If you're driving down (Ute Pass), I wouldn't do it.' "
John told Dyer that he was stopped on 24 and "water is coming. It's pushing some cars to me. I've got to go."
Neither Dyer nor Dana Collins heard from John again.
At one point a deputy with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office called and said they'd found John's car in the debris that clogged the highway, but they didn't know where he was.
Dana began calling hospitals in Colorado Springs and checked with the temporary Red Cross shelter in Manitou Springs. Then, at about 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, El Paso County and Teller County deputies rang her doorbell accompanied by victim advocates.
Collins was found buried in the debris that left more than 20 cars stranded west of Cave of the Winds.
Dana Collins said the family dog Bailey, a Rottweiler and blood hound mix, was with John and was found wandering around the flash flood zone.
Officials have not determined whether John Collins got out of his car on his own.
"I would really like find out what happened to him, if anybody knows," Dana Collins said.
John Collins was referred to as a "big teddy bear" by his niece, Lacey Linder on Saturday less than 24 hours after her uncle's tragic death. Dana Collins and Dyer painted a similar picture, describing a man who had "hundreds of friends."
Dyer said John, a recovering alcoholic of 25 years, spent much of his time when he wasn't in his garden or at his concrete business sponsoring others through Alcoholics Anonymous.
"He'd just be there," Dyer said, noting that helping people at AA was John's "mission in life."
Family, friends and others around Teller County talked earlier this week about John Collins' holiday routine. He would put on a white beard and play the role of Santa Claus for the annual Ute Pass Kiwanis Club's Breakfast with Santa in Woodland Park.
MEMORIAL FUND AND SERVICES
People can contribute to the John Collins Memorial Fund at the Park State Bank and Trust on U.S. 24 in Woodland Park. A bank representative said donors can go to the bank and speak to donate or they can send a check made out to “The John Collins Memorial Fund” to Park State Bank and Trust, P.O. Box 9, Woodland Park, CO, 80866.
A memorial service will be 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 24 at Aspen Valley Ranch in Woodland Park.
The Coalition for the Upper South Platte is seeking volunteers to help with flood mitigation efforts in and around the Waldo Canyon burn scar. Volunteers should meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday at the Cascade Fire Department. Work will continue until 3:30 p.m.
CUSP will hold skilled volunteer training days for future work. Training will be 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in Woodland Park. Those participating will meet the Woodland Park Safeway, 1101 E. U.S. 24. Participants for volunteer work or training should register at www.uppersouthplatte.org/Volunteer.