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Nearly two dozen Colorado State Patrol cruisers hit on highways in 2014

By: Lisa Walton, lisa.walton@gazette.com
May 18, 2014 Updated: May 19, 2014 at 6:25 am
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photo - A Colorado State Trooper cruiser was rear-ended earlier this month during a multiple-vehicle accident in Castle Rock. The patrol says a distracted driver of a Hummer hit the cruiser, smashing in its trunk. (CSP Twitter)
A Colorado State Trooper cruiser was rear-ended earlier this month during a multiple-vehicle accident in Castle Rock. The patrol says a distracted driver of a Hummer hit the cruiser, smashing in its trunk. (CSP Twitter) 

Drivers have smashed into nearly two dozen Colorado State Patrol cruisers on highways this year.

There have been 22 wrecks in the first five months of 2014, said Colorado State Patrol spokesman Trooper Josh Lewis. That's compared to 19 wrecks in all of 2013.

"There's no excuse for it," he said. "All of us are very concerned for our safety."

Troopers have been working to increase awareness of the issue since the beginning of the year with a campaign to have drivers move over to avoid troopers on the shoulder.

Last week, troopers joined in a nationwide Twitter movement to draw attention to the crashes.

"We've been fortunate that we haven't lost anybody, but we had people seriously injured," said Lewis.

Recent months have demonstrated that state troopers have a dangerous job.

On Jan. 11, two empty patrol cruisers were struck by a drug-impaired driver while troopers investigated a crash on the I-76 ramp from northbound Interstate 25 in Denver, the state patrol reported in a release. In December, one trooper was injured after two patrol vehicles were hit on Interstate 70, east of Aurora. In February, troopers held a news conference to say that nine troopers had been involved in crashes caused by careless, reckless or impaired drivers since Dec. 19.

About a week before the conference, a trooper was investigating a nighttime crash at Bradley Road and Powers Boulevard in the Security-Widefield area when a Subaru traveling west on Bradley failed to stop at a stop sign and collided with a northbound truck on Powers, troopers said. The truck slammed into the trooper's car, injuring a trooper inside. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, the patrol said.

Pictures of smashed cruisers from around the state have be posted the Colorado State Patrol's official Twitter account, including pictures of crashes in northern Colorado Springs on I-25 near mile markers 150 and 156 in February and March.

Most recently, on May 11, a trooper was sitting in his cruiser when a driver collided with it on U.S. 285 near Fairplay, patrol reported.

Of the 24 Colorado State troopers who have died in the line of duty, six were killed when they were hit on the side of the highway, the patrol reported.

The most recent death was in 2007, when 27-year-old Trooper Zachariah Templeton was assisting with a spilled trailer load on Interstate 76. A teenage driver in a pickup truck swerved to avoid slow traffic and rear-ended the trailer, which fatally hit Templeton and injured another trooper.

While troopers have seen crashes during bad weather, some crashes have occurred in dry conditions, and during both daytime and nighttime driving, Lewis said.

"We've seen it on any type of highway and every situation you could imagine," he said. "Every age imaginable has been represented in these types of incidents."

It's hard to pinpoint a reason for the recent increase in wrecks though, he said.

"It's something we're looking at and trying to analyze ourselves."

While the agency is looking at ways to possibly improve their visibility on the side of the road to prevent these incidents, he thinks the bright lights on the patrol cars should be effective.

"Ultimately, it may come down to education through enforcement," he said, adding that road signs, and social media campaigns, such as this week's "#moveover" Twitter campaign, might help.

The social media campaign was started by authorities in Tennessee earlier this week after a 25-year-old Nashville police officer was hit and killed while directing traffic on the side of the road last weekend.

It's the type of crash "move over laws" like Colorado's aim to prevent.

"You are required to move at least one lane over, or if you can't move over, to slow down significantly," Lewis said. "Failure to do so is a misdemeanor traffic offense - a $170 fine and four points off your license."

According to Lewis, other offenses that carry that kind of penalty include going 15 mph over the speed limit or causing a wreck.

Colorado's move over law applies to emergency response and maintenance vehicles and has been in effect since 2008, Lewis said.

"Ultimately, if people fail to move over, there's a chance that you could hit or one of us or one our cars," Lewis said. "It's harder to protect everyone else if we can't protect ourselves."

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