Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Side Streets: The rest of the story on the 1964 Pikes Peak Highway crash

4 photos photo - Dean Yowell holds a photo showing the aftermath of a spectacular wreck on the Pikes Peak Highway on June 30, 1964, during a practice round of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Yowell was riding in a Jeep stationwagon that collided, head-on, with a Corvette racing up the mountain at about 75 mph. Yowell suffered serious injuries in the wreck, which occured at a time the mountain was supposed to be closed to racing. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette. + caption
Dean Yowell holds a photo showing the aftermath of a spectacular wreck on the Pikes Peak Highway on June 30, 1964, during a practice round of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Yowell was riding in a Jeep stationwagon that collided, head-on, with a Corvette racing up the mountain at about 75 mph. Yowell suffered serious injuries in the wreck, which occured at a time the mountain was supposed to be closed to racing. Bill Vogrin / The Gazette.
By Bill Vogrin Updated: July 20, 2014 at 11:53 am

Dean Yowell wants to set the record straight.

Once and for all.

After 50 years.

So here goes.

He and his best buddy, Emil Knoepke, did not cause the head-on wreck with race car driver Tommy Jamison on the Pikes Peak Highway on June 30, 1964, that injured four and sent Yowell and the racer to the hospital with serious injuries.

There! Any questions?

Yowell only brings this up because a brief item on the wreck surfaced recently in the Back Pages feature of The Gazette on the 50th anniversary of the incident.

Ironically, the item appeared on the same day as a banner headline on the front page blared "TRAGEDY ATOP PEAK" with stories and photos of motorcycle racer Bobby Goodin, who crashed just beyond the finish line and died during The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on the previous day.

The Back Pages item inside told a similar story.

"Disaster stalked race car trials on Pikes Peak today, with five men injured, four of them in a shattering, head-on collision midway between Crystal Creek and Glen Cove. Thom Jamison was driving his Sting Ray racing vehicle up the highway on a practice stretch when he collided with a Jeepster passenger car driven by Emil Knoepke, 14 S. Garo Ave., who was driving down from Glen Cove."

That item didn't assign blame. But it has always bothered Yowell that similar reports over the years implied he and Knoepke were driving on the highway when they should have been parked.

Not true, said the 85-year-old retired telephone company line man.

"The way I read it, it sounds like we were just coming down the road and had no business being there and caused the wreck," Yowell said. "We were officials. I was an official on the Hill Climb for nine years. We were clearing the road. It was supposed to be closed."

It's important to remember that race officials were communicating by two-way radios and sometimes things get garbled in transmission. It could explain how, miles below, Jamison was allowed to roar away from the starting line for his practice run while Knoepke and Yowell were driving down, getting spectators to move their cars off the track and clearing boulders.

It seemed Jamison never saw the 1958 Jeep station wagon.

Yowell estimates Jamison was going 75 mph when he rounded a curve in his Corvette and plowed straight into the Jeep, going about 25 mph. It was a spectacular collision.

"My head went into the windshield," Yowell said. "It split my head open, and I was bleeding heavily.

"The engine came back into my legs and busted my ankle."

The impact and injuries left Yowell unconscious. He has a photo of the aftermath showing the smashed front end of the Jeep with a shattered windshield. And Jamison's No. 10 car an unrecognizable mess with its wheel turned underneath and the fiberglass front of the Corvette torn away.

Yowell is seen lying on the ground next to the Jeep as others attend to him.

"I heard them saying: 'Dean's losing too much blood. He's going to die. He'll never make it down,'?" Yowell said. "A priest gave me last rites. And then I remember waking up at Penrose Hospital where a neurosurgeon sewed me up."

Jamison also suffered severe injuries.

"Tommy lost his right kneecap when the emergency brake flew off," Yowell said. "But a year later, he had twin boys, so he didn't lose everything."

The memory is vivid in his mind 50 years later. In fact, Yowell remembers the names and details of most events in his life as if they happened yesterday.

In his Shooks Run home, Yowell can recount his life, starting with his family's relocation here in 1937 after giving up on farming in Kansas.

In fact, he has lived most all his life within a half block or so of the family's original Shooks Run home, including the past six decades in the house he built with Mary Frances, his wife of 59 years and counting.

Yowell reels off names and dates so fast it's hard to keep up.

He started Dec. 22, 1947, with Mountain Bell and spent much of his 35-year career on line gangs erecting poles, stringing wires and doing repairs across Colorado and the Midwest.

"I've climbed every telephone pole from 30th Street to Manitou Springs," he said with pride.

But that's not all. He was on crews who installed lines across the prairie, from Denver to El Paso, Texas.

And he worked in the high country, stringing phone lines on steep, rocky mountainsides.

He describes how Mary Frances held the family together after the wreck left him disabled for weeks. And how her father, a coal miner in the Pikeview Mine, warned them not to buy a house above the honeycombed hills of Rockrimmon fearing eventual subsidence would wreck neighborhoods.

He has a thousand great stories, such as how he suffered a severe leg injury while serving in the Navy during the Korean War when his ship, the USS Frontier, came under air attack. Gunfire from a plane caused a cable to snap, whipping across the deck and catching Yowell in its deadly whiplash.

Or there was the time he was attacked while working as a security guard at the old St. Francis Hospital in the Hillside neighborhood.

Or how he visited the Cotton Club with a friend, who was black, and received a kiss on the cheek from owner Fannie Mae Duncan welcoming him.

But Yowell really only wants to talk about the wreck. And how the road was supposed to be closed. And it wasn't their fault.

"The good Lord was riding with me that day," Yowell said of his survival. "And I had my seat belt on."

I'm glad he did.

-

Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.

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