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Troopers respond to Teton Pass mayhem


By Kate Ready
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Wyoming State Trooper Todd Baxter slept in Thursday morning after a chaotic Wednesday night running from crash to crash on Teton Pass until close to dawn.

Standstill traffic halted commuters in their tracks after a 5 p.m. snow squall quickly moved in. For some, it took three hours to get home to Teton Valley, Idaho.

Baxter and Trooper Tyler Smith were working to clear “slide-off after slide-off” on Teton Pass until 3:30 a.m. Thursday following a Wednesday afternoon snowstorm that created icy conditions. Baxter said it was the worst day he has worked since winter began.

“Spring snowstorms are always the worst, because some people have already switched out their winter tires, there’s out-of-state people coming into town. … But this was the worst one I’ve experienced this year,” Baxter said.

Around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, during commuter hours, it got “really, really bad,” Baxter told the Jackson Hole Daily. Within 20 minutes, the road went from wet to a sheet of ice that no one could drive over. Even people in vehicles with four-wheel drive and studded tires were slipping.

Baxter said he can’t begin to count the number of slide-offs.

“A lot of people with tow straps were trying to help each other out,” he said. “That saved us a bit of work.”

Baxter and Smith responded to five collisions where vehicles were damaged, mostly from cars sliding into each other.

Each of those collisions required a tow truck, Baxter said, and getting each one on scene took around an hour.

Tow trucks from around the valley were called in to help.

“We had to get tow trucks out of Victor and Driggs because people were so scared to keep going,” Baxter said.

“If it wasn’t for Ron’s Towing, the pass would still be closed,” he said Thursday.

At 7:46 p.m. Wednesday, Baxter made the call to close the pass in both directions. A trailer ban had been implemented Wednesday morning at 6:19 a.m., was lifted around 2 p.m. and then put back into place at 6:35 p.m.

Trailers that got started up the hill before the evening restriction didn’t help the situation. Around 8 p.m., a semi became stuck near mile marker 12.

“By the time we closed the pass to trailers, there were already trailers that were up there,” Baxter said. “People were getting out of their cars, walking around. It was just a complete mess; it was like a free-for-all. It was as slick as I’ve ever seen it.”

Even getting snowplow driver Richard Wilson in place through the gridlocked traffic was an uphill task.

One local man was credited with getting 100 cars off the mountain that otherwise would have been stuck. Baxter said Sean Louden slid off into a ditch between mile markers 11 and 12, where he pulled his shovel out and got to work.

“[Louden] got out, dug through the snow with his shovel and threw dirt onto the road to the point where he could get his truck out,” Baxter said. “This guy continued to shovel dirt onto the road. By doing that, he allowed me to let a lot of cars down off the mountain that were stuck up there.”

Around midnight, Baxter felt the clouds parting and traffic beginning to clear with the westbound lane open. People should have been moving along, but he soon noticed that cars were halting again.

He traveled down toward the base of the pass near Wilson and found a couple more crashes blocking the road.

“Some of it was unprepared visitors, but less than half were out-of-state people,” Baxter said. “The majority of it was people driving older cars who were ill-equipped, almost specifically locals.”

He got those crashes cleaned up, affirmed that Richard Wilson’s plow was getting to work and then promptly found another crash.

“There was a guy with a trailer with a couple cars on it that had been parked in a pullout,” Baxter said. “But at some point in the night, he decided to try again and he crashed.”

Baxter and Smith ultimately left at around 3:30 a.m., a few hours after their shift was supposed to end at 1 a.m. The pass eventually opened at 4:53 Thursday morning.

When it comes to icy roads, hope isn’t the answer, Baxter said.

“Don’t spin your wheels and let traffic back up behind you; turn around,” Baxter said. “People need to be aware if your vehicle is not getting it done, don’t just sit there and hope that it will.”


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