Split seconds before the semitrailer rolled, Gene Johnson knew what was going to happen next. He was stopped for a red light not long after 8 a.m. at 35th Avenue and U.S. 34 in Greeley in a line of traffic. He was on his way to pick a friend up on the north side of town in his pickup, but then the semitrailer caught his eye. The truck was moving fast, Johnson said, and it didn’t slow when it took the turn south on 35th Avenue. Greeley Police Department Sgt. Mike Heck said witness statements and crash evidence shows the semitrailer was going too fast to make the turn. “He came flying around the corner,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘he’s done, he lost it,’ and sure enough, over he went.”
Johnson watched as the semitrailer tilted, then began to roll into the parked vehicles in the northbound lane of 35th Avenue. Hauling produced water for oil and gas production, the semitrailer’s haul shifted as the driver attempted to turn, causing the vehicle to fall on its side and plow into seven other vehicles stopped on 35th Avenue. “(The semitrailer) acted like a big snowplow and pushed all the cars to the side,” Johnson said. Johnson said the semitrailer sent another vehicle careening into his Silverado. It damaged his truck, he said, and it crushed his driver’s side door into his knee, but the injury wasn’t serious. He ignored the pain then got out to look at the crash.
A red pickup was crushed in between the semitrailer and a Greeley Evans Transit bus, he said. The cab of the semitrailer had pinned the pickup to the side of the bus. Heck estimated the pickup was pushed into the passenger compartment of the bus as far as 2 feet inside. Johnson and other people nearby ran to the twisted wreckage of the pickup. There were small children inside, Johnson said. He and the other bystanders tried to open the truck’s doors. “We were trying to yank (the doors) open,” he said. “We finally got the rear door open and got them out.”
The children were in a daze, he said, as was the driver of the pickup. But they all were alive. By pure luck, Heck said, no one on the bus was sitting where the pickup smashed into the side of the bus. Two people were taken to a nearby hospital, according to Heck, but the injuries turned out to be minor. “Looking out there and walking around, it was a shock to everybody. … We cannot believe that there weren’t serious injuries,” Heck said. The driver of the semitrailer had a bloody nose, but he still kicked open the cab of the wrecked vehicle and got out. Then the first responders arrived. The Greeley Fire Department sent multiple ladder trucks, and the Greeley Police Department shut down traffic in both directions on 35th Avenue south of U.S. 85. The produced water the semitrailer hauled had splashed across 35th Avenue, and hazmat crews threw dirt on it.
Crews closed the storm drain to keep produced water from leaking into the system, Heck said. Police arrested the driver for reckless driving and other traffic offenses. Heck said the driver had a Mexico driver’s license. Though police initially believed the license was fraudulent, but the license was valid. Heck said the North American Free Trade Agreement allows Mexico driver’s licenses for CDL operations. Police believe the driver to be 23-year-old Cesar Trevizo-Rascon. By about 9:30 a.m., a bulldozer appeared to help clear the wreckage as crowds of bystanders stood in the open space nearby and took videos with their cell phones. The bulldozer, Heck explained, helped form a levee to contain the spilled produced water. Crews were still cleaning up the wreckage and had traffic blocked by about 10:45 a.m. By noon, the vehicles were towed from the scene as hazmat continued to clean up the produced water. According to Greeley police Lt. Mike Zeller, the road was open to traffic once again by 12:28 p.m. Tuesday.