WEB EXCLUSIVE: Brave bystanders save 3 from burning car in Glenwood Canyon

Photo courtesy of Johnathan Goodman
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (KKCO) -- In the early morning darkness of 4 a.m., truck driver Johnathan Goodman could barely make out the dark canyon walls on either side of him, but he knew how they twisted and turned. He had driven this stretch of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon hundreds of times on his way between Denver and Grand Junction.

"Those are some of the worst times to be on the road because of fatigue," said Goodman. "People fall asleep all the time."

But in all his years on the road, the Grand Junction driver had never seen anything like the crash he drove up on near milemarker 127 on May 22 around 4:30 a.m.

"The only thing I saw was a ball of fire," said Goodman.

A 100-yard trail of debris led him to a horrific sight: a heavily damaged tractor trailer carrying beer and a 2012 Mazda missing its front-- both with people inside, both on fire.

As he looked into the car, he could make out four people trapped in the wreckage.

Goodman, two other truck drivers and a female witness flew to their aid. The drivers grabbed fire extinguishers from their semis and tried to suppress the flames growing from the fuel tank at the back of the car.

"There was an elderly man in the passenger seat," said Goodman. "He kept saying something about the babies."

So the rescuers made it their priority to get the two children -- a four-year-old boy and a 25-year-old woman -- out of the back seat. They broke open the back window and forced open one of the doors.

Goodman pulled out the boy and handed him to another truck driver, while others rescued the woman in the backseat and the 53-year-old man.

"And at that time, I went back for the driver," said Goodman. "I wasn't able to get the driver out of the vehicle, and by that time, the vehicle was engulfed in flames."

By the time emergency crews arrived, the female driver had died.

Goodman says when they were pulled from the Mazda, the young woman was unconscious, the man was conscious and "pretty beat up," and the little boy was conscious but not very responsive -- most likely in shock.

The semi driver involved in the crash was able to walk away from his flaming cab.

Weaving their way through traffic, Glenwood Fire crews were the first ones to arrive on scene 10 to 15 minutes after the crash happened, Goodman said.

As other agencies arrived, the victims were taken to a hospital in Vail, while workers began the long clean-up. I-70 was partially closed for nearly nine hours, and it was at least four hours before Goodman and the other witnesses were released.

"It was a little emotional the first day. Yesterday was a little rough. It's a lot to take in," said Goodman.

Later on May 22, Colorado State Patrol investigators determined that the Mazda's female driver, going east on I-70, had drifted into the westbound lane and collided head-on with the semi truck.

The Mazda came to a stop in the westbound lane, facing east, while the trailer continued westbound and crashed into the cement highway barrier on the south side of the interstate.

One saddle tank flew off the semi, and the other was punctured, spilling about 100 gallons of diesel on to the road.

In the end, there was nothing left of the vehicles but charred remains.

This is the second recent fatal accident on this stretch of Glenwood Canyon. On April 14, three people died when an Audi crashed head-on with a semi. CSP says the car's driver had been drinking and driving.

The cause of Monday's crash has not been released, nor has the identity of the victims. Goodman suspects that the woman had fallen asleep behind the wheel and driven into oncoming traffic.

CSP Sergeant Mike Baker says the 53-year-old man is in moderate condition, receiving treatment at Valley View Hospital in Vail. The woman and the boy were transferred to Denver hospitals, where they are both in serious condition.

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