First Winter Storm Leaves Fatality, Frustration
The first major snow storm of 2017 left behind more than two feet of snow in some sections of Leadville, as well as Lake County’s first weather-related fatality.
Lake County Search and Rescue (LCSAR) crews remained vigilant during yesterday’s mission at Turquoise Lake, located 5 miles west of Leadville. Initial concerns of two skiers who had not returned from a backcountry outing were reported late on Wednesday, Jan. 4, turning the situation into an official search and rescue by Thursday morning. Crews mobilized under the command of Lake County’s Emergency Manager Mike McHargue. In addition to local emergency personnel including Lake County Sherriff’s Department and the Lake County Search and Rescue, the U.S. Forrest Service, Chaffee County Search/Rescue and Summit County Search/Rescue lent their services both in the field and as support to the command post.
By late Thursday morning, reports began coming into the LT news room from friends of the lost skiers identifying the two people as being from Salida, located 60 miles south of Leadville. By early afternoon reputable sources, including local officials were able to confirm to LT that the missing skiers were 47-year-old Brett Beasley and a 14-year old male, the son of Salida physician Dr Joel Schaler of the First Street Family Health. Beasley is an employee of the US Forest Service in Salida and is noted as a project manager in several backcountry operations. He is reported to have solid outdoor experience and the duo was traveling with the recommended supplies and beacons to assure a safer journey.
As blizzard conditions continued to challenge the situation, rescue efforts were initially hampered by well-intended volunteers who choose to “self-deploy” and initiate their own rescue efforts, thus complicating the official process of backcountry safety assessment for rescue teams, in addition to creating other tracks/trails and confusion. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the command post to regain communication control and re-direct volunteer efforts in a more productive manner by supporting rescue management’s directive. It was a long, cold day in the field.
While initial reports from officials indicated that this rescue mission would have a happy ending for all involved, unfortunately, it didn’t. While the 14-year-old male was reunited with his family and is seeking medical treatment, Beasley eventually succumbed to his medical condition brought on by hypothermia in the frozen tundra. By 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan 5, the LCSAR Facebook page reported his death:
“The search for the two missing hikers has concluded. The young man was found and transported to get medical treatment. It’s with a heavy heart that we share that the other victim was found, but had progressed too far into hypothermia to be saved despite rescue crews efforts to revive him. All members of the rescue effort returned safely.
“Also, we would like to please remind the public that, though we admire your intentions and do not doubt your skill, please do not “self deploy” in an attempt to aid in search efforts. Our teams not only have proper safety and communication equipment, but most of all, accountability. If SAR does ask for qualified volunteers, please contact incident command before entering the back country. LCSAR is an all volunteer based group, so if you’re interested in joining, please contact us on this page for more info. Stay safe. Know the snow conditions. Never go alone.” — LCSAR
At the time of this post, there has been no word regarding any memorial service for Beasley. LT will relay that information when it becomes available.
Heartbreak turned to frustration for local residents as Leadvillites were challenged to simply move about the city yesterday. In addition to snow-ladened roadways, a portion of Highway 24 south of Leadville was closed for 4 hours Thursday evening as road and emergency crews aided in the clean-up of an overturned semi-truck. The fuel tanker was involved in a single vehicle crash at mm 170 approximately a mile south of CO Hwy 300, more commonly known as the turn off to the Fish Hatchery. The tanker was transporting fuel which then had to be extracted in near blizzard conditions, shutting down the main southern thoroughfare into town. With no alternative route possible, many commuters were trapped on one side or the other of the accident, a mere ten minutes from home. According to Colorado Department of Transporation the highway officially re-opened at 8:28 p.m.
Meanwhile a bit closer to home, city residents took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the city’s snow removal.
“There comes a time when roads need plowed for public safety,” stated Leadville resident Wayne Thomas on his Facebook Page last night. “Some roads in Leadville are the worst I have ever seen in the City of Leadville. Budget for roads needs to be a lot better and clean them up when there is no snow. County seems to do pretty good. I understand when we get this much snow it’s hard to keep up. Yesterday it took me a hour and a half to come from Buena Vista the roads were a mess.”
Others were not so delicate, as they rang the LT news office with their complaints. One local plow truck driver expressed that his own 4-wheel drive plow truck had been defeated by the mounds of snow, becoming stuck and mechanically compromised due to the local street conditions.
Another LT reader Max Sandquist wrote: “Does anyone have any info for Leadville’s snow removal policy this year? I remember getting a flyer last year. This winter’s snow removal seems pretty pathetic so far.”
After being directed to the municipal code outlined on the city’s new website, he responded: “No, I’m talking about the policy for Leadville to remove snow from public streets and not make huge obnoxious piles in front of people’s homes and/or businesses. There was a trifold brochure sent out last year, I’m guessing because of the amount of complaints. This year seems to be worse.”
And while most are looking down at the icy, snow-packed roads, others are looking up, concerned about the rooftops, particularly when it comes to Harrison Avenue’s historic gems. After all, it was only two years ago that residents watched in dismay as the roof to the historic Sayer Mckee building crumbled under the winter snow.
LT received several calls concerning the city’s recent purchase, Leadville’s historic Tabor Opera House and the 2-3 feet of snow that now rests atop the 138 year old building. Who’s in charge of that now, they asked?
According to Leadville’s Administrative Services Manager Sarah Dallas the maintenance of the building is the city’s responsibility: “The City of Leadville is maintaining the snow removal for the Tabor Opera House as with all the other city owned properties throughout town.” At present, the city does have a contract in place with local business Snowcats for snow removal when it comes to the sidewalks, but the paperwork DOES NOT indicate that snow removal from the roof of the historic structure is covered. Tick Tock! And while LT always welcomes hearing from readers, when it comes to dissatisfaction with city snow removal, please be encouraged to call your local city representatives, that contact information can be found HERE.
The days ahead do not indicate any reprieve from winter’s grip, as temperatures are likely to remain hovering around freezing during the day, dropping into the teens at night. And while residents may see the sun make an appearance today, its visit will be short with more snow in the forecast. People should also pay particular attention to the historic west coast storm forecasted to make it to Leadville Saturday night into Sunday – more BIG SNOW on the way!
Fortunately for Leadville students and parents the silver lining to the road nightmare is that Lake County School District is on winter break until January 10. Hopefully by then, some of the snow will be cleared and sunny skies, along with brighter dispositions will return to America’s Highest City.