Driver lands in Hoback River
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
October 27, 2012
A 79-year-old Kelly resident rolled her pickup truck into the Hoback River on Thursday morning after losing control on the icy highway.
Justine Bruteig, a longtime valley resident retired from a job with the state Department of Workforce Services, was in the intensive care unit Friday afternoon at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. She was in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Bruteig suffered numerous injuries, including a compound fracture in her leg, after rolling her 2001 Ford pickup truck down a steep embankment around 9:40 a.m. Thursday while driving south in the Hoback Canyon, Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Kelly said. She was at mile marker 155, between Hoback Junction and Bondurant, when she hit a patch of ice and lost control of her truck.
Luckily, another driver saw Bruteig’s truck veer off Highway 191 and quickly flagged down a snow plow driver.
“She was at a point where we wouldn’t have seen her right away,” Kelly said.
Within minutes, a state highway trooper was on the scene along with Fire/EMS Chief Willy Watsabaugh, who was driving through the canyon on his way back from hunting. The two men jumped in the river with the woman, whose truck was partially submerged, and spent the next 45 minutes trying to help her.
By 10:15 a.m., other highway troopers had arrived, with Fire/EMS and Teton County Search and Rescue volunteers close behind. They had to cut away pieces of the vehicle to extricate Bruteig, then carried her back to the highway on a backboard.
She was initially brought to St. John’s Medical Center. Later, she was transferred to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, Kelly said.
Bruteig, who has three children, was described as an “incredibly nice lady” by a neighbor who has lived near her for roughly 30 years. She took up painting after she retired and has taken several trips to take painting classes and attend seminars, he said.
The accident was one of many highway patrolmen have seen over the last few days, though it was the most serious. In the wake of the first snows of the season, cars have slid off slick, icy roads recently, primarily in the Snake River and Hoback canyons, Kelly said.
Police have also been handing out many citations for large trucks whose drivers have ignored the restriction on trailer traffic in effect on Teton Pass.
While most of the accidents haven’t been serious, they have caused plenty of problems.
On Thursday morning, a semitrailer got stuck on the pass due to slick conditions and blocked the eastbound lane of traffic for four hours, Kelly said. They had to call a wrecker to move the truck.
“People need to slow down, increase their following distance, make sure they have the proper equipment for their vehicle, proper tires, windshield wipers,” Kelly said.
The rash of accidents is a hallmark of early-season storms, one that typically doesn’t fade away until after a couple of rounds of winter weather, Kelly said.
Highway patrol doesn’t have the manpower to bring on any extra troopers, Kelly said.
They’re still bracing for the next few storms.