Grisly Start to 2023 on Wyoming’s Roads
In a startling multi-fold increase over 2022’s stats, fatalities on the state’s highways now total 20
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Feb 16, 2023
Sgt. Jeremy Beck, public relations officer for the Wyoming Highway Patrol, reminds motorists that driving slowly, staying focused on the road and wearing a seatbelt can make a crucial difference when it comes to safely navigating the state’s wintry conditions. (Courtesy photo from the Wyoming Highway Patrol via Facebook)
By Melissa Thomasma
Special to the Wyoming Truth
In the first six weeks of 2023, 20 people have lost their lives on Wyoming roads — a grim record high for the past five years. Many of the deaths can be attributed to vehicle wrecks on Interstate 80 along the southern edge of the state, but fatal accidents also have occurred on snow-covered roadways across Wyoming.
“It’s very unfortunate that we’ve experienced 20 fatalities already,” Sgt. Jeremy Beck, public relations officer for the Wyoming Highway Patrol told the Wyoming Truth. “Several of the larger crashes have been multi-vehicle incidents. The first accident occurs, and then other drivers aren’t able to stop and safely navigate around it, which causes a chain reaction.”
Among the accidents:
On Jan. 28, in the dark and driving snow, the Wyoming Highway Patrol worked alongside emergency crews to investigate a collision on Interstate 80 in Carbon County; a total of 44 vehicles collided between two separate crashes. Multiple injuries and one fatality resulted from the pile-up.
On the afternoon of Feb. 4, a Laramie-based highway patrol trooper turned on his emergency lights as he pulled to the side of Interstate 80 to investigate a crash involving a commercial vehicle. He stepped out of his patrol car and was speaking to the tow truck driver on the scene when a passing van lost control at high speed and collided with the tow truck. The trooper sustained only minor injuries. The 79-year old driver of the van, Charles Cirigliango, succumbed to injuries sustained in the crash. He marked the 16th roadway fatality in Wyoming since the beginning of the year — up from only six during the same period in 2022.
On the evening of Feb. 3, a Douglas-based trooper was assisting stranded motorists on Highway 59 when a 53-foot box trailer semi-truck lost control and collided with the patrol vehicle. The trooper, who was inside the vehicle at the time, was transported to the nearest hospital with injuries.
Brutal weather, staff shortages major factors
It’s intense winter conditions, Beck said, that have contributed to the record-high number of wrecks and stranded motorists to date.
“We’ve had more snowfall this year than last,” he said. “And many drivers who are traveling through the state don’t understand that the road can be dry in one spot, and then icy or snow-covered due to blowing snow.”
According to the USDA’s snow water equivalent tracking for 2023, stations along the I-80 corridor are measuring well above average—some over 150% of average for this time of year. The western edge of Wyoming is hovering around an average snowfall, but the northeast and southwestern corners have also stacked up over-average amounts of precipitation. As of February 14, 2022, not a single region of the state was over average; many hovered in the 80th percentile.
Beck also acknowledged that the region’s shortage of snowplow drivers and road maintenance crews means that there can be longer stretches of time between maintenance, which also impacts road safety. Of 450 full-time plow driver positions statewide, 61 are currently vacant. Additionally, Wyoming is also short on state troopers; the current number is 164, leaving 44 positions vacant.
“These folks are working day in and day out, doing so much to keep people safe as they move across the state,” Beck said. “And that’s a lot of strain on those who are out there — long hours, exhausting days — working so that the public can make it to where they need to go.”
Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 4, the Wyoming Highway Patrol received over 1,000 calls for stranded motorists, according to Beck. While this staggering number included some drivers who accidentally slid from slick roadways, a significant number came from motorists who put themselves in dangerous situations.
“We had people drive around gates and into conditions that were drifting and hazardous,” he said. “When the road is closed, it’s for a reason. It’s just not safe.”
The number of troopers patrolling across Wyoming (which has approximately 6,800 miles of highway) varies from day to day, even from hour to hour. When a trooper is assisting one motorist, it can cause a longer wait for another driver who needs potentially more pressing help, Beck said.
In addition to observing road closures and other travel advisories — all of which are available in real-time on the Wyoming 511 mobile app — Beck encourages motorists to drive more slowly, limit distractions even on roads that may be familiar and wear seatbelts to avoid disastrous consequences.
Beck also reminds motorists who plan to drink to also plan for a sober driver. “We had a truly tragic crash near Rawlins last month that claimed the lives of five young adults,” he said. The cause? A possibly intoxicated or otherwise impaired driver.