Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff was killed Wednesday morning when the vehicle she was riding in was struck by a boulder that fell from a cliff along U.S. Highway 40 near Hayden.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff was killed Wednesday morning when the vehicle she was riding in was struck by a boulder that fell from a cliff along U.S. Highway 40 near Hayden.

Woman killed when boulder hits car near Mount Harris on Wednesday

Craig resident headed to work in Steamboat when rock struck car

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9News/courtesy

The boulder that killed Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff tore through the roof of the 2004 Buick in which she was a passenger.

— What began as a typical daily commute for Craig resident Karen Lynn Evanoff ended tragically Wednesday morning on U.S. Highway 40 east of Hayden when a boulder fell on the roof of the car she was riding in, killing her instantly. The unidentified driver of the car was uninjured.

Evanoff was heading to Steam­boat Springs, where she worked as a housekeeper at The Phoenix condominiums near the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The accident occurred at about 7:15 a.m. near Mount Harris, specifically at the cliff band that hugs the north side of U.S. 40 just east of the railroad crossing.

Colorado State Patrol troopers said the basketball-sized boulder struck the 2004 Buick on the passenger side where the windshield meets the vehicle’s roofline. The force of the impact crushed the car’s roof, but the driver was able to pull off onto nearby Routt County Road 52 and bring the vehicle to a controlled stop, troopers said.

As a result, U.S. 40 never closed and the morning commute continued as usual for most Northwest Colorado residents, as well as those motorists using U.S. 40 as a detour for Interstate 70, which remains closed at Glenwood Springs because of a massive rockslide in the Glenwood Canyon that took place early Monday. No one was injured in that incident.

Colorado Department of Trans­portation spokeswoman Min­­dy Crane said a CDOT maintenance crew examined the U.S. 40 accident site Wednesday morning after Evanoff’s death, including climbing up the steep hillside, and determined there was no immediate danger to other motorists. A CDOT geologist traveled to the site from Den­­ver on Wednesday after­noon and spent several hours studying the cliffside. The results of his investigation were not available Wednesday evening, but U.S. 40 remained open.

Crane said CDOT records indicate no serious rock incidents along that stretch of highway since 1998, and she said officials don’t consider it a dangerous area.

“This is a location that’s not common for us to see a lot of rockfall events,” she said. “From what we can tell, it was just a very unusual occurrence. It was just one rock that came down.”

While injuries or death resulting from rockfalls might be rare here, encountering rock debris on Routt County highways is not. That’s particularly true during the late winter and spring months.

Bob Barrett spent more than 30 years as a landslide specialist and the chief geologist for design and construction of I-70 across the Colorado Rockies. Barrett worked for the Wyoming and Colorado departments of transportation and now works in the private sector.

Generally speaking, Barrett said the ongoing weathering process of rocks coupled with specific springtime conditions can result in “catastrophic events” such as a single boulder being freed from its resting spot and propelled down a mountain. Those catastrophic events are most common in spring because of the freeze-thaw cycle, Barrett said. Snowmelt and other forms of water penetrate a rock through fractures and other imperfections or pores. That water freezes overnight, and the pressure of the expansion — sometimes called “frost jacking” — and retraction throughout time decreases the stability of the rock. Those same natural forces can have a tremendous impact on the areas around a rock, including the soil or other geologic structures on which a rock rests.

That hydraulic cycle can cause movement in the rock, sometimes enough to send it tumbling.

Although the force that caused the Mount Harris boulder to fall to U.S. 40 Wednesday morning is unknown — a CDOT engineer told 9News that workers saw a herd of elk on top of the cliffs Wednesday — it’s thought that frost jacking is to blame for the massive rockslide in Glenwood Canyon early Monday that forced the closure of a 17-mile stretch of I-70. One of CDOT’s recommended detours is U.S. 40 through Craig and Steamboat.

CDOT crews have spent the past several days cleaning and repairing the damaged portion of I-70, as well as breaking up a large boulder on the mountainside above the closed section of interstate. Late Wednesday, CDOT reported that crews used dynamite to shatter the boulder in hopes of re-opening I-70 to one lane of traffic in each direction by this evening.

Thoughtful, hard-working woman

Family, friends and co-workers of Evanoff remembered her Wednesday as a kind-hearted, hard-working woman who never hesitated to offer a helping hand.

Evanoff had four children — three sons and a daughter. Craig residents Sadie and Levi Heythaler, Evanoff’s daughter and youngest son, said via text messages late Wednesday that their mother was a wonderful and honest woman who loved her family dearly. She could always elicit a smile, they said, and she loved being in the company of friends and family. Sadie is 20, and Levi is 23.

Teri Wall, a Steamboat Springs resident who worked with Evanoff at The Phoenix from November 2007 until April 2009, said she gave her job everything she had.

“Karen worked a lot,” Wall said Wednesday. “There were times when she worked weeks at a time without a day off.”

But Evanoff never failed to recognize the needs of others, Wall said. “She was really sweet. She’d do anything for you.”

In Wall’s case, that meant Evanoff would seek her out whenever Wall was having a bad day.

“Karen would say, ‘Come on, let’s have a smoke. What do you want to talk about?’”

Dorothy Vallejos, a Craig resident since 1955, said she had known Evanoff since “she was just a tiny girl,” and had worked with her at The Phoenix.

Vallejos said Evanoff would have celebrated her 56th birthday today.

Evanoff was born and raised in Craig, Vallejos said. She described Evanoff as a “quiet person, a hard-working girl who loved animals.”

“Any time I needed something, she was willing to help me,” she said, “no matter what it was.”

There is not yet any information about a memorial service.

The Craig Daily Press and Associated Press contributed to this report.

Comments

carn 4 years, 9 months ago

"Crane said CDOT records that date back to 1998 don't reveal any other rock incidents at Mount Harris."

CDOT needs to check further back. Sometime in the mid-80's to early 90's I remember a substantial rockslide in that area. I don't remember all the details, but it happened during the morning commute hours and either narrowly missed a school bus, or a bus had very recently passed through that particular area. Maybe area newspaper archives still have the info.

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als362 4 years, 9 months ago

I am not a road/bridge engineer either, but the only workable idea I have come up with so far is a reinforced concrete snowshed type structure over the roadway. Of course this would cost millions, perhaps billions of dollars just for this area. To do something like that over I-70 would cost much more. Nets are another option, but they require constant maintemance. If anyone else has any ideas post them, I would like to read them.

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David Moore 4 years, 9 months ago

My condolences to the family, I did not know this person but was shocked and saddened to hear about it. What a tragedy.

This spot and the part that hugs the cliff side about a mile away seem very susceptible to slides and rocks falling, which is something only nature itself can control. With the variable warm to freezing, rain and snow creating mud and loose debris, I'm very surprised a major portion of either place has not come down yet, might be just a matter of time before it does...this could be the precursor. I do agree however that more diligent monitoring of this heavily traveled area would be prudent but there seems to be no feasible solutions to bypass or control the rocks falling off of them without spending millions of dollars...which is not available (except if we all lived on the front range, then it would be fixed tomorrow). I seem to remember a portion that slid into the road on the corners between the two long straights just after Milner, going west. A large piece of the hill slid into the road and its scar is still evident today if you know where to look, it is also guarded by several of those large concrete barriers. I would not call it a "freak" accident and those that think rocks falling there are "very, very rare" are fooling themselves.

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calvinhobbs 4 years, 9 months ago

The big fall in the 80's did come down right after the Milner bus went through. Mrs. Rolando the driver saw it happen in her mirror as she was approaching the tracks. The rocks that were moved out are at the east side by cnty road 52. Another man was killed in the 70's when a rock went through the front windshield of his truck. every spring this happens due to the thaw and then nightly freezes. CDOT does need to look at some ways to mitigate this. But again it is all $$$$

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slade72 4 years, 9 months ago

I knew Karen but My roommate Lawrence Herrera knew her so much better than I did. We are both saddened and shocked by this tragic event. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family and many friends. Karen was an awesome individual with a kind heart, she will be greatly missed.

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David Moore 4 years, 9 months ago

The difference is being reported or not...not everyone is going to report rocks coming down and that may be why the powers to be keep saying it is so rare. I only drive this route on Mondays so my chances of seeing something actively falling are slim. I do however see rocks down that were not there the week before, evidence that they are coming down. Maybe some see them and risk stopping to clear them out of the way, smaller ones that is. As far as house sized or even couch sized rocks coming down, I would agree it is a rarity. Obviously one the size of a basketball can be damaging enough. Using chain and netting is a good idea but it will not stop the larger ones from coming down, that method does have its limitations but it might prevent something such as yesterday from happening again. At least it is going to be addressed, what the outcome will be we will have to wait and see. It does seem that everyone, or most that drive that stretch of road are concerned, and with every right to be. Lets be proactive, just once.

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eieiolrighty 4 years, 9 months ago

I remember a rock slide in the 80's and then again in the last 10 years. There was a motor home with I believe a group of kids coming to play baseball. We saw the dust every where before going around the corner. The driver had slammed on his breaks and the rocks crashed in front of him. They need to check their records again......

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Misty Hyre 4 years, 9 months ago

The Family of Karen L. (Rutherford) Evanoff would like to express their gratitude at the outpouring of sympathy and support during this most difficult time. The services will be held Monday, March 15 at Grant Mortuary in Craig, CO at 2:00 p.m.

Karen's family is looking for good homes for her displaced animals. These pets were like family to Karen and we would like to see them go in pairs if at all possible. There are 6 cats and one dog that currently need loving homes. If anyone is interested please contact Misty (Karen's DIL) at mgrayhyre@yahoo.com.

Thank you.

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MtnRider2 4 years, 9 months ago

If you don't think this is a real problem, take a look at either end of this pass. There are stock piles of rocks and bolders that are gathered up then removed after theres enough to load a couple truck. I,ve seem them being cleaned up. This isn't the only spot with a faitality waiting to happen either... the wall on the north side of Hamilton is another example, as well as as two other areas north of there. I can remmber several road closures by Stan Hathorns with rocks big enough to distroy a semi-truck, requiring a frontend loader to clear the rocks, Even seen this first hand and herd of others in this area. These over hanging rock walls may be pretty, but if any of the local mines were to have ground control (or lack of) like this they would be shut down till it was corrected. The State of Colorado has looked the other way on the Mt. Harris highwall since it was built, Not only are the walls a threat, but now with the new laws for bicyclers were you have to give them another 3 feet of a road and drive even closer. These problem areas need drilled and the walls angled back to support the load above or .... even rerouted. Not cheep either way, but then a life isn't also.

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