The emergency run-off truck arrestor on Teton Pass didn’t completely stop a pickup truck carrying a load of logs from almost running off the edge of the steep highway Tuesday night, but it did prevent a fatal accident.
“It saved the guy’s life,” Wyoming Highway Trooper Todd Baxter said.
The manufacturers of the ramp and Wyoming Department of Transportation officials will now investigate why it didn’t properly catch the runaway truck.
“It didn’t work the way it should have,” WYDOT foreman Bruce Daigle said. “Usually the nets wrap around the vehicle and they didn’t wrap around like they should have.”
The man’s brakes quit working as he summited the pass Tuesday night, Baxter said, and his truck, which was pulling a flatbed trailer full of 32 large logs, was out of control as he neared Wilson.
The man steered the truck into the arrestor’s catchnet system and barreled through all eight of them, coming out the other end.
“The anticipated performance is for the vehicle to be stopped inside the ramp and not go all the way through,” Baxter said.
Baxter investigated the accident Tuesday night. He said the driver was not in violation of any laws.
“He’s from Riverton and was passing through from Rigby, Idaho, with a load of logs that Yellowstone Park had purchased,” Baxter said. “Shortly after he went over the top he tried to put the brakes on and the brake pedal was soft and then there was no resistance at all. He put the pedal all the way to the floor and there were absolutely no brakes.”
The man quickly shifted to a lower gear, which helped him slow down but as Teton Pass got steeper downhill the truck sped up to 50, then 60, then close to 70 mph.
“He knew he couldn’t take the curves and then he just got lucky,” Baxter said.
The man’s truck plowed into the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s truck arrestor, which is designed with a catchnet system to force out-of-control trucks to stop before barreling over the edge of Teton Pass.
The man told Baxter the impact as his truck hit the first barrier was intense. The nylon straps that were holding down the logs snapped, and the logs went tumbling down the side of the mountain.
“I’m not sure how he’s going to get them out of there,” Baxter said.
The incident was a sight to see: a crumpled-up truck teetering on the side of the cliff. Passers-by were taking photos and videos as they went by, severely slowing the flow of Tuesday night’s commute.
“I could have made a thousand traffic stops if I had the time,” Baxter said. “Taking pictures while driving can get you a citation and it can get you in a bad accident.”
The ramp will be closed as officials investigate the incident. They encourage any other out-of-control vehicles to use the “earth” ramp that’s on the left-hand side of Teton Pass about a half-mile before the new arrestor.
Tuesday night’s truck was the smallest vehicle yet to enter the arrestor, Daigle said.
Daigle estimates the arrestor will be closed for a week or more.
“It’s hard to say, but we will need to test it,” he said.
Signs will be posted on Teton Pass warning drivers of the closure.