Ronin Zell doesn’t remember the moment his truck careened into the Teton Pass arrestor.
“I remember pulling off and being able to stop with my e-brake, then right after that I just remember flying into the thing,” he said of the Friday morning crash.
Zell’s unexpected highway exit is a reminder that the truck arrestor is back in action after a long period of being out of commission. His Toyota Tacoma pickup lost its brakes Friday morning coming down the eastern side of Teton Pass, but the driver steered into the arrestor, Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Matt Brackin said. The arrestor, a series of cable nets intended to slow an out-of-control vehicle, “worked flawlessly.”
Driving eastbound over the pass, Zell lost his brakes somewhere near the Phillips Canyon trailhead, he said. Using his e-brake, he thought he had stopped in a pullout above the arrestor, but something happened and his truck continued rolling downhill.
Though he doesn’t remember those intervening moments, he was able to steer the truck toward the arrestor. He thinks he hit the concrete wall at the mouth of the structure before hitting the first net, which stopped him about 50 feet after he entered the arrestor.
“The whole left front end of the truck was just totally bent in the frame,” Zell said.
When he talked to the News&Guide on Friday, Zell said that he was pretty sore but didn’t seem to have any major injuries from the crash. Responders checked him out on scene before he went to the emergency room at St. John’s Health, and he went home that afternoon.
Not being able to recall the details of the crash is not uncommon, even without a traumatic brain injury. When the brain faces a life-threatening situation like Zell was in, the compensatory steps it takes to escape might impair memory creation.
“The mind and the body enter a more alert but also more stressed state, with trade-offs that can save your life, but harm your mind’s memory-making abilities,” states an article in Scientific American.
Zell’s experience might have been different had the arrestor still been broken, as it has been for a good part of the past two years. It required extensive repairs after a truck hauling logs went through all but the last few cable nets in September 2019.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation then installed a sand barrel array as a temporary fix while it figured out how to repair the structure. It has been redesigned and rebuilt, ready for summer when tractor-trailers are allowed to drive Teton Pass.