SUBLETTE COUNTY – A gasfield employee traveling home to Idaho remained in “critical” condition and on life support last week after his northbound truck collided with another traveling south on U.S. Highway 191 on Thursday morning, April 6.
Brock Mitchell, of Iona, Idaho, was driving his Dodge Ram pickup in the wrong lane as he went past milepost 125 on Highway 191 between Daniel and the Rim, according to Wyoming Highway Patrol (WHP) Lt. Klief Guenther.
Mitchell worked for a contractor used by Pinedale Anticline operator Ultra Petroleum, he said, adding Mitchell was off duty at the time.
The southbound truck in the same lane was a ¾-ton Chevy owned by Peterbilt, Inc., of Idaho Falls, and used for parts delivery; driver Patrick Smith and his passenger and fiancée Debbie Tillman, both of Idaho Falls, were heading to Pinedale, Guenther said Thursday.
“The Dodge was traveling north in the southbound lane of travel,” he said, adding WHP is still investigating exactly what happened – if Mitchell fell asleep or was otherwise impaired by use of methamphetamine, which allegedly was found on his person and in the truck.
“The vehicles met on the southbound lane’s fog line, headlight to headlight on the driver’s side,” he said, with both drivers’ trucks so seriously damaged they were extracted by first responders’ “jaws of life.”
The collision was reported around 8 a.m. after both trucks, traveling at speeds of at least 70 mph, crashed with an estimated impact force of 140 mph and without braking. Cabs in both vehicles were crushed, confining occupants to limited space.
Other travelers stopped to check on the seriously injured passengers, including Mitchell, who was the only who suffered severe head trauma, according to Guenther. They also threw snow from the roadside on the Chevy, which had caught fire.
All three wore seatbelts and their airbags fully deployed, which “absolutely” saved their lives, Guenther said; all three suffered serious internal injuries and broken bones.
The collision brought an immediate and full response from law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel.
Mitchell was flown in an Air Idaho Rescue helicopter to Eastern Idaho Medical Center (EIRMC) in Idaho Falls where he was in the intensive care unit last week with an “unknown” chance of survival, according to Guenther.
Smith was going to be moved by a second helicopter but emergency medical responders were concerned his condition was too unstable for the flight and also transported him and Tillman by ambulance to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson.
Smith was then airflifted to University of Utah Hospital, where he is in the ICU but stable; Tillman was flown from Jackson to Idaho Falls where she is in stable condition and recovering, Guenther said of the couple.
The three injured were not identified immediately after the collision, with those responding calling it “one of the most violent head-on incidents they’ve seen in years.”
While Mitchell was being treated for his injuries, medical personnel reported finding what appeared to be meth in a container in his clothing, Guenther said. After getting a search warrant for Mitchell’s Dodge truck, Guenther said he found what appeared to be more meth; charges for a felony amount of the illegal drug are pending in Idaho and Wyoming.
“There are no citations at this time,” Guenther said.
Reporter Mike Moore contributed to this article.