Last Thursday hundreds of motorists were delayed for hours due to a police investigation of a “suspicious” recreational vehicle that was obstructing traffic near the Cave of the Winds exit on Highway 24.
Traffic was closed in both directions while the situation unfolded. This created much frustration for commuters, tourists and gamblers, with the resounding fear of “here we go again.” To make matters worse, false rumors abounded regarding an active shooter on the prowl. Some shoppers and shop patrons were even verbally warned about the situation.
Just before 3:30 p.m., Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials discovered “suspicious items” near the mobile home and reported it to the Colorado State Patrol. When the State Patrol approached the camper, a man and woman came out. The man then ignored the troopers’ commands and went back inside. The woman told the officers she was a concealed carry permit holder, and had a gun inside the RV. She then proceeded to run away.
Police feared the RV was a mobile meth lab and took the situation seriously enough to involve the El Paso County Sheriff’s SWAT team, bomb squad, and the State Patrol’s HAZMAT unit.
After a two-hour-long standoff, the man surrendered, but it wasn’t over for motorists, who had to endure the highway closure for another three-plus hours while the investigation shifted to the RV.
“We sat there for an hour and a half to travel three miles,” Corey McBride said. McBride was one of the many drivers stuck in the mess on Highway 24.
“Pretty much a standstill to 1 mph,” Sunil Patel described the traffic. “We eventually missed the exit, but when we turned around from Serpentine and tried to come back — was about two miles — it took one and a half hours.”
The man and woman in the RV were taken into custody by El Paso County Sheriff’s Department but subsequently released with no charges filed, because the man never brandished the weapon nor did he threaten anyone.
It is still unclear what the “suspicious items” that initiated the incident were.
CDOT has closed the highway in the Ute Pass area nine times since May 2014. The highway was closed 17 times in 2013, including for three flood events. The worst flooding happened on Aug. 9, when mud and debris covered the highway, and one person was killed.
Last week’s incident marked the first major highway closure of the summer. This is a sensitive subject for local business and casino owners, as they are predicting a banner season for 2016 due to the flood mitigation work.
Now, the Colorado Department of Transportation is offering several new methods to keep the public informed.
CDOT will continue to use electronic sign boards for notifications, but it also now will offer email and text alerts to notify drivers and the community about road conditions, closures and/or openings, crashes, and other impacts to Highway 24.
To subscribe, visit www.coloradodot.info and click on the green cell-phone icon in the upper, right-hand corner. The link goes a list of items drivers can subscribe to, including U.S. 24 Ute Pass.