INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - State transportation officials had planned to improve the Mt. Rose Highway runaway truck ramp after a trucker struck it in 2003, but it's not clear if anything was done, an official said Monday, three days after a man was killed and a two-story residential home was destroyed in a similar incident.
Scott Magruder, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation, said the department is still trying to collect information to see what, if any, improvements were made after the 2003 incident when Richard Densmore, 40, crashed his truck into one of the three gravel piles and subsequently cartwheeled into a tree before a lurching halt at the ramp's crest, according to previous North Lake Tahoe Bonanza reports. Densmore suffered modest injuries.
After the crash, NDOT was reported to have investigated possible improvements for the ramp, according to a May 21, 2003, Bonanza story, and had planned to deepen each ramp pit and pave the bottom to keep dirt from working its way up into the gravel, which could cause the gravel to stick together and not work well in slowing vehicles.
Magruder said crews will work this week to repair the ramp after Friday's fatal crash. Initial reports concluded a man - whose name still has yet to be released - lost control of his lumber-hauling truck after its brakes failed, and he catapulted off the runaway truck ramp near the intersection of highways 431 and 28 in Incline Village, flying through the air and landing on the home at Woodridge Circle. Incline resident Gwen Ewasko, 19, was the lone person inside the home, and she escaped without injury. Four pet cats died in the fire.
Magruder said he does not believe there was anything faulty about the design of the ramp when the incident occurred. He said the ramp had worked successfully since it was constructed in October 1978.
"... We're confident this ramp will do its job to stop a truck," Magruder said.
Friday's incident marked the third major truck crash in the past nine years at the ramp. In May 2002, according to previous Bonanza reports, a truck carrying gypsum wallboard and a hydraulic lift was also sent airborne with the driver, 23-year-old Manuel Ortega-Portillo, suffering moderate head injuries and having to be airlifted for medical attention. The truck came to rest next to the same house on Woodridge Circle, which was damaged slightly from flying debris.
After the 2002 crash, NDOT performed a six-week renovation that included dumping 110 tons of gravel to make four or five last-ditch mounds at the top of the ramp, according to a July 12, 2002, Bonanza story. The mounds, which grow progressively larger uphill, are meant to stop trucks that the downhill gravel path doesn't halt.
On Monday, Magruder said NDOT officials will evaluate the ramp to determine if it needs safety improvements; he said the department is waiting for a complete incident report before making any decisions because it should describe the weight and load of the vehicle, as well as what angle it hit the ramp.
"Everyone is wondering what caused this to happen and we're wondering the same thing too," Magruder said.
Magruder estimates the incident report could be completed in about a week. The Nevada Highway Patrol is conducting the investigation.
When asked what possible improvements NDOT may consider, Magruder said the department will most likely lean toward the most cost-effective strategy, although he said nothing has been ruled out.
Higher-cost solutions could be purchasing more property to either extend the truck ramp or to create another ramp higher up the steep highway. Lower-cost solutions, he said, would be to add additional barriers such as water barrels or to increase the depth of the ramp's gravel pits.