RIVERTON — A recent deadly crash in which a sport utility vehicle slammed into a bridge in Fremont County damaged the bridge so badly the state has had to close it and divert traffic to what officials say is a dangerous stretch of highway.
On June 15, a Chevy Tahoe slammed into the Johnstown Bridge near Kinnear and burst into flames. Killed in the one-vehicle accident were driver Irwin Ynostrosa, 22, and passengers Tasha Ware, 20, and Evan Smith, 21. All were residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The accident severed a main stress beam on the 230-foot steel bridge that spans the Wind River on Wyoming Highway 132.
Delbert McOmie, chief engineer with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said he has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to declare an emergency to try to speed up the repair or replacement of the bridge, or the installation of a temporary substitute.
Much of the traffic that used to cross the bridge is now using 17 Mile Road as people seek a route between Riverton and the reservation. The increased traffic on 17 Mile Road worries county and tribal leaders.
"A lot of people have died on that road," said Fremont County Commissioner Pat Hickerson. Although the route is known locally as 17 Mile Road, it's actually a route of more than 30 miles made up of three roads: Wyoming highways 137 and 138 and the actual 17 Mile Road.
Ivan Posey, Eastern Shoshone Business Council chairman, said 17 Mile Road has been a safety issue. "We've always been concerned about that road," he said.
According to statistics from the Wyoming Department of Transportation, 15 people have been killed in crashes on 17 Mile Road since 1994 and about 340 car crashes each resulting in at least $1,000 in property damages have occurred there in the same period.
Although state, tribal and federal officials have been planning to upgrade 17 Mile Road for years, the plans have been slowed by the difficulty of getting rights of way over private tribal trust lands, which often are owned by multiple heirs.