ELKO – Northeastern Nevada’s robust mining community was stunned by a fatal collision Saturday morning between a bus carrying miners to work and an ore-hauling truck coming from a mine.
Two people were killed and five remained hospitalized Monday, two days after the crash on a winding strip of highway between Interstate 80 and several mines on the Carlin Trend.
The head-on collision happened shortly after 6 a.m. on State Route 766 about six miles north of Carlin. The driver of the ore truck and a passenger in the bus were killed.
Rocky Witt was a 62-year-old underground paste plant operator at the Meikle Mine who was riding the bus to work. Andrew G. Nash, 28, was driving the semi. Both were Spring Creek residents.
Witt was a Nevada Gold Mines employee, and Nash drove for Pilot Thomas Logistics.
Nevada Gold Mines is setting up an account and will contribute funds to match any employee donations received in support of families affected by the crash.
Of the 21 people on the bus, 14 were cared for at Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital and six were sent for treatment to Reno and Salt Lake City. One of those six had been released as of Monday.
“We continue to provide support to the five employees still in serious condition and their loved ones,” said a statement from Nevada Gold Mines. “We all continue to grieve the loss of our friend and coworker Rocky Witt, who passed away in the accident.”
Preliminary investigation indicates the ore truck was traveling south on a curve when it crossed the center line. The bus was operated by Coach USA, a contractor that transports miners to and from the Elko area to gold mines scattered along the rural highway.
“After 40 years in the mining industry, I know how close mine crews become – we are all family,” said Greg Walker, executive managing director of Nevada Gold Mines. “When a tragedy happens, the whole company, the whole team, and the whole community all pull together. We greatly appreciate the many calls and messages we’ve received from across the area offering condolences, prayers and help.”
“Honestly, our thoughts and prayers go out to those involved,” said Sean Hughes, director of corporate affairs for Coach USA.
The crash brought sadness to the community and attention to what some believe is an unsafe highway.
“This is sad and a very tragic time,” said Elko County Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi. “I felt pretty helpless on Saturday when all this was unfolding.”
Andreozzi said he made phone calls to the hospital and people in external affairs with Nevada Gold Mines on Saturday.
“With us being a community, even though I am not directly related to those particular people, they still feel like family to me and I have family and friends that work out there.”
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the deceased and their families,” said Elko Mayor Reece Keener on Monday. “We pray for a speedy recovery for those that are still hospitalized. According to what I have heard, with the injuries they have, it’s going to be a very long road ahead. Hopefully as many as possible will be able to return back to work in their previous capacities.”
Keener mentioned that State Route 766, where the accident occurred, is known as a dangerous highway. Traveling through the canyon where the crash occurred can be risky, he said.
“NDOT has known of the dangers in that area and they need to implement some traffic calming measures,” the mayor said. “I think even speed bumps [would help]. You’ve got hundreds of people that traverse through there daily on their way to and from work. You’ve got suppliers going north and south. There just needs to be a mechanism for slowing the traffic down on those vulnerable areas.”
“Hopefully now they will address it, but, unfortunately, it’s too late for any of the victims,” Keener said.
NDOT responded by saying it is “dedicated to the safety and mobility of everyone traveling Nevada’s transportation system.”
“The regulatory speed limit in this area of State Route 766 is 60 mph. For safety, the recommended speed limit is reduced to an advisory speed of 45 mph for trucks in the area of the curve. This advised speed limit is noted with a series of signs, including signage with flashing lights to further draw motorist attention,” NDOT stated.
“Rumble strips have also been in place for years along the entire route. Consisting of deep parallel grooves cut into the centerline and outer edges of the roadway, tires running over the rumble strips produce sound and vibration when drivers veer out of their lane. The sound and vibration produced by the rumble strip can alert and allow motorists to correct their vehicles to help reduce crashes.”
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The number of injuries was unusual for a facility the size of Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital, which received many calls from people wanting to help.
“Our hearts are heavy for our community today, especially for our neighbors who are hurting,” the hospital stated. “During tragic incidents such as this, it is encouraging to see our community band together.
“NNRH would like to recognize the many first responders who quickly arrived at the scene of the accident. The hospital also commends REACH Air and MedX AirOne for providing timely and well-coordinated air transport. Finally, thank you to the many individuals and businesses who sent encouragement to our hospital staff or contacted us asking how they could help. Together, we will all keep working to support those whose lives were impacted by today’s events.”
Saturday’s head-on collision occurred in Eureka County, just across the border from Elko County.
Eureka County responders were assisted by Elko County Emergency Medical Services, Carlin Fire Department, Carlin Police Department, Nevada Highway Patrol and Nevada Gold Mines Rescue.
Another crash involving a Pilot Thomas truck occurred in March south of the Beowawe exit off Interstate 80. According to NHP, the truck carrying about 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel to Cortez Gold Mine was struck by a train when it failed to clear the tracks in time.
The train did not derail and no one was injured in the crash, which happened at about 6:30 a.m. March 2.
Another truck accident occurred on the Carlin mine road in May, about a mile from Saturday’s crash.
A double-tanker truck hauling sulfuric acid to a gold mine tumbled into Maggie Creek on May 15, spilling thousands of gallons into the stream but resulting in only minor injuries to the driver.
The spill about 7 miles north of Carlin blocked traffic to mines and prompted officials to clear people and livestock downstream.
The truck’s driver was heading north when he failed to negotiate a curve and the truck rolled down the embankment, overturning in the creek.
About 5,600 gallons of sulfuric acid spilled into the stream after one of the tankers ruptured.
There have been 290 fatal crashes in Nevada since the first of the year, according to the state highway department.
According to Elko Daily Free Press files, Nash’s sister Amanda was also killed in a head-on car crash. Amanda was 16 when her four-door Chevrolet drifted off Lamoille Highway on Nov. 20, 2001. The car struck a guardrail and veered back onto the highway, where it struck a Ford pickup. Passengers were wearing seat belts but Amanda was not, NHP reported.
She posthumously received an honorary diploma from Spring Creek High School that June.
‘A horrific thing’
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto commented on the crash during a rural Nevada tour that brought her to Elko on Monday.
“It’s devastating. A horrific thing,” Cortez Masto said. “Clearly my condolences are with the families who are suffering and for those who are in the hospital. I hope for their speedy recovery.”
The senator also offered support at the federal level to “anybody that needs help … they can reach out to my office.”
Mayor Keener mentioned that the situation could have been a lot worse because during the weekdays some of the buses have many more people on them.
“It doesn’t matter how good your driving record is,” Keener said. “You could have a lifetime of perfect driving, but all it takes is one moment of inattentiveness and the effects of it can be catastrophic.”