Mom, 3 daughters from Colo. die in Wyo. washout

Jul 19 2011 - 11:10pm

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(Photo courtesy of Wyoming Highway Patrol) A van carrying four members of a family who died Tuesday is seen downstream from a washed-out section of Wyoming Highway 130 in the Medicine Bow Mountains.
(Photo courtesy of Wyoming Highway Patrol) An emergency vehicle is seen downstream of a washed-out section of Wyoming Highway 130 in the Medicine Bow Mountains in southern Wyoming on Tuesday. Four members of one family died after their vehicle drove into a washed-out section of a mountain highway in Wyoming and was swept downstream by a raging creek as they fled torrential rains at a national forest campground. The driver of the emergency vehicle got caught in the washout when he tried to find the location of the family that had been caught in the raging creek.
(Photo courtesy of Wyoming Highway Patrol) A van carrying four members of a family who died Tuesday is seen downstream from a washed-out section of Wyoming Highway 130 in the Medicine Bow Mountains.
(Photo courtesy of Wyoming Highway Patrol) An emergency vehicle is seen downstream of a washed-out section of Wyoming Highway 130 in the Medicine Bow Mountains in southern Wyoming on Tuesday. Four members of one family died after their vehicle drove into a washed-out section of a mountain highway in Wyoming and was swept downstream by a raging creek as they fled torrential rains at a national forest campground. The driver of the emergency vehicle got caught in the washout when he tried to find the location of the family that had been caught in the raging creek.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Four members of a Colorado Springs family died after their vehicle drove into a washed-out section of a mountain highway in Wyoming and was swept downstream by a raging creek as they fled torrential rains at a national forest campground.

A mother and her three young daughters were killed; only the husband and father managed to escape.

Officials said debris in the creek blocked large culverts that run under the highway and the water then tore through the roadway, opening a 25-foot-wide, 9-foot-deep breach about 20 miles from Saratoga.

The van went into the creek between 1:15 a.m. and 1:40 a.m. and was swept about 75 yards downstream and submerged up to its roof, said patrol spokesman Stephen Townsend.

Minutes later, a local emergency management official responding to the accident hit the same washout and plunged into the creek.

"I consider myself very fortunate. I was wondering if I was going to see my family again, to be quite honest with you," John Zeiger, Carbon County emergency management coordinator, said in a phone interview from his hospital bed.

At one point, the water washed over his vehicle, but the water inside got no higher than his waist, Zeiger said, noting the car windows were up and didn't break. He was rescued after about two hours.

Other responders retrieved the bodies of the Laurel Constantinides, 29, and the couple's three daughter -- Hanna, 8, Zoey, 5, and Lucia, 2. Officials said it appeared they drowned. All were wearing seat belts or were in child seats.

The father and husband, 39-year-old Alex Constantinides, was taken to a hospital and released later Tuesday.

The father is a physician who works ringside at many mixed martial arts events in Colorado, said an acquaintance.

"I know that he has the support and love from the martial arts community in Colorado and beyond," said J.R. Gordon, of Lyons, Colo.

Their 1991 Volkswagen camper van and Zeiger's Dodge Durango remained in the creek Tuesday afternoon because the water was too high to recover them, Townsend said.

Flooding this spring and summer has been blamed for at least two other deaths and has cost the state an estimated $4.2 million, including damages to public infrastructure.

On Monday, heavy rain began around 7 p.m and continued until near midnight, prompting authorities to begin clearing out three area campgrounds after midnight.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Larry Sandoval said the family had been camping in the South Brush Creek Campground. Two or three other camp sites were occupied that night, Sandoval said.

The campground host had advised campers to find higher ground, he said.

The highway, Wyoming 130, is open, but traffic in either direction can only go as far as the washout, which is about 13 miles east of the Wyoming 230 junction. The Wyoming Transportation Department said repairs to the highway cannot begin until the water recedes.

Several other sections of U.S. Forest Service roads and one agency bridge also were washed away.

Zeiger said he was heading to check out the washout, which he thought was farther up the road. "I called the sheriff's office and headed that way, and as soon as I turned the corner ... I just didn't see it. I went down into the Brush Creek myself, and probably rolled once or twice, and it came back up on its wheels, floated on down and got caught up in some trees, so I feel very fortunate."

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