Red Dirt Hill counts another fatality

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Aaron Reiss with his wife Rachel on on their wedding day.
Aaron Reiss with his wife Rachel on on their wedding day.

by Marissa Lorenz
Husband, brother, friend, and animal lover, Aaron Reiss is named as the most recent traffic fatality on Grand County’s Red Dirt Hill.

A resident of Bailey, Colorado, Aaron was a mechanic and foundational member of Gritty Pittie Rescue, a non-profit dog rescue organization directed by Rachel Reiss, his wife of two years.

On Sunday, June 28, Aaron was traveling east by motorcycle on Highway 40 from Granby when he attempted to pass another vehicle. Colorado State Patrol indicates that he pulled into the path of a third west-bound vehicle. That car, an Acura, attempted to avoid the oncoming motorcycle by pulling onto the shoulder, but the motorcycle also moved into the west-bound shoulder, where the two collided.

The motorcycle was thrown north of the highway. Aaron was not wearing a helmet and was pronounced dead on the scene by the Grand County Coroner’s Office. The two occupants of the Acura were uninjured. The vehicle that Aaron had been attempting to pass did not stop at the time of the accident.

Aaron leaves behind his wife, Rachel, their five rescued pit bulls, parents Maryann and Martin, and sister, Neysa Reiss-Etienne.

“We are absolutely wrecked by this accident,” his sister states.
“Aaron was truly the stuff of folk legend and loved by all who met him.”

Neysa has set up the Aaron Reiss Memorial Fund at GoFundMe.com, asking friends, family, and community members, “In lieu of flowers, thank you for helping to build a bridge of support for his wife and to honor his life.”

Red Dirt Hill safety concerns still lack action

Red Dirt Hill, between Granby and Tabernash, has long been recognized as an area of safety concern due to the frequency and often seriousness of traffic accidents along that stretch of highway.

In May, 2019, an elderly couple were killed in a head-on collision on Red Dirt Hill on a dry, sunny day. A man in his 20s was killed in the same area in 2017. And many in the community will remember the death of Fraser Valley Elementary Principal Reba Ferguson on Red Dirt Hill in 2008.

In December of 2019, Colorado’s Northwest Transportation Planning Region (TPR) determined to make Grand County’s stretch of Highway 40 their next funding priority, including the accident-prone area of Red Dirt Hill. At the time, Grand County Commissioner and TPR Chair Kristen Manguso noted that
a safety study had already been initiated by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).

And as recently as the Tuesday prior to this most recent tragedy, County Commissioners signed
a letter of understanding with CDOT for an additional traffic/speed study for the area “for the purpose of determining the most reasonable and prudent speed limit.”

But after years of concern and calls for action by residents and leaders, there has been little forward movement in increasing safety measures on Red Dirt Hill.

Results from the CDOT US 40 Red Dirt Hill Safety and Traffic Operations Analysis were expected by local government by the end of June. That report has not been received, and Andi Staley, CDOT Traffic Operations Engineer, indicates the study has not yet been completed.
Also in December 2019, Commissioners asked for striping and signage changes, which have just started to be implemented.

Two weeks prior to this accident, a turn lane was re-striped and, after contact from a local resident, an intersection sign was installed.

In December, a frustrated Commissioner Rich Cimino asked, “How long does it take?” Nearly eight months and another tragic death later, the question remains unanswered.

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