The accident occurred on Friday, June 1, at 8:53 p.m. on Highway 550, about three miles south of Ouray.
Phanessa Baril, 45, was driving southbound in her 1998 Buick Century, which is licensed in Colorado, and became distracted, causing her to veer off a steep embankment at Mile Post 90 in a sheer cliffy area known as the Ruby Walls.
The vehicle hit a large group of boulders, causing it to rotate, and plummet backwards for 230 feet down a steep cliff before coming to a rest. Baril remained conscious throughout the descent, and contacted emergency ofﬁcials on her cell phone, according to Ouray County Sheriff Junior Mattivi.
“She stayed on phone with dispatch until we all got there,” Mattivi said.
Entities responding to the call included the Ouray County Emergency Medical Services, the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team, the Ouray Volunteer Fire Department and its extrication team, the Ouray County Sheriff’s Department and Colorado State Patrol.
After OMRT set up ropes to reach the scene of the accident, the OVFD extrication team descended into the canyon and cut the door off the car to reach the victim.
The highway remained closed in both directions until shortly after midnight while the rescue and investigation took place.
The scene of the accident was “on the real narrow section at Ruby Walls,” Mattivi said.
“If she went off anywhere on Ruby Walls, that’s the place to do it. She dropped off eight or 10 feet then hit a scree ﬁeld,” he said. The scree ﬁeld gentled her descent.
Baril was traveling with two cats. “She was real worried about them,” Mattivi said. But the cats, as well as their owner, miraculously survived the crash. “They were mellower than I expected,” said Mattivi. “They got into the carrier and they were ﬁne.”
State Patrol took possession of cats and turned them over to the Humane Society for safekeeping. Baril, who was transported to Montrose Memorial Hospital, sustained a cut to her head, and complained of wrist, leg, neck and back pain, but was in stable condition.
“Every time someone goes off up there and comes out, I think it’s a miracle,” Mattivi said.
The victim was en route to New Mexico to visit her father when the accident occurred.
As of press time, the CSP crash report was not ﬁnished, and the cause of the accident has not yet been ofﬁcially declared, but alcohol and drugs are not suspected to have been a factor.
Baril was issued a ticket for weaving.