Johnstown Family Describes Being Swept Off I-70 by an Avalanche
As a powerful wall of snow swept a Johnstown family’s pickup off Interstate 70 on Sunday, Tram Golemon turned her head from the window in case the glass were to shatter and braced herself with one hand on the truck interior and the other on her husband Shaune’s arm.
Her heart was pounding as she, her husband and their 9-year-old daughter, Kiera, gave in to nature, realizing there was nothing they could do against the force.
“All you could hear was a rumbling noise,” the Johnstown woman said Monday, as her daughter interjected: “It was very loud. It sounded like rocks hitting the truck.”
The Johnstown family was literally swept off the road into the median — an experience they never imagined and now look back on with awe and with grateful hearts that they escaped uninjured.
“Considering we just got swept away in an avalanche, we were miraculously lucky,” said Shaune, whose dash-camera footage of the experience swept the web and national news media Monday.
“Nobody got hurt. Nobody in other cars got hurt. The truck wasn’t damaged. The truck didn’t flip over — miraculously lucky.”
Shaune, Tram and Kiera had gone to Copper Mountain early Sunday because they figured the skiing would be phenomenal with all the new snow, and according to the family, it was.
They decided to head home about 4:30 p.m. and, literally 3 minutes and 50 seconds after they hit I-70, according to the dashcam, the avalanche hit.
Kiera was the first to see it out the passenger window.
“I was looking out the window, and I saw a puff coming down,” the 9-year-old explained. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! Mom! Mom! Mom!’
“My mom started to freak out.”
Shaune, who was behind the wheel, stayed calm, quickly considering his options.
Should he hit the brakes? No, the road was icy and packed with traffic.
Should he speed up and try to beat it? Again, not safe.
“It just didn’t feel right,” said Shaune, who told his wife and daughter, “There’s nothing we can do. Just hold on to something.”
So that’s what they did.
They felt helpless as the snow pushed the full-size pickup. They wondered and feared what was going to happen until, finally, the truck stopped in the median.
“It felt slow, but all of this happened in like 5 seconds,” said Shaune.
Their truck ended up in the median with another truck, while other vehicles were stopped in snow on Interstate 70 itself. A video later shot by Shaune shows what looks like a field of snow littered with cars; in actuality, it is I-70.
But when the pickup first stopped moving, the Golemon family did not know where or how they had ended up. After he realized the truck had not flipped, Shaune’s worry turned to whether they were buried. Did they have enough air to survive? Should he turn off the engine to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning?
Though they could not open the doors at first, a ray of light shining in through the moon roof of the truck told the family they were going to be just fine. Tram opened the moon roof, and after some snow fell into the truck, she stood up through the opening, took a deep breath and surveyed the surroundings.
Shaune eventually was able to push the door open and get out, expending his adrenaline by digging snow from around their vehicle.
“When it stopped, my legs were like, it felt like I couldn’t even feel them,” said Kiera. “My legs were shaking.”
Soon emergency responders came and were able to dig out the Golemons’ pickup and the other vehicles from the avalanche that closed I-70 — the first in 30 years to cross that stretch of the road, according to state avalanche experts. It was the second avalanche to cross I-70 on Sunday, and it prompted officials to second-guess whether they should have closed the highway earlier.
Once a tow truck and snowplow were able to get the Golemons back on Interstate 70, they stopped in Silverthorne to relax and have dinner, though all three said it was difficult to eat. Then they hit the road back to Johnstown, a trip that, in crawling traffic, took six and a half hours.
They pulled into their home about 2:30 a.m. but couldn’t sleep and instead watched the dashcam footage.
“It was more epic-looking in the video than I remembered,” Shaune said.
He emailed copies of the video to several news media outlets, and the family finally went to bed about 4:40 a.m.
Within two hours, a second storm ensued — this one a media storm full of requests for the camera footage and for interviews. The family complied but said it was a weird to see themselves on the news and to feel in the spotlight.
Shaune summed up the whole experience in two words: “It’s unreal.”
Pamela Johnson: 970-699-5405, firstname.lastname@example.org .