Firefighting and law enforcement agencies made a plea in Adams County on Friday for people to stop driving drunk. It came during a news conference about four first responders who wereThursday that was driven by a person who is believed to have been under the influence. One of the four public servants -- who were all outside their vehicles at the scene of a separate investigation that was blocked off -- remains in the hospital.
"This has to stop," said Commerce City City Manager Jason Rogers. "We as a community have to come together. We have to make the wise decisions. We have to be vocal. We have to be present. And we need to make sure we're thinking about the safety of all of our members of our community at all times."
On Thursday night, firefighters from South Adams County Fire Department and officers from Commerce City police responded to a single vehicle crash. It was at 9:10 p.m., after the traffic accident management scene was set up on I-76 in the Commerce City area, that the suspected drunk driver hit two police officers and two firefighters.
"Fire apparatus and other vehicles were positioned such that traffic was directed to pull over to the right and go around. And this driver, for whatever reason, found a small opening between the left shoulder and the back of the fire apparatus and decided to go around the left instead of the right at which time he struck the four individuals who were working," said Commerce City Police Chief Darrel Guadnola.
What followed next was a chaotic scene in which injured first responders had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital by other first responders.
"I've never had to go through this before. I do not want to do it again," said an emotional South Adams County Fire Chief Ken Koger.
The driver was arrested at the scene and was later identified as Benjamin Winters, 24, of Brighton. He remained in custody on Friday afternoon.
One of the firefighters was undergoing surgery in the hospital on Friday. The other was treated at the hospital and released. Both firefighers were male.
One of the two police officers, a 2-year veteran who is 30 year old, also remained in the hospital until Friday afternoon.
Colorado State Patrol Master Sgt. Gary Cutler says drunk driving continues to be a major problem for everyone concerned about road safety.
"We've talked, we've talked and we've talked and nobody's listening here," Cutler said.
"We still get these DUIs that are coming out. It comes down to laziness and being self-absorbed. There's no reason that anybody needs to be drinking and driving. There are way too many ways out there that you can get a rideshare, a friend, stay somewhere. But if you're going to drink, you absolutely can not be getting out behind the wheel and actually going out there and hurting people."
"These people have families. They have coworkers. This doesn't just affect one person. It's an entire community (affected) when this happens, so we need to put a stop to it."
Cutler and the other officials encouraged everyone to help to try to fix the social problem, which has led to law enforcement officers getting injured by the roadside at crash scenes, and in some cases killed.
"We are blocking the roads. We have got giant vehicles. We've got people directing traffic. We have cones. And this is still not enough that we cannot keep people out of these zones where they're hurting our personnel," Cutler said.
While firefighting has always been a dangerous job, Koger said it has become dangerous in a whole new way.
"These guys are trained. They park their vehicles to protect them, and it's still not enough. Being a firefighter today, walking in a burning building is not the danger of the job anymore," he said. "It's being out on the highways."
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