A single-vehicle crash on Sunday night took the life of Michael Durtsche, a longtime resident of Lovell. The accident occurred west of Lovell on U.S. Highway 14A near the Oasis Junction.
According to a report released by the Wyoming Highway Patrol, Durtsche was northbound on U.S. Highway 14A between Byron and the Oasis Junction when he failed to negotiate a curve in the roadway. His vehicle, a Nissan pickup truck, went off the roadway on the right, at which time he attempted to steer to the left back onto the roadway. It appears that he then over-corrected by steering to the right, which caused the vehicle to go into a broadside slide off the right side of the roadway. The vehicle then overturned approximately two times. During the rollover Durtsche, who was not wearing his seat belt, was totally ejected from the cab of the pickup.
Lovell resident Shane Pitt came upon the accident scene on his way to Lovell shortly before 9 p.m. Pitt said he saw skid marks on the road and then noticed lights off the road.
He turned around and found the pickup off the road in what appeared to him to be an accident that had occurred moments before. Pitt, a member of the volunteer fire department in Lovell, initiated a call to 911 reporting the accident and attempted to administer CPR to Durtsche, who died at the scene. Lovell police officer Matt Koritnik continued CPR upon his arrival.
According to Trooper Rich Scovel of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, the cause of the crash is unknown and is still under investigation.
Durtsche was 59 years old and is survived by his wife Aletha, six children and numerous grandchildren. He worked for the Park Service for many years overseeing the maintenance department. He also officiated at youth sports games in the area.
Funeral services will be held today (Thursday, March 8) at 10 a.m. at the Lovell LDS Stake Center. Visitation will be held one hour prior to services at the church. There will also be a visitation Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at Haskell Funeral Home. Burial will be in the Lovell Cemetery.
A 25-year employee of the National Park Service, rising in recent years to Maintenance Supervisor, Mike Durtsche was perhaps best known for his work with youth in the Lovell area. Longtime friend and fellow coach Mike Jameson said Durtsche coached Little League and Babe Ruth baseball and youth basketball. He was also a longtime basketball referee and baseball umpire.
“It’s a big loss. I coached against him for years,” Jameson said. “He was a guy who got the best out of the kids he coached. He knew the game and taught the kids the game.
“It was always the Red Sox (Jameson) vs. the Marlins (Durtsche). They won it (the Little League Baseball title) three years, and then we finally beat them the last year. He was a good guy, and I enjoyed coaching against him. Then a lot of years we would coach the all-stars together. It was a privilege to coach with him.”
As a referee, Durtsche was known as a good and fair official, Jameson said, noting that he officiated probably 30 games with his son Michael Jameson just this season.
Durtsche was also known for supporting athletics in both the Lovell and Rocky Mountain school systems, anywhere there was a game.
“You would see him in the gym for hours watching teams,” Jameson said. “I thought a lot of him, he and his whole family.”
“Mike leaves behind a proud legacy of his work with the Park Service,” said Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Supt. Jerry Case. “He was the go-to guy for anything you might want to know about the park because of his long history there. We will all miss him, certainly me in particular.”
Durtsche leaves wife Aletha and six children: Michelle Thompson, Shane, Justin, Patrick, Steve and Samantha.
By Patti Carpenter and David Peck