Alleged reckless driving sends car over cliff

According to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn, multiple calls to 911 alerted authorities to an alleged reckless driving incident that resulted in a 2010 Camaro careening off a 50-foot cliff and landing in a riverbed below in the town of Byron. The incident occurred at 2:47 a.m. on Saturday.

More than 30 search and rescue workers, firemen and law enforcement officials responded quickly to the scene of the accident that took place in Byron and were prepared to assist any parties involved early Saturday at 2:47 a.m. Shown above (l-r) Kyle McClure, Jim Minchow, Jason House and Dennis Woodward prepare to load injured Larry Foster onto a gurney in preparation for transportation to the hospital while family members observe. Keri Wilske photo

More than 30 search and rescue workers, firemen and law enforcement officials were at the scene of the accident in a matter of minutes and were prepared to assist any parties involved in the accident. The first call to come in reported that a vehicle drove through a guardrail and over a cliff. The caller said he heard voices screaming.

The driver, 31-year-old Kenneth Verran of Byron, left the scene of the accident and was arrested later that morning on charges of leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving and reckless endangerment. According to Blackburn, a report has been sent to the county attorney and more charges may be pending, like failure to report an accident, interference with peace officers and failure to administer aide to an injured party at the scene of an accident.

Considering the magnitude of the crash, two passengers who were in the car, Travis Burke and Larry Foster, escaped with relatively minor injuries, said Blackburn. Foster was transported to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder.

“These kids started at one end of the street driving toward a 70 degree turn in the 2010 Camaro. It is estimated that they were doing about 100 miles per hour by the time they hit the curve in the road and went straight over the cliff where they pin-balled off of several trees before hitting the bottom of the cliff near the river,” said Blackburn.

Blackburn added that numerous witnesses at the local bar reported that the three were very intoxicated when they left the bar minutes before the accident. Also, reports from bystanders at the scene, who had seen the three just moments before they entered the vehicle, stated that they appeared to be very intoxicated, he said.

“Here’s what the problem was,” explained Blackburn. “This was a very unstable cliff with a lot of river boulders and the search and rescue department, fire department and sheriff’s department tied up a lot of resources looking for the driver and wondering if he was OK throughout the night. Additionally, during the rescue, one of our search and rescue members who had a helmet on, thank goodness, was hit in the head with a rock that dislodged from the cliff. So, a lot of people put themselves at risk to help these people out.”

Deputies and other rescuers spent several hours searching the scene for Verran, who, as it turned out, left the scene of the accident and was found at his home in Byron at approximately 11 a.m. that day. It was approximately 1 p.m. by the time authorities persuaded Verran to answer their knocks at his door.

Blackburn expressed his gratitude to the Lovell Police Department, the Search and Rescue Crew and the Lovell Volunteer Fire Department for their quick response to the incident.

“I think too often we take these guys for granted,” said Blackburn. “These guys were out there immediately, they risked their lives to search the river bottom, to try to find this guy, not knowing if this guy left in shock and was under a bush somewhere dying or what the case was. If you took the total number of the man hours, there were at least 100 involved in this search when all was said and done.”

According to Blackburn, due to the prolonged extrication, it wasn’t until the next day that authorities were able to pull the wrecked vehicle from the river bottom. He also noted that the search and rescue team set up a rope system to remove the injured passenger from the scene of the crash.

“These people–the firmen, the search and rescue guys and others–were down there with loose rock coming down on them,” said Blackburn. “It was a fairly dangerous scene to be sure. It was nothing short of miraculous that someone didn’t get hurt worse in this accident or at the scene of this accident. The fact that the Camaro literally played pinball going down through the trees slowed its fall and that probably helped prevent more injuries. There were literally objects impaled in the trees all along its path.

“We understand that people make mistakes and do stupid things, but don’t make it worse by leaving the scene of the accident and putting rescue workers and everyone else at risk like this. It is just unacceptable. Any legal problems that this subject may have been trying to avoid by leaving the scene may have been compounded by what he left behind.”

Verran made his initial appearance in court on Tuesday and was released later that day on a $10,000 cash bond.

By Patti Carpenter