A road worker on the Little Blue Creek Canyon project died Tuesday when a rock the size of a car came down the cliffside and crushed the cab of his mini excavator on U.S. 50.
Ricardo Batista, 69, of Florissant, died almost instantly, Gunnison County Coroner Michael Barnes said.
An autopsy is pending. The preliminary cause of death is multiple traumatic injuries.
“We presume this was an instantaneous death,” Barnes said, extending sympathy to Batista’s family.
He said the rock was described as the size of a car and could have weighed several tons.
“It’s a tragic scenario where this rock fell down on him when he was working,” Barnes said.
Emergency responders worked to reach Batista in the excavator’s cab and when they did, found him deceased, Gunnison County Undersheriff Adam Murdie said.
“It was just an unfortunate accident that occurred due to the work they were doing. The drilling and blasting destabilizes the whole side of the hill,” Murdie said.
Batista was working as part of a large-scale safety improvement project in the canyon that the Colorado Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration are undertaking.
The sheriff’s office is investigating the matter as an industrial accident. Murdie said CDOT and the highway administration might also be conducting investigations. CDOT referred questions to the public affairs agent for the Little Blue Creek project, who referred questions to Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives.
Batista worked for a second-tier subcontractor through American Civil Constructors, a subsidiary of Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives, the latter company said in a statement confirming the fatality.
A spokeswoman said the company is gathering facts to help determine the cause of the incident.
The highway was closed at mile marker 125 Tuesday during emergency response.
The project is taking place roughly 30 miles east of Montrose and 30 miles west of Gunnison. Weekday closures are in effect for most of each day and overnights. Travel is available between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m.; 12:30 — 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 — 7:30 p.m. weekdays. During the morning travel window on Mondays, the highway is open to two-way traffic.
Getting in line early is essential to being able to make it through the project area in the allotted time.
The road is open to two-way traffic weekends from 5:30 p.m. Fridays — 8:30 a.m. Mondays.
For the holiday weekend, the project area will be open to two-way traffic from noon Friday, July 2, through 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 6.
This story has been updated since its original posting.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.