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A Chevy Astro van carrying four people careened into the Gros Ventre River after getting side-swiped by a Jeep on Highway 26/89/191 near Gros Ventre Junction in Grand Teton National Park Friday afternoon, August 10. The driver of the van, Joanna Woodruff, a Teton Science Schools employee, steered her vehicle down a relatively steep embankment before it came to rest upright in the river. Woodruff's quick thinking and steady steering likely prevented the van from rolling. None of the occupants in the Chevy Astro or Jeep was injured during the collision or its aftermath.
An Abilene, Texas man and his wife were traveling southbound on the highway in their Jeep when they pulled to the west side of the road, intending to stop along the shoulder. The Texas driver decided to pull back onto the highway, but failed to see the approaching minivan-which was also southbound. As the Jeep re-entered the lane of traffic, it struck the Chevy Astro causing it to crash into a guardrail and careen down the roadside embankment before landing in the middle of the river.
Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received notice of the accident about 3 p.m. and rangers immediately responded to the scene from park headquarters at Moose, about seven miles away. Because the Astro minivan's gas tank ruptured and was leaking fuel into the Gros Ventre River, a Teton County hazmat team and battalion chief also responded to clean up the spill.
The accident brought traffic on both lanes of Highway 26/89/191 to a halt for several minutes. Once park rangers assessed the occupants of each vehicle for injuries and stabilized the scene, they began to manage one lane of traffic until tow trucks arrived to clear the damaged vehicles. Due to heavy summer traffic on a Friday afternoon in August, vehicles became backed up for a mile or more in both directions for a period of 30 to 40 minutes. Rangers were able to clear the scene about three hours after the initial call.
The Astro van carried Woodruff and three other Teton Science Schools employees who conduct bird-banding projects for the environmental education center. Although no one was injured, a can of bear spray was deployed during the incident and the minivan passengers were affected by its discharge.
With many distractions (scenery, wildlife and other area attractions), as well as heavy summer traffic, rangers remind motorists to drive defensively and be ready for the unexpected maneuvers performed by drivers sharing the road. Woodruff's reaction to a sudden swerve of the Jeep into her lane and the side-swipe collision that resulted-plus her ability to maintain control of the minivan as it traveled down the embankment-helped prevent serious injury to herself and the passengers of her vehicle.
The Texas driver received a citation for failure to maintain control of his vehicle, which brings a fine of $125.00.