OURAY COUNTY – Authorities have concluded their investigation and released the name of a man who died in a motorcycle crash on Red Mountain Pass on the evening of July 15, but for one eyewitness who saw it happen, troubling questions still remain about the circumstances behind the accident.
Teus Abbas Jr., 59, was a retired county worker from Yuma, Ariz., according to Colorado State Patrol Sergeant Chad Martin. Due to difficulties locating the victim’s next of kin, Martin and fellow investigators delayed publicly releasing Abbas’s name until July 24, when they finally located a sister, Cynthia Ann Houser of Monterey, Calif.
“I have never had a search for next of kin go on that long,” Martin said.
Initially, due to his unusual name, authorities believed that Abbas, an American citizen, may have been of Middle Eastern descent. But genealogical research showed that the surname has both Middle Eastern, and Dutch, origins.
“He didn’t look Middle Eastern at all,” Martin added.
Friends reported that Abbas frequently traveled to the San Juan mountains to ride his motorcycle. He had been camping alone in Ironton Park, where authorities found his car, motorcycle trailer and camp site, undisturbed, several days after the accident.
Martin believes that Abbas was traveling at speeds of 60-65 mph in a 25 mph zone on the windy, exposed section of U.S. 550/Red Mountain Pass known locally as the Ruby Walls when he came into a sharp corner at mile marker 89.8 and skidded off the road, plummeting 140 feet to his death.
His bike, a 1999 Suzuki DX 650, came to a rest on top of him.
Vivian Norris, a documentary filmmaker based in New Orleans, was an eyewitness to the accident. She, her fiancé Charles Chamberlain and their three children, were on a road trip and had just started heading up Red Mountain Pass out of Ouray, with the goal of getting to Durango on Tuesday night, July 15.
However, after maneuvering the hair-raising Ruby Walls in their big Suburban, they realized it would likely be a “hellish drive”, and decided to turn around.
“Just as we headed back down towards Ouray and were approaching this sharp curve, my fiancé’s son said, ‘Oh, My God,’” Norris recalled. She and her daughter looked out in time to see the back tire and red taillight of a motorcycle going over the cliff.
“There was quite a bit of dust and at first I thought it was a rock slide and that the motorcyclist had been hit by a falling rock,” she said. (The accident occurred just south of the rockfall zone at mile marker 90 where a massive rockslide shut down Red Mountain Pass for weeks last winter.)
The kids started “screaming and crying – they had never seen anything like that before,” Norris said. As they drove by the scene of the accident, Norris and her family slowed down and saw a second southbound motorcyclist approaching.
“He was riding right behind the guy, and he stopped and looked over the edge, literally as the guy was still falling,” Norris recalled.
Norris and her family did not stop, as “it was on a very sharp curve and someone could have hit us if we stopped, and we had a small child who was petrified by what had just happened,” Norris said.
As there was no cell phone coverage at the scene of the accident, Norris and her family continued toward Ouray and called 911 as soon as they could, to report what they had seen.
Authorities initially misunderstood the location of the accident, and began searching for the victim in the area above the Riverside Slide avalanche tunnel further up the highway near Ironton Park, before returning to the Ruby Walls (just past the Bear Creek tunnel) where they found and eventually recovered Abbas’s body.
“The other motorcyclist never called 911 and was not on the scene,” Norris said. “He/she never called, nor did anyone else, and if we had not seen the motorcycle go over the edge, they told us they may have never found the guy.”
The scene has stayed fresh in Norris’s mind. She and her family have some theories about what happened – “one of which was the victim of the accident and the other motorcyclist were racing, and that the other motorcyclist did not call 911 because he would have to say they had been racing,” she said. “The other theory was something more sinister, but we have no idea.”
The whole thing still seems odd to Norris.
“But the oddest thing is that the other motorcyclist who could say what happened never called in and reported the accident,” she said. As a filmmaker, she has profiled Harley Davidson riders in the past. “Motorcyclists tend to watch out for one another,” she said. “I was surprised.”
Martin’s investigation, meanwhile, has led him to conclude that other motorcyclist “had nothing to do with it” and that Abbas was simply “riding fast like a lot of people do up there sometimes.”
Autopsy results on Abbas’s body are still pending, but Martin does not suspect that alcohol or drugs were a factor in the accident.
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