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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Denver: Evergreen Fire Rescue - Sweet 1969 Pontiac Firebird versus 48,000-pound Water Tender

40 year relationship is over
When Shelbi Vickery went out to her father's driveway outside Evergreen, the vintage car could barely be seen. (Vicky Gits, Canyon Courier)

Driving home, fighting off the shock, Bill Vickery tried to imagine what his sweet 1969 Pontiac Firebird would look like with a 48,000-pound firetruck sitting on top of it.

Then he pulled into the driveway next to his mountainside home outside Evergreen, and it looked just about exactly as he imagined it would.

Bent. Twisted. Crumpled.

"It's gone everywhere with me since I was 16," Vickery said Wednesday afternoon, staring at the remains of his pride and joy. "It's basically spent two-thirds of my life with me."

The relationship, however, is over.

The car, with its chrome Cragar wheels and vinyl top, was parked in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, and now, after providing 40 years of automotive pleasure,

Bill Vickery and his daughter, Shelbi, and granddaughter Dominique examine the wreckage of his 1969 Firebird after an Evergreen firetruck crushed it. The wheels, engine and transmission survived, but not much else. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
it's headed for the scrap heap.

"It's not fixable," Vickery said, a sense of resignation in his voice. "It's gone. This . . . is . . . gone."

The trouble started around 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Vickery, a low-voltage electrician, was in Vail, working on a new resort hotel. His daughter, Shelbi, was at home, eating lunch and watching television with her own two young daughters, when she heard a noise outside, as if a trash truck hit a bump in the road. She didn't think much of it at first.

But then she looked out the window and saw a neighbor running down the driveway. She walked out of the family's home just in time to see a firefighter climbing out of a water truck that was sitting askew in the driveway.

"Are you OK?" she asked the firefighter. He was.

In that first confusing moment, she couldn't quite comprehend what had happened. And then she realized.

The truck, driven by an Evergreen Fire Rescue firefighter, had been on the road up the hill from the family's home when something went wrong. Apparently moving to the right on the narrow paved road to make room for a truck heading in the other direction, the driver dropped a tire off the asphalt.

With no shoulder to support the rig, it tumbled down the hill and into the Vickery family's driveway. The tanker toppled trees and clobbered a camper before landing, right-side-up, atop the Firebird and a Honda all-terrain vehicle. The truck also hit a one-car detached garage, inflicting a still-undetermined amount of damage to it.

The firefighter, Michael Weege, 45, was transported to a hospital, where he was checked out and released.

Colorado State Trooper Gilbert Mares said a decision about citing Weege in the accident is pending. He disputed initial reports suggesting that the pavement on the road gave way.

"The road was not determined to be a contributing factor (in the crash)," Mares said.

In the meantime, Shelbi spent several minutes trying to get her father on the phone before finally reaching him.

"Dad," she told him, "you need to stay calm, but something really bad happened."

She spent several minutes talking him through the incident. His response told her that he was stunned: "Huh. OK. I'm on my way home."

During the drive, all Vickery could think about was what he would find when he got home.

Vickery was 16, a student at Golden High School, when he bought the Firebird from its original owner. It was 1980, and near as he can recall, he paid about $1,200 for the ride.

"I stole it," he said.

He drove it and tinkered with it and eventually went through every part of the car. He shelled out $12,000 on machine work and parts for the 350-cubic-inch engine. By 1985, he had given it new livery — bright lime green with gold metallic flakes.

He cruised with it on Sundays and showed it in car shows and ran it at Bandimere Speedway. He spent what he now estimates to be somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 restoring it. He vowed to only sell it if he could buy a 1967 Corvette.

"You just don't see these '69 Firebirds. There's not too many of them left," he said.

Wednesday afternoon, Vickery still struggled to digest what had happened. Listing the parts that were salvageable was easier than listing the things that were broken: The chrome wheels. The left-front fender and driver's door and window. The grille and headlights. The P-O-N-T-I-A-C between the tail lights. The rear bumper. The engine and transmission.

The rest of it was crushed. Even the back seat and the dashboard showed the effects of the crash.

Vickery said fire officials have told him they will cover everything. But even at that, the car can't be repaired.

"The only way to salvage it is to replace it," said Vickery, who estimated the car was worth $30,000 to $40,000, not accounting for the sentimental value.

So, will he rebuild? Will he take the parts he can salvage, find another Firebird, and put together a new car?

Maybe he will.

Or maybe he'll find that '67 Corvette — and years of new memories.

Source: Denver Post - Link

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