On Saturday afternoon on Montana Highway 84 in the Bear Trap Canyon, Margaret “Meagan” Petersen, a 20-year-old Belgrade woman, lost control of her vehicle, crossed the centerline and collided head on with a pick up truck going the other direction. She died at the scene.
Madison County Undersheriff Roger Thompson served as coroner for the accident and said it was unclear whether alcohol played a roll in the accident, which occurred near the banks of the Madison River in the very popular recreation spot.
Petersen was alone in her vehicle and the people driving the pick up weren’t injured. It is unknown what caused Petersen to lose control of her vehicle, Thompson said.
But the area she crashed in has unfortunately become a busy spot for local law enforcement during the summer.
If you’ve driven between Bozeman and Ennis on any summer day you’ve seen the tubers walking up and down the highway, cars driving erratically as people try and find a place to pull over and people drinking both on the river and off.
Add to this a narrow, windy highway packed with traffic and you’ve got a dangerous situation, Thompson said.
The Bureau of Land Management, which manages much of the land in the Bear Trap area, issued a release warning recreationists to park in designated areas or get towed.
People will generally park anywhere they can squeeze in, which creates a traffic hazard, Thompson said.
And though it’s unclear whether or not alcohol was a contributing factor to Saturday’s accident, it’s is very prevalent with people recreating in the area.
“It’s very obvious there’s very high alcohol use by many people who use that area for recreation,” he said.
On Sunday, officers stopped two men from driving drunk after observing their behavior in one of the parking lots, Thompson said.
The area is patrolled by Madison and Gallatin County sheriff deputies, along with Montana Highway Patrol officers, BLM officers and game wardens from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Still, it’s hard to catch drunk drivers when there are so many people using the area, Thompson said.
However, constant pressure from law enforcement is the only way to keep any sort of control on it, said FWP game warden Ryan Gosse.
“It’s the same set of circumstances and the only thing that’s going to keep it curtailed is a constant agency pressure,” Gosse said.
Being responsible enough to have a designated driver who is completely sober is the key to getting home safely from a day on the river, said Chris Mumme, director of emergency services for Madison County.
“Have somebody that’s sober driving you,” Mumme said.
If you are in the Bear Trap area and suspect someone of driving under the influence, don’t hesitate to call 911. Vigilance by both officers and recreationists themselves will help solve the problem, Thompson said.