Judge advises Grand Lake’s Lucas Ackerman of charges from July 4th wreck | SkyHiNews.com

Judge advises Grand Lake’s Lucas Ackerman of charges from July 4th wreck

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — The Grand Lake man involved in a vehicle-pedestrian collision on July 4 near Grand Lake was advised of charges filed against him in 14th Judicial District Court on Thursday, Sept. 19. Lucas Paul Ackerman is scheduled to appear in Grand County Court at 1 p.m. on Oct. 2 for a preliminary hearing, where the prosecution likely will establish probable cause. After the preliminary hearing, the case is set to be moved to 14th Judicial District Court for arraignment. Ackerman, 33, is being charged with one count of vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular assault, one count of driving under the influence, and two counts of child abuse. In the beginning stages of the case against Ackerman, the District Attorney's Office for the 14th Judicial District opted to present the case to a grand jury, due to the possibility that Ackerman could have a "colorable defense" in the case, said Assistant District Attorney Han Ng. The question in Ackerman's case is whether the root cause of the incident was some members of a family of 10 from Estes Park crossing the highway that night, or whether Ackerman's conduct was the cause. The incident led to the death of the father of the family and serious injury to the mother and three children. In defending Ackerman, Ackerman's attorney Jack Dicola of Hot Sulphur Springs, may attempt to show the proximate cause of the accident was the family being in the road. Meanwhile, the DA may try to establish Ackerman's conduct of drinking and driving was the cause of the accident. Defense A July 24 Colorado State Patrol report of the accident's investigation, some of which Ackerman's attorney provided to the Sky-Hi News, states that even if Ackerman was sober at the time of the crash, the accident would still have occurred. The report states the Westley family contributed to the crash because the crash occurred in the travel portion of the highway, and the family crossed at an "area of the highway that had no crosswalk and was very dimly lit. "The pedestrians were wearing dark clothing," the report continues, and there were "no traffic control devices" at the scene of the crash. "Had a sober driver been operating the 2006 Ford pickup truck at the same moment and same spot of the crash, the result would have likely been the same," the report states. "The family failed to yield the right-of-way to Mr. Ackerman's vehicle," the report goes on to say. PEOPLE Instead of convening a grand jury, the district attorney's office has chosen to press charges against Ackerman due to a discovery of case law, according to Ng. Ng identified the case as "The People of the State of Colorado v. Earl Wayne Garner," of 1989. Garner was charged with vehicular homicide after the vehicle he was driving hit and killed a 12 year-old girl in Colorado Springs after she ran in front of the pickup truck he was driving. Garner was drunk at the time of the accident, though witnesses stated that he was not weaving, speeding or driving in a careless manner. Officers who investigated the case testified that the proximate cause of the accident was not Garner's conduct, but rather the accident resulted because the girl ran between traffic and crossed in front of the vehicle. Investigating officers also testified that if Garner had been driving the posted speed limit, the accident still would have occurred. In the Garner case, a trial court dismissed a vehicular homicide charge against the man after concluding the act of speeding and not the intoxication of the defendant was the proximate cause of the death of victim. This dismissal was reversed by the Colorado Supreme Court, which found the conduct at issue was "the voluntary act of driving while intoxicated." The Supreme Court established through previous case law and former Colorado House Judiciary Committee hearing findings that "if a person voluntarily drives a car and is intoxicated and that conduct, driving while intoxicated, is the proximate cause of the death of another, then the person is guilty, under those circumstances, of vehicular homicide." The Supreme Court concluded "the conduct at issue for the purposes of proximate cause is the voluntary act of driving while intoxicated." Facts behind the case The incident left one pedestrian dead and four others, including a 3 year-old, with serious bodily injuries, The state patrol reported Ackerman's blood alcohol content the night of the accident was allegedly 0.156, three times the BAC content for a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) and nearly twice the limit for a DUI (driving under the influence). The family of 10 from Estes Park was visiting Grand Lake to watch the Fourth of July fireworks and was walking across Highway 34 around mile marker 12, roughly three miles south of Grand Lake, when Ackerman's vehicle collided with the family. The accident left the father of the family Gregory Westley, 50, dead at the scene and prompted helicopters to transport his wife Debbie, 48, her two daughters, age 10 and 18, and her 3 year-old son to Denver area hospitals with severe injuries. Ackerman's wife and two children, ages 7 and 8, were passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Ackerman was charged with two counts of child abuse for placing his two children in "unreasonable risk of injury," according to the arrest affidavit. Vehicular homicide carries a possible penalty of four to 12 years in jail and up to $750,000 in fines, with an exceptional conviction of up to 24 years in jail. "Criminal charges are merely allegations, and Mr. Ackerman is presumed innocent of all charges unless or until proven guilty," states a press release sent on Friday, Sept. 13, from the district attorney's office. Ackerman was arrested and booked into Grand County Jail following the crash, and was released on a $40,000 bond following his second appearance in Grand County District Court on July 9. Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334

Driver’s bail set at $40,000 for Highway 34 accident that killed one, injured four

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — Lucas Paul Ackerman's bail was set at $40,000 during his arraignment, which took place on July 5 at the 14th Judicial District court in Hot Sulphur Springs. Ackerman, 33, who is being held in Grand County Jail for a vehicular-pedestrian accident that sent four family members from Estes Park to the hospital and killed one, appeared by video before Judge Mary Hoak of the 14th Judical District Court. Upon listing the charges against Ackerman and setting bail at $40,000 upon the recommendation from 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey, Hoak asked if Ackerman had any questions. "I would like to just get out and provide for my family," Ackerman said, "I'm not trying to be selfish here just thinking about my own family, but I do have a family that depends on me, so I would just like to get out and get back to work." Ackerman applied for the public defender. The Grand Lake man has a wife and two children ages 7 and 8. He has lived in Grand County as many as 13 years. He works at the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District. Barkey said in court Ackerman had a prior DUI in 2002, plus past misdemeanors including a successful deferred judgement of third-degree assault in 2002, a 2001 Class 3 misdemeanor of disorderly conduct in Larimer County in 2001, and a harassment misdemeanor in El Paso County in 1999. Due to the number of victims in the case and his criminal record, Barkey told the judge it is an "aggravated case" and that bail should be doubled from the $20,000 bail in light of alleged offenses. Ackerman was told he could not consume alcohol nor contact victims or family in any way if he makes bail. Ackerman asked in court if he could contact his own family if he were to make bail, which the judge told him he could. Ackerman is charged with vehicular homicide, a class 3 felony, plus four counts of assault for driving under the influence of alcohol, child abuse and possession of a weapon under the influence, both class 2 misdemeanors. The Westley family of 10 was walking on or near Highway 34 when Ackerman's pick-up truck hit the mother and father, Debbie Westley, 49, and Gregory Westley, 50, and their 10- and 18-year-old daughters and 3-year-old son. Gregory Westley died at the scene, confirmed Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock. The mother Debbie, her two daughters and young son were seriously injured and airlifted directly from the scene to seek medical help. Ackerman's blood alcohol limit allegedly was at 0.156, nearly twice the legal limit of a DUI, when Trooper G.E. Muse of the Colorado State Patrol placed him in custody, according to court documents. Muse quoted Ackerman as saying he had six to seven beers prior to driving, and when asked on a scale of one to 10 how impaired he was, Ackerman allegedly said he was "probably at six," states the affadavit for the arrest warrant. Ackerman's two children were passengers in the vehicle. The accident on Highway 34 took place around 10:20 p.m. Grand Lake's Fourth of July celebration each year results in heavy traffic attempting to exit the town immediately following the fireworks show. Shadow Mountain Lake is also a possible egress for boaters who park boats at Trail Ridge Marina, near where the accident happened. Linda Vissar, manager of the Bluebird Motel just north of the accident, said she did not see it but heard directly from witnesses the family was carrying lawn chairs and backpacks and were walking across or along the road. Highway 34 was closed down in both directions and not until 1:05 a.m. was the southbound direction opened, allowing those who were in Grand Lake for the Fourth of July Fireworks show to head toward Granby. Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson estimates it wasn't until nearly 5 a.m. before Grand Lake was considered cleared out. Grand Lake's Public Works Director Bernie McGinn said Grand Lake's car count on the Fourth was 6,340 vehicles. "It was a very unfortunate tragedy and a difficult situation," Johnson said. Thousands of spectators were in Grand Lake for the fireworks show, and there was no alternative route for automobile travelers needing to head south. The accident occurred at mile marker 12, roughly three miles south of Grand Lake on Highway 34 at Trail Ridge Marina near the Bluebird Motel. Vehicular homicide carries a possible penalty of four to 12 years in jail and up to $750,000 in fines, with an exceptional conviction of up to 24 years in jail. The child abuse charge was for placing his own two children in "unreasonable risk of injury," according to the arrest affidavit. Ackerman allegedly had possession of a handgun in his vehicle at the time of the accident.

Grand jury to decide charges against Lucas Ackerman in Fourth of July accident

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office will present the case of Lucus Paul Ackerman before a grand jury to decide whether formal charges should be brought against him. Lucas Paul Ackerman, 33, of Grand Lake, made his second appearance before Judge Mary Hoak in the 14th Judicial District Court in Hot Sulphur Springs on Tuesday, July 9. Ackerman was arrested on July 4 in connection with a vehicle-pedestrian collision that took place around 10:20 p.m. on Highway 34. Ackerman was driving the pick-up truck that hit five out of 10 family members from Estes Park who were walking on the road that night. The father of the family, Gregory Westly, 50, was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife, Debbie Westly, 49, and three of the family's eight children, including a 3 year-old, were flown to Denver-area hospitals for treatment of serious injuries. Assistant District Attorney Han Ng commented it appeared Ackerman may have a "colorable defense" in the case, which is why the district attorney's office chose to present the case to a grand jury. "The continued investigation has caused a question of whether there is a defense," Ng said. A grand jury is essentially a group of citizens with power to call witnesses and complete investigations to determine whether charges should be filed in a case. Their work is done out of the public eye. "The community should have a say in whether this is a crime or a horrible tragedy," Ng said. The grand jury will look at evidence in the case and will determine whether it is appropriate to file charges against Ackerman and will also determine what charges should be brought against the man. If the grand jury chooses to indict Ackerman, the district attorney's office would then be responsible to file those charges and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ackerman is guilty. Ackerman has hired Hot Sulphur Springs Attorney Jack Dicola to represent him. Ng requested Ackerman be released on a personal recognizance bond, which means Ackerman wouldn't be obligated to pay bail as long as he showed up to his next court proceeding in 30 days or until the grand jury is convened and has completed its investigation of the case. The district attorney's office made this request without support of the victims' family, according to Ng. The victims and family wanted Ackerman to remain in custody for public safety reasons, he said. Judge Hoak denied the motion. "I'm not on board with reducing the bond," she said. Ackerman's attorney Dicola argued to have the man's bail reduced to $20,000 from the original $40,000 imposed by Judge Hoak, which the judge also denied and chose to leave Ackerman's bail at $40,000. Due to the number of victims in the case and his criminal record, District Attorney Brett Barkey told Judge Hoak during Ackerman's first appearance in court on July 5, the case is an "aggravated case" and bail should be doubled from the $20,000 bail in light of the alleged offenses. Ackerman bailed out of Grand County Jail at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9. The night of the accident, Ackerman's blood alcohol content was allegedly at 0.156, nearly twice the legal limit, when Trooper G.E. Muse of the Colorado State Patrol placed him in custody, according to court documents. Muse quoted Ackerman as saying he had six to seven beers prior to driving, and when asked on a scale of one to 10 how impaired he was, Ackerman allegedly said he was "probably at a six," states the affidavit for the arrest warrant. Ackerman's two children, ages 7 and 8, as well as his wife were passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Ackerman was booked into Grand County Jail on July 4 on charges of vehicular homicide, a class 3 felony, four counts of vehicular assault for driving under the influence of alcohol, child abuse, and possession of a firearm under the influence. The child abuse charge stems from Ackerman having his two children in the vehicle. Ackerman had a prior DUI in 2002, and past misdemeanors including a successful deferred judgment of third-degree assault in 2002, a Class 3 misdemeanor for disorderly conduct in Larimer County in 2001, and a harassment misdemeanor in El Paso County in 1999. The Colorado State Patrol is completing the investigation, with the assistance of the Grand County Sheriff's Office, the Grand County Coroner, and the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office. The investigation is ongoing. Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334

14th Judicial District Judge tentatively accepts plead deal of July 4 Grand Lake drunk driver

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — The Grand Lake man who was the driver of a pickup truck involved in a July 4 accident that left one pedestrian dead and three others injured near Grand Lake pleaded guilty to one count of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault, as part of a plea agreement with the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Grand County District Court on Wednesday, Dec. 18. ubject to a deferred judgment and sentences for four years, As part of the plea agreement, Ackerman also pleaded guilty to one count of driving under the influence of alcohol without deferment. Two counts of child abuse, spawning from having his own two children in the vehicle at the time of the accident, were dropped, as was a charge for possession of a firearm while under the influence. District Judge Mary C. Hoak tentatively accepted the plea agreement, reserving the right to reject the plea agreement at Ackerman's sentencing hearing, scheduled for Feb. 28, pending the outcome of an investigation by the probate office concerning Ackerman's ability to fulfill the terms of the agreement. Hoak cited the Colorado State Patrol's investigation of the accident as well as the unwillingness of the victim's family to testify in court as reasons for tentatively accepting the plea agreement. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Ackerman could be sentenced to one year in county jail in relation to the DUI charge and will be required to complete four years of supervised probation with alcohol testing and treatment, as well as 400 hours of community service. If Ackerman has fulfilled the terms and conditions of the of the agreement after four years, the vehicular homicide and vehicular assault charges will be dismissed and will not be on his record, while the DUI charge will remain on his record. If he fails to comply with the terms of the agreement, the four felony convictions will become permanent and he could face up to 12 years in prison. "This case is unusual in that Colorado State Patrol's accident reconstruction expert concluded that the tragic collision that left one man dead and three persons seriously injured would have occurred even if Mr. Ackerman had been sober," said Fourteenth Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey, in statements released Dec. 18. "Even so, the Colorado legislature has determined that in order to deter drunk driving, any individual driving under the influence will be held strictly liable for any death or serious injury that occurs, even if there is no bad driving. "This plea agreement strikes the appropriate balance respecting the legislature's policy of strict liability for drunk driving, resulting in death or serious injury, while acknowledging that Mr. Ackerman could not have avoided the fatal collision." Hoak questioned Assistant District Attorney Han Ng, who addressed the court during the hearing, saying, "What I'm hearing is that the legislature provides for us to prosecute this individual and to convict him as a felon, but we don't think that's right so we're not going to do it, so what am I hearing wrong? Because I'm not sure you get to do that if that is what your doing," she said. "The heart of this is there is no middle ground between a Class 3 felony and nothing under these circumstances," Ng said. Ng discussed the ability of the District Attorney's Office to utilize its own discretion when prosecuting individuals based on the circumstances that surround each case in order to attain what they believe to be due justice. The State Patrol's investigation weighed heavily on the District Attorney's Office when deciding how to prosecute Ackerman. The Office makes numerous statements eluding to the determination that poor driving did not lead to the outcome of the accident. Some of the main findings the State Patrol's investigation reported were that Ackerman was driving about 10 miles per hour under the posted speed limit, his headlights were on, and that the accident occurred well into the lane of travel. "Had a sober driver been operating the 2006 Ford pickup truck at the same moment and same spot of the crash, the result would have likely been the same," the State Patrol's investigation report says. The investigation report also states that the Westley family contributed to the crash by not yielding to Ackerman's vehicle. "Therefore, had there been no DUI, Mr. Ackerman wouldn't have faced any charges in this crash at all," the report states. While Ackerman's driving may not have contributed to the accident, Colorado case law as well as a law enacted by the Colorado legislature places strict liability on drivers who are under the influence for any accidents that cause death or serious injury. This case law gives the District Attorney's Office the ability to hold Ackerman completely liable for the death and serious injuries to the Westley family, despite the fact his driving did not contribute to the accident. "Isn't this, to a certain extent, a breech of separations of powers?" Hoak asked of Ng. "Isn't this the DA's office saying we think the law is wrong, therefore we are not going to enforce it?" "No," Ng said. "In fact this demonstrates the effectiveness of separations of power." Ng discussed that laws are general in nature and that it is the job of the District Attorney's Office to enforce those laws in a way that they believe best provides for justice. Ng also discussed the reasons why the District Attorney's office did not want to see the case go to trial and cited the Colorado State Patrol investigation as well as the Westley family's unwillingness to testify at trial. He also cited the ability of the defense to provide a colorable defense, due to the Colorado Patrol investigation and the ability of the defense to dispute Ackerman's blood alcohol content at the time of the accident. "This is a case where the People have the law on our side," Ng said. "I think the defense has very good facts on its side. Looking at it through that lens, one could see this position as a compromise between the law and the facts." The accident On the night of July 4, around 10:20 p.m., shortly after the Town of Grand Lake's fireworks display, Ackerman was driving a white 2006 Ford pickup truck eastbound on U.S. Highway 34 (towards Grand Lake). The members of the Westley family, all of Estes Park, were crossing the highway when Ackerman's vehicle collided with the family. Gregory Westley, 50, the father of the family, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident while his wife, Debbie Westley, 49, and three of the family's eight children where flown to Denver-area hospitals for treatment for serious bodily injuries as a result of the accident. The children of the family who were injured included Annabelle Westley, now 19, Amelia Westley, 10, and Elijah Westley, 3. Ackerman's blood alcohol content allegedly was at 0.156 at the time of the accident, nearly twice the legal limit, when Trooper G.E. Muse of the Colorado State Patrol placed him in custody, according to court documents. Muse quoted Ackerman as saying he had six to seven beers prior to driving, and when asked on a scale of one to 10 how impaired he was, Ackerman allegedly said he was "probably at a six," states the affidavit for the arrest warrant. Ackerman's two children, ages 7 and 8 at the time, as well as his wife, Erin Ackerman, 35, were passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Ackerman was booked into Grand County Jail on July 4 on charges of vehicular homicide, a class 3 felony, four counts of vehicular assault for driving under the influence of alcohol, child abuse, and possession of a firearm under the influence. The child abuse charge stemmed from Ackerman having his two children in the vehicle. Ackerman had a prior DUI in 2002, and past misdemeanors including a successful deferred judgment of third-degree assault in 2002, a Class 3 misdemeanor for disorderly conduct in Larimer County in 2001, and a harassment misdemeanor in El Paso County in 1999. Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334

Guest Column: D.A. explains reason for dropping felony counts in 4th of July Ackerman case

One year ago, a collision occurred along U.S. Highway 34 between Granby and Grand Lake resulting in one man's death and serious injuries to his wife and two of their children. Lucas Ackerman hit the family as they were attempting to cross the road on foot. He was initially charged with a single count of Vehicular Homicide, three counts of Vehicular Assault ­— all felonies — as well as one count of DUI (a traffic misdemeanor), and two counts of Child Abuse for having his own uninjured children in his vehicle while driving under the influence (both misdemeanors). I write this letter to give interested citizens the facts of the case, and a detailed explanation of my decision. The Facts: On July 4, 2013, around 10:30 p.m., Lucas Ackerman was driving north on U.S. Highway 34 towards Grand Lake. Mr. Ackerman had his wife and two children with him in his truck. At about this time, the Westleys were on the east side of the road near mile post 12, attempting to cross U.S. Highway 34 to get to their vehicle parked on the west side of the road. Mr. Ackerman collided with the Westley family, resulting in the death of Gregory Westley and serious injuries to Mr. Westley's wife and two of their children. A third Westley child was also injured, but fortunately, these injuries were not as serious. Testing done some three and a half hours after the collision revealed that Mr. Ackerman had a blood alcohol level of .176 g/100ml of blood. Mr. Ackerman was arrested and charged with one count of vehicular homicide (for the death of Mr. Westley), three counts of Vehicular Assault (for the serious bodily injuries to Mrs. Westley and two of their children) — all felonies — as well as driving under the influence of alcohol, and two counts of misdemeanor child abuse (for Mr. Ackerman's children in his own truck). After the collision, Mr. Ackerman immediately stopped and waited on-scene for the police and emergency medical personnel. According to multiple witnesses (including three independent eyewitnesses in another car waiting to turn onto Highway 34, and an off-duty EMS captain who was travelling southbound on Highway 34 from Grand Lake), the Westley family appeared to have stepped out into the lane of travel. This was confirmed by physical evidence at the scene indicating the point of impact of the collision was in the travel lane. At the time of the crash, it was dark (there was only a single, dim light nearby), and the road was dry (although it later rained). Eyewitnesses to the crash told investigators that the Westleys had been wearing dark-colored clothing. The Colorado State Patrol accident reconstruction expert concluded that Mr. Ackerman's headlights were on at the time of the crash and that Mr. Ackerman was driving about 40 miles per hour in a 50 mph zone. The Colorado State Patrol expert determined that when the Westleys first stepped into the road, Mr. Ackerman was 58.64 feet away. Based upon average time it takes people to perceive and hit the brakes, and the time required to bring a vehicle to a stop given coefficient of friction for the roadway, any driver would have needed at least 172 feet to have avoided the collision (94 feet to perceive and react plus the 78 feet required to stop the vehicle with maximum braking). These calculations led the Colorado State Patrol expert to conclude that (1) Mr. Ackerman's driving behavior was not careless (per the statutory definition of "Careless Driving") even though he was intoxicated and (2) no driver ­— not you nor I — would have been able to react and stop quickly enough to avoid the collision. The Law: Vehicular Homicide is committed when a person "drives a motor vehicle under the influence, and such conduct is the proximate cause of the death of another." C.R.S. 18-1-106(1)(b). Vehicular assault is identical except that the result is serious bodily injury rather than death. Despite the "proximate cause" language in the statute, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that, "The statute does not require evidence that the intoxication affected the driver's operation in a manner that results in a collision." People v. Garner, 781 P.2d 87, 89 (Colo. 1989). Thus, if a man were to be driving under the influence, and a sober person were to run through a stop sign, crash into the intoxicated man's vehicle, then die in the collision, the first man would be liable for vehicular homicide even though he did not cause the collision. A Prosecutor's Duty: Our criminal justice system is essentially an adversarial one, but because prosecutors have the power and authority of the state behind them, they must not simply advocate for conviction, they must do what is just given the unique circumstances of each case. In making these decisions, prosecutors do not represent the police, or any particular victim, but rather the community as a whole. As part of their duties, if prosecutors are aware of information that is beneficial to the defendant's case, they must disclose it to the defendant. For instance, if prosecutors believe that a suspect is innocent, they must dismiss the case. If prosecutors are convinced that they are unable to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, they must dismiss the case. As prosecutors make charging and plea bargaining decisions, they do so in the interests of justice. Thus, prosecutors are empowered to reduce charges, make sentencing concessions, or even dismiss cases outright if that would further the interests of justice. People v. Ackerman: In the case of the People v. Ackerman, the evidence indicates that there was no causal connection between Mr. Ackerman's intoxication and the tragic results because no person in Mr. Ackerman's shoes ­— not any one of us — could have avoided hitting the Westley family. Certainly, in the overwhelming majority of cases we see, the intoxication causes poor driving, which causes a collision, which causes death or injury. But that is not the case here. As horrible as the results were, the evidence shows that Mr. Ackerman's drunkenness did not cause or contribute to the collision. Earlier in this case, we offered deferred sentences on the felonies with an outright conviction and conviction for DUI. Mr. Ackerman accepted that offer. A deferred sentence is a contract between a defendant and the District Attorney's Office in which the defendant pleads guilty to the charges to be deferred, and is then put on probation. Should the defendant successfully complete probation, at the end of the period of the deferred sentence, he may withdraw his guilty plea to the deferred charges and those charges would be dismissed. Should a defendant fail to successfully complete the probation by, for example, failing to attend treatment, failing to do useful public service or committing a new offense, the convictions for the deferred charges would enter, and the defendant would go before the court for sentencing on those charges. Thus, under the original plea agreement, Mr. Ackerman would have been convicted of DUI and sentenced immediately for that crime, but would have had the opportunity to avoid convictions for the felony vehicular homicide and vehicular assault counts if he successfully completed probation. This agreement was intended to achieve a balance between the general policy announced by the legislature in defining Vehicular Homicide and Assault, as interpreted by the Colorado courts, with the individual circumstances of this case. Unfortunately, the Grand County District Court rejected the plea agreement. We asked the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn the District Court's decision, but without offering an opinion on our appeal they declined to hear the case. That left us with the choice of either going to trial on the felony counts or proceeding with just the misdemeanors. Since convictions for misdemeanors only had been the ultimate goal under the prior agreement (assuming Mr. Ackerman had successfully completed his deferred sentence contract), I chose to dismiss the felony counts and proceed on the misdemeanors only. Mr. Ackerman has indicated he will plead guilty on July 10, 2014 to the DUI and will face immediate sentencing for DUI in the Grand County District Court. We understand that he will ask to be tried on two counts of child abuse for driving under the influence with his own children in his truck. That trial will be scheduled for a later date. Conclusion: I have written about my decision in People v. Ackerman so that members of our community may better understand my choices. These are the types of decisions prosecutors make every day across this state, carefully applying the law, thoroughly analyzing the evidence, and consulting closely with victims and investigators. They make these decisions based on their best judgment as to what is fair and just, not what is popular or convenient. That is what I have done here. This community entrusted me with the responsibility of serving as its district attorney. My foremost duty is to do what I think is right, regardless of controversy. Based on my 28 years of experience in this kind of work, I have concluded that what is just in this case is to proceed on the DUI and misdemeanor child abuse charges and to dismiss the felony counts.

Letter: Ackerman case reflects poorly on Grand County

To the Editor: Lucas Ackerman's sentencing is on Feb. 28. It appears from the article in the Sky Hi News that because of the plea bargain, the maximum sentence for Mr. Ackerman will be one year. The life of a man that was a father, husband, son, friend and an asset to the Estes Park community and who died because of Mr. Ackerman's poor choices is only worth a punishment of 365 days. There are eight children who will have years of growing up without their father's guidance. There is a wife who will enter middle and old age without her life partner. There are parents that will have every holiday with an empty chair as a stark reminder that their son's life was senselessly lost at the hands of a drunken man. There is a church and Scout community that will miss his presence, support and service. Perhaps the Grand Lake community is not aware of how much time that this family spent on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. They had a boat that was docked at the lake. They had a camper that was used every weekend they were able during the spring, summer and fall seasons. And now, these items have been sold because without their father and husband, it will not be possible to spend their time doing these recreational activities. Would the Westley family be treated so callous if they had lived in Grand County? Our family also enjoyed camping and day trips to Grand County. We were there that tragic 4th of July night, not realizing that the world had lost one of the good guys. We will not be back. Grand County has sent a clear message that a driver can have an alcohol reading twice the legal limit, have a prior record, put his own family in danger, and not have to take any real responsibility for his actions. If the assistant DA thinks a driver whose blood alcohol limit is over twice the legal limit and that this did not contribute to the death of a man, then Grand County is not a safe place to visit. And Mr. Ng needs to go to the MADD website to read about alcohol impairment. Judge Hoak cites one of the reasons for tentatively accepting the plea bargain as the unwillingness of the victim's family to testify in court. More harsh treatment from Grand County. Did Judge Hoak ever think that eight children witnessed their father die and the mother is just trying to save them from more trauma? The plea bargain is not reasonable. Not to the Westley family and not even to the Ackerman family. Ackerman's own daughters were a witness to this horrible offense. Terri Miller Estes Park

Law expert: Request for PR bond for Ackerman deemed ‘very unusual’

The decision to request a personal recognizance bond (PR bond) by the District Attorney's Office of the 14th Judicial District in the case involving Lucas Paul Ackerman, 33, of Grand Lake, was "very unusual," according to H. Patrick Furman, a clinical professor of law emeritus at University of Colorado's School of Law. Furman has been practicing criminal defense in Colorado for 30 years and has been teaching criminal defense for 20 years and believes the difference between what the District Attorney's office and the judge in the case believed to be an appropriate bail for Ackerman was "massively different," he said. "There must be something unusual that we don't know about for a district attorney to modify a bond to personal recognizance," Furman said. The request to modify Ackerman's bail to a PR bond, which essentially means Ackerman would not have been obligated to pay any bail if he showed up to his next scheduled court appearance in 30 days or until a grand jury is convened and has completed its investigation of the case, came during his second appearance before Judge Mary Hoak in 14th Judicial District Court in Hot Sulphur Springs on July 9. During Ackerman's first appearance in court, District Attorney Brett Barkey requested his bail be doubled from $20,000 to $40,000 because he believed the case to be an "aggravated case" due to the number of victims involved and Ackerman's criminal record. The motion by Assistant District Attorney Han Ng to reduce Ackerman's bail to essentially nothing was struck down by Judge Hoak, as was a request by Ackerman's attorney, Jack Dicola, to reduce his bail to $20,000. "I'm not on board with reducing the bond," Judge Hoak had said. Hoak commented the charges the man is facing are serious and are the kind of charges people will skip town on. The decision to request a PR bond was without support of the victims' family, according to Ng, who said the family wanted Ackerman to remain in custody for public safety reasons. The Sky-Hi News tried several times to contact the district attorney and assistant district attorney for further comment on the case, but calls and emails were not returned by press time for this story. Ackerman bailed out of jail at 7 p.m. following his second appearance in Grand County District Court. It was during Ackerman's second court appearance that the District Attorney's office announced it was going to bring the case in front of a grand jury to decide what charges, if any, should be filed against the man, a decision Furman does not see as unusual. A grand jury is made up of citizens from across the 14th Judicial District, who have the power to complete investigations, request evidence, and subpoena witnesses. Grand juries are used for a number of reasons including allowing members of the community to weigh in on a case, or can be used to utilize investigative powers such as subpoenaing witnesses who are unwilling to speak to police, according to Furman. Ng attributed the decision to convene a grand jury for having a "colorable defense," he said last week. "The continued investigation has caused a question of whether there is a defense." Ackerman was arrested and booked into Grand County Jail on July 4, in connection with an accident that took place in Grand Lake where the truck he was driving hit and killed one pedestrian and sent four others, including a 3 year-old, to Denver area hospitals with serious bodily injuries. Ackerman's blood alcohol content the night of the accident was allegedly 0.156, three times the BAC content for a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) and nearly twice the limit for a DUI (driving under the influence). The investigation is ongoing and grand jury proceedings are kept secret until an indictment is filed. If the grand jury decides to indict Ackerman, the District Attorney's office will pursue those charges and will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334

D.A. to dismiss felonies for fatal July 4 Grand Lake collision

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — The 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey announced he will move to dismiss all felony counts against Lucas Ackerman in relation to the July 4, 2013, traffic collision which left one dead and four others injured. District Attorney Brett Barkey announced on June 23 he was prepared to proceed on the remaining counts — driving under the influence and two counts of misdemeanor child abuse for the defendant's children who were in the vehicle with him when he drove drunk that night. The case is currently set for arraignment on June 30, 2014, in the District Court for Grand County. "A prosecutor's foremost duty is to do justice," said D.A. Barkey, in statements released June 23. "After consulting closely with law enforcement agencies and the victims, I have concluded that dismissing the felony counts and proceeding only on the misdemeanor counts is what is just in this case." The 14th Judicial District had appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court an earlier decision on the case handed down by 14th Judicial District Judge Mary Hoak. The Colorado Supreme Court rejected hearing the case. Because the Colorado Supreme Court chose not to take up the case, it is returning to the arraignment stage in the 14th Judicial District Court, where the District Attorney's Office had a choice between taking the case to trial, working out another plea agreement to present to the judge, or dismissing all or some of the charges against Ackerman. The D.A. has chosen to dismiss the vehicular homicide charge and three counts vehicular assault charges. 14th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Han Ng says the facts of the case point to "no causal link between drunkeness and the death," saying the Colorado State Patrol found that at Ackerman's traveling speed of 40 miles per hour westbound that night, there would have been no way for him to avoid the accident, even in a sober state. A sober driver, Ng said, would have needed twice as much reaction time than Ackerman had. Ackerman had 58.64 feet of perception time when a sober driver needed 94 feet. And assuming maximum breaking, he said, would have needed about 78 more feet in order to stop, with a total of 172 feet of needed distance to see and react to victim Gregory Westley stepping into the road, as seen by eye witnesses. The family of 10 had been watching the fireworks that night, possibly by boat or somewhere lakeside. From Trail Ridge Marina, the family crossed the road to get to the family car parked on the other side of Highway 34. Between driving under the influence and the accident, "This case is the only case I've ever seen where that causal link isn't there," Ng said. Had Ackerman been a sober driver or had there been a designated driver, "the very consequence that happened that night would still have happened," he said. "The DUI is still there. We feel he needs to be responsible for DUI," Ng said. Judge's Decision In February, when the case was presented to Judge Hoak, she rejected a plea agreement of one year in jail with a four-year deferred sentences of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault charges dropped conditional on completion of supervised probation, alcohol treatment and community service. "I find that this plea bargain diminishes the seriousness of this crime," Hoak had said during the Feb. 28 sentencing hearing. "Someone's life was lost. People were seriously injured. The defendant had a high blood-alcohol content, I could venture as far as a very high blood-alcohol content. "It sends the wrong message to society and to this community," Hoak continued. "It says it's OK to drink and drive and kill someone as long as it wasn't your fault. And that is not the message this court can send to this community." The District Attorney's Office stated during the Feb. 28 sentencing hearing it believed if Ackerman were charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, he would be held accountable for felonies that weren't necessarily his fault. A Colorado State Patrol's reconstruction of the July 4 accident determined the pedestrians hit by Ackerman contributed to the wreck by failing to yield to the right-of-way of Ackerman's vehicle. The family cited reasons of faith and forgiveness for why they wanted the court to accept the plea deal. Ng said family members were not all in agreement. The charges the D.A. now proposes align with the former plea deal. If Ackerman pleads guilty, he could end up with one year in jail similar to if the plea agreement had been accepted and he had succeeded with its probation and conditions. "The end result is more or less the same," Ng said. The original charges and subsequent judge-rejected plea deal spawn from a July 4 crash that took place near Grand Lake on Highway 34, in which Ackerman hit and killed one pedestrian and injured four others while driving under the influence. Ackerman hit and killed Gregory Westley, of Estes Park, and injured his wife Debbie Westley and three of the Westley children who were 18, 10, and 3 years old at the time of the accident. Ackerman's blood alcohol content was reportedly nearly twice the legal limit at the time of the accident.

Fourth of July accident: Judge postpones ruling on Ackerman felony counts

The 14th Judicial District Judge Mary Hoak moved the date of arraignment for Lucas Ackerman on a second DUI charge to July 10, 2014. Last week, 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey announced he would move to dismiss all felony counts against Ackerman relating to a July 4, 2013, vehicle-pedestrian collision, which left one man dead and four others injured. Hoak said during Ackerman's June 30 status hearing that she had not yet signed anything that would allow the charges to be dismissed. "I'm doing this hypothetically," said Hoak. "I haven't signed anything, but if he's no longer accused of taking a life and assaulting people, do I take that into account?" "I certainly think that the court can take those factors into account," replied Han Ng, 14th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney. The Colorado State Patrol found that Ackerman's speed of 40 miles per hour would have precluded him from avoiding the accident, regardless of whether he were sober. The felony charges proposed to be dropped are one count of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault. Hoak said if Ackerman is sentenced on July 10, he will be taken into custody that day. A second DUI conviction in Colorado, of which Ackerman would have, carries a 10-day minimum jail term and a maximum term of one year. Hoak said she would remand his arraignment on two counts misdemeanor child abuse to county court. Ackerman struck and killed Gregory Westley, of Estes Park, and injured his wife Debbie and three of their eight children who were 18, 10 and 3 years old at the time of the accident. Ackerman's blood alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit at the time of the accident, according to the police report. Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

Ackerman hearing continued

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS —The hearing involving Lucas Paul Ackerman has been continued to Sept. 19. Ackerman's attorney, Jack Dicola, filed the continuation without objection from the prosecution. Ackerman was booked into Grand County Jail on July 4 on charges of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault while under the influence of alcohol, child abuse, and possession of a firearm while under the influence in relation to a vehicle-pedestrian accident that took place outside of Grand Lake after the July 4 celebrations. The truck Ackerman was driving hit and killed one pedestrian and sent four others to Denver-area hospitals. The 14th Judicial District Attorney, Brett Barkey, has decided to bring the case in front of a Grand Jury, which will decide what charges, if any, will be brought against the man. Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334