Trucker found not guilty in fatal Garfield County crash
Garfield County, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A jury on Monday found a truck driver not guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault for a crash that killed two people in January 2008.
Mark Chamness was found not guilty by the Garfield County jury after a six-day trial. The verdict was “sheer relief” for Chamness after all the emotions produced by the tragic accident and the ensuing legal case, said his attorney, Tom Silverman.
“He was devastated to be in this situation,” Silverman said.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before exonerating Chamness on the three felony counts and two related charges. If he had been found guilty of the vehicular homicide charges, Chamness would have faced two to six years in prison on each count.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Pototsky, the prosecutor handling the case, was unavailable for comment.
The accident occurred in the pre-dawn darkness of Jan. 8, 2008, on Highway 82. Chamness was hauling a modular trailer to Buttermilk for use as an office during the Winter X Games. He was pulling the modular trailer from a driveway on the north side of Highway 82, near the Catherine Store intersection. He was attempting to pull into the eastbound or upvalley lanes but had to wait for oncoming traffic to clear. While he was waiting, the trailer sat across the westbound or downvalley lanes, according to a report by the Colorado State Patrol.
A Kia Sophia with three occupants slammed into the trailer at or near the speed limit of 65 mph, the accident report said. Driver Elizeo Trinidad, 21, was killed instantly, as was front-seat passenger Noemy Ramos, 23. The rear-seat passenger, Julio Hernandez Mendoza, was critically injured.
Chamness, of LIttleton, Colo., who was driving a Kenworth truck, was not injured in the crash.
Chamness didn’t testify at the trial. The only witness for the defense was an expert on accident reconstruction. Silverman said he believes the most persuasive evidence for the defense raised questions about the Kia driver’s role in the accident and in the thoroughness of the state patrol’s investigation.
“The driver of the Kia was significantly contributing to this crash,” Silverman said.
The car struck in the vicinity of the rear of the tractor, where lights were visible to oncoming traffic, Silverman said. There was a “battle” during the trial over whether the law requires side lamps on the type of modular trailer that Chamness was hauling, according to Silverman.
The defense also noted the tires on the Kia were “bald,” which could have affected the ability of the vehicle to stop effectively, Silverman said.
The defense alleged that the state patrol investigators didn’t thoroughly examine the role of the Kia driver. The expert for the defense called the state patrol’s investigation “one of the worst he had ever seen,” Silverman said.
The state patrol initially ticketed Chamness with four violations: careless driving causing death, careless driving causing bodily injury, stopping in an intersection when prohibited, and violating a permit by operating during the hours of darkness. Those charges are misdemeanors.
The charges were changed and upgraded to felonies by the district attorney’s office.