Defendant’s loose lips sink his DUI trial
The Aspen Times
A 21-year-old man, on trial last week for driving drunk and seriously injuring two people, convicted himself of the crimes Friday night when a cop wearing plainclothes overheard him talking about the case in an Aspen marijuana dispensary.
“He said he was wasted [at the time of the accident],” Aspen police Detective Jeff Fain said Tuesday.
The information significantly affected Colin Buchanan’s defense, his lawyer said.
“The case we put on was [about Buchanan’s] lack of intoxication [at the time of the crash],” said attorney Lawson Wills. “So when he says he’s wasted [at the time of the crash] in a marijuana dispensary, that changes everything for the defense.”
On Tuesday morning, Buchanan walked into District Court, where his trial began a week earlier, and pleaded guilty to felony vehicular assault and misdemeanor DUI. He had been facing another count of vehicular assault, which was dismissed as part of his plea.
Buchanan, a Cincinnati native and current Aspen area resident, now faces between two and six years in prison for the felony when he is sentenced Nov. 21.
“I was a little bit in disbelief,” said prosecutor Andrea Bryan. “This chain of events is highly unusual.”
Buchanan was driving a 2009 BMW westbound about 10:30 p.m. on June 11, 2015, when he hit a 1993 Jeep Cherokee on the Emma Curve of Highway 82 head-on. The Jeep’s driver, Guadalupe Toledo-Roque, 38, of El Jebel, suffered serious injuries, including a nearly severed ankle, broken leg and fractured ribs, Bryan said. Her male passenger also suffered serious injuries, she said.
Toledo-Roque, who was not in court Tuesday, now walks with a limp and was unable to work for months, Bryan said.
Buchanan’s blood wasn’t drawn until more than five hours after the accident, and prosecutors had to employ experts to extrapolate his blood alcohol content at the time of the crash, Bryan said. Prosecutors believe Buchanan’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was between .09 and .10, she said.
The blood test also revealed Xanax in Buchanan’s system, Bryan said.
Wills said that prior to Friday, no evidence in the case suggested the accident was alcohol or drug related. The day of the accident, Buchanan had spent a long day as a landscaper, and Wills said his client fell asleep and failed to make the Emma Curve.
“So this statement [about being wasted] changes the evidence,” Wills said.
The trial was scheduled to end Friday, though the defense’s case hadn’t yet rested, so it was set to resume Tuesday morning, Bryan said. Fain said he was at one of Aspen’s six downtown marijuana dispensaries about 7:30 p.m. Friday to talk to the manager about a woman he suspects might be buying weed for underage residents. As he walked in to the dispensary, he saw a young man standing at the counter and heard him talking about an accident he’d gotten into and a trial, Fain said.
It didn’t take long for Fain “to put two and two together,” he said.
“I said, ‘That’s the guy who’s in trial this week,’” Fain said. “I’d seen him walking around the courthouse with Lawson Wills.”
Fain said he was bothered by the tone of the conversation because Buchanan appeared to be “kinda laughing with the budtender about the accident like it wasn’t impactful to him.”
“It was like he thought he was going to get off,” Fain said.
Fain said he heard Buchanan “discuss being in the accident and being intoxicated” and heard him make the admission to being “wasted.”
In addition, Buchanan had red, watery eyes, was unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, Fain said, though he wasn’t close enough to smell alcohol on him. Buchanan’s bond conditions forbid him from drinking alcohol, though Fain said he wasn’t able to get that information from Pitkin County jail deputies before Buchanan got into the backseat of a car and left the area.
Buchanan also purchased marijuana, according to video police received from the dispensary, though his bond conditions didn’t forbid from consuming the drug, Fain said.
Wills said that while Buchanan’s maturity level and impulsiveness led to his comments Friday night, Buchanan didn’t dispute making the statements when confronted with the new evidence.
“To his credit, he owned up to the statement,” Wills said. “He’s the one who pled guilty. He’s the one who stood up and took responsibility for what happened Friday night and what happened in June.”
Buchanan and his parents, who attended the trial, decided after his plea Tuesday to “self revoke” Buchanan’s bond and send him back to jail, Wills said.
“All of us, including Colin, reached the conclusion that would be the best place for him right now,” he said.
As for Buchanan’s tone Friday night at the dispensary, Wills said he believes he feels remorseful for the injuries he caused.
“I guarantee you he does,” he said. “This is a young man dealing with his own demons.”
Attempts to reach the victim in the case Tuesday were not successful.
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Upon informing the driver “it was not very smart to be transporting marijuana through Utah,” the man stated he “thought it was legal everywhere.”