Garfield County judge sentences driver in fatal wreck to five years in prison

Juan Escobar Rosales (Colorado State Patrol photo)

Juan Escobar-Rosales killed Diane Olson, an attorney affirmed during a plea hearing Thursday.

“You can actually see a crack in the headrest,” Garfield County Deputy District Attorney James Stone said.

Emotions ran high Thursday as Garfield County District Court Judge John Neiley found enough aggravated reasons to impose a five-year sentence on Escobar-Rosales. Last December, the 23-year-old Salvadoran national was arrested after slamming a stolen Chevrolet truck into Olson’s Buick sedan.

The collision, which occurred around 8:15 a.m. Dec. 30, 2020, at the intersection of CMC Road/County Road 154 and Colorado Highway 82, ultimately led to Olson’s death and significant injury to a passenger.

Escobar-Rosales would tell investigating officers the sun’s glare tampered with his vision just before running into the rear of Olson’s sedan, which was waiting at a stoplight.

Adding to statements given by Olson’s family Thursday, passenger Linda Harlan explained what happened inside the vehicle at the time of collision.

“We were in the left lane, but we were hit so hard, we ended up in the right lane,” she said. “After the hit, when I opened my eyes, I looked at Diane, and her head was against the door post and her eyes were closed. I started to rub her cheek with the back of my hand and said, ‘Wake up, Diane,’ in this soft voice. There was no response.”

Harlan said Escobar-Rosales then exited the truck he was driving barefooted, holding a pair of shoes.

“He sat on the guardrail and put his shoes on,” she said. “He never, at any time, tried to help us. He just sat there. He did not show any remorse or empathy. I had four broken ribs over my heart, blood clots in my legs and numerous aches and pains.”

All three motorists were taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Olson was pronounced dead the next day, while the passenger and Escobar-Rosales were treated and released.

Despite being released from the scene with a summons, Escobar-Rosales was arrested and charged several weeks later with felony vehicular homicide, aggravated motor vehicle theft, vehicular assault and theft, as well as misdemeanor driving under the influence and a driving without a license traffic offense.

Public defender Alex Haynes argued on Thursday there is no evidence of his client being under the influence.

“No one thought he was under the influence. No one followed the law and arrested him for vehicular homicide DUI,” he said. “No one followed the law, because they did not see it.”

Haynes said investigating officers did, in fact, take Escobar-Rosales’ blood for a sample.

“It’s gone. They destroyed it,” he said. “This is just, from day one, how wrong this case went.”

Further complicating matters, Haynes said Escobar-Rosales, two weeks after the incident, was taken into custody by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency with the help of the Glenwood Springs Police Department and “coerced into signing immigration papers.”

“All I know is that he was in a backroom, unrecorded, for an unknown number of hours, being spoken to in a language he did not understand, knowing that he was going to get likely deported back to a country where, frankly, he’s at risk of survival,” Haynes said.

Stone argued there was no evidence of Escobar-Rosales stealing the truck, despite it being reported taken without permission from a Glenwood Springs business almost a week prior to the collision.

After his arrest, Escobar-Rosales allegedly admitted to using methamphetamine the morning of the crash and that he had sold equipment inside the truck for drugs.

Escobar-Rosales pleaded no contest to felony aggravated motor vehicle theft and misdemeanor careless driving resulting in a death, while Neiley waived all other offenses.

Afterward, Escobar-Rosales agreed to immediate sentencing.

“I am very sorry,” Escobar-Rosales said in the courtroom via translator. “I never meant for the accident to happen and that the person that they love, die.

“I know they’re angry with me. I understand.”

Offering final thoughts, Neiley agreed Escobar-Rosales was not under the influence at the time of collision. He concluded, however, that Escobar-Rosales stole a truck, drove it on Colorado Highway 82 on a clear day and still careened into a vehicle, causing Olson’s death.

Neiley also took into consideration that, based on Harlan’s statement, Escobar-Rosales took no steps to help Harlan or Olson at the time of the incident.

Typically, felony aggravated motor vehicle death holds a sentence of one to three years, which Neiley said is “is just not adequate.” In Colorado, a judge can impose a sentence by double the presumptive amount.

Escobar-Rosales has already served 351 days imprisonment of his sentence, which is running concurrently for both convictions. He also charged a fine of $1,000, while restitution will be determined at a later date.

“He’ll serve his sentence and be able to move on,” Neiley said. “Unfortunately, Mrs. Olson will not have that opportunity.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.