Carbondale man gets year in jail in fatal Hwy 82 crash
Douglas Liljedahl will serve a year in county jail followed by five years of supervised probation for the August 2014 traffic accident that killed 65-year-old Kathy Sharp.
Liljedahl’s van, traveling east on Highway 82, went through a red light and struck Sharp’s station wagon at Catherine Store Road.
Liljedahl, 51, of Carbondale, blew 0.241 blood alcohol content on a preliminary breath test at the scene — more than three times the level at which a driver is deemed intoxicated under Colorado law.
He was initially charged with felony vehicular assault but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Before handing down his judgment in a sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon, Judge Daniel Petre took a half-hour recess to consider the case.
“Other judges in our district have commented public in recent years that this sort of offense is probably the most difficult for judges to pass sentence on,” he said.
On one hand, he observed, the accident caused a loss of life. On the other, he said, Liljedahl lacked direct intention. Judges also must consider the safety of the community, the potential for rehabilitation and the need to deter similar behavior by others.
Deputy District Attorney Peter Beyel particularly emphasized deterrence when he argued that the court impose the maximum sanction of six years instead of the two recommended by the sentencing report.
“Kathy Sharp’s life is worth more than two years in prison,” he said. “The idea that this man, who killed a valued member of this community would get probation for that — that shouldn’t happen.”
Beyel urged the court not to be swayed by assertions of Liljedahl’s character or remorse.
“We’re here today because the defendant made the awful decision to drink to the point of extreme intoxication and drive an automobile,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s a nice person. That’s not what we’re here to decide. We’re here to decide his culpability.”
Although none of Sharp’s relatives chose to address the court, Beyel reminded the judge that her late father had called for jail time.
“This defendant should be in jail already. He should be heavily punished for taking a life,” he said. “It stopped being an accident the second he stepped into a vehicle and made that choice. He put every single person around him at risk of the same drastic consequence that Kathy Sharp suffered.”
Private defense attorney Tom Silverman sought to provide a different context.
“The Legislature says some people can get probation. Who is that person? It’s Mr. Liljedahl,” he said.
He cited four similar cases in the area — in which two defendants were sentenced to probation, one to community corrections and one to prison — and argued that Liljedahl, as a “caring, faithful, competent, loving person,” with no prior criminal history more serious than a speeding ticket, deserved the lower sentence.
Silverman also questioned whether Liljedahl could have been expected to realize his impairment when he woke roughly eight hours after drinking a fifth of whiskey and drove off to buy cigarettes.
“It’s emotionally satisfying to lash out at the person who has done wrong, but it’s also spectacularly ineffective,” he said.
Several of Liljedahl’s friends and relatives addressed the court, including his mother, Sharon Baltzell.
“His life is much more than just the sum of that one moment,” she said. “I don’t recognize the man that the prosecutor described.”
Baltzell reminded the court that Liljedahl lost his 9-year-old son in a car accident over a decade ago, and observed that he and his family know something about loss.
“No one can punish him more than he has punished himself,” she said. “We can’t bring her back. You can’t fix this kind of an accident. We grieve for her family, and that’s all we can do. That’s all he can do.”
Liljedahl himself was the last to speak.
“I know that an apology would never begin to make a difference in what I have done,” he said. “The only way I can live with myself is to work as hard as I can to help those that need it.”
Judge Petre believed him.
“The court has never seen a criminal defendant appear at sentencing as contrite and remorseful as Mr. Liljedahl,” he said.
Nevertheless, Petre observed, “the punishment must be proportional to the crime.”
In addition to the year in jail and five years of supervised probation, Liljedahl will have to pay standard costs and fees, undergo a substance abuse evaluation, complete 250 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to Sharp’s family. The probation and community service could be completed in Nebraska, where Liljedahl has been living with his parents.
“I hope that you will continue to be a productive citizen that will make your parents and your daughter proud,” Petre said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Liljedahl’s year of incarceration is to be served in county jail, not prison as the story originally said.
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Rifle police are investigating a one-vehicle crash that killed a pedestrian Wednesday morning.