DA adds drug, speeding charges to motorist in fatal Pitkin County accident
The Aspen Times
Speeding and drug possession charges have been added in the case against Basalt resident Christine Tinner — the motorist who is accused of causing a fatal accident on Highway 133 in Pitkin County two months ago.
Tinner, 47, was driving nearly 65 mph in a 50 mph zone at the time of the accident, according to formal charges filed by the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office this week. Also, at the time of the accident, she was in illegal possession of a Schedule 4 drug, Lorazepam, the District Attorney’s Office said. Lorazepam, also known by its trade names Ativan or Orfidal, is a drug used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Tinner made her first appearance in Pitkin County Court on Tuesday. She entered the courtroom clutching a medical walker, presumably to help her move about. Her defense attorney, Dan Shipp, of Basalt, previously said that she suffered a broken leg in the accident. In an interview last week, he suggested that his client was dealing with trauma and had no recollection of the accident.
Tinner did not speak during the proceeding. In addition to speeding, a traffic violation, and drug possession, a misdemeanor, she faces three other charges: careless driving causing death and careless driving causing injury, both misdemeanors, and improper lane usage, also a traffic offense.
Colorado Department of Motor Vehicle records show that Tinner has had three convictions for speeding between 10 and 19 miles over the limit between October 2011 and April of this year.
Meleyna Kistner, a 21-year-old student who was on pace to receive her undergraduate engineering degree at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana, in the spring, was killed when Tinner’s vehicle crossed the center line at about 9 p.m. on Aug. 23. Kistner’s boyfriend, Daniel Thul, 21, who was set to graduate from the same college later this year, was severely injured in the crash. The accident occurred near mile marker 55 of Highway 133, north of the Avalanche Creek Road intersection.
Kistner was a resident of Naperville, Illinois, while Thul is a native of Bloomington, Illinois. They were on the third day of a Western road trip, bound for Oregon, where Thul wanted to scout out a community where he had potentially lined up a job.
“We started the day in Colorado Springs where we visited the Garden of the Gods for a few hours,” Thul wrote in an email to the Aspen Times. “We then drove through the mountains to Aspen. On the way we made many stops to enjoy the scenery. Once in Aspen we spent some time in the city and bought some souvenirs. After leaving Aspen we went to Maroon Bells lake and hiked around for a while. It was an amazing day of sight-seeing that we both really enjoyed.”
During Tuesday’s court hearing, Shipp said he had just started reviewing information in the case provided by the District Attorney’s Office and needed more time to discuss a possible plea agreement. The next proceeding has been set for Dec. 2.
Meleyna Kistner’s father, Remo Kistner, said the family is glad that additional charges were filed. But he still is upset that the Colorado State Patrol, which investigated the accident, did not require Tinner to submit to a toxicology test.
Colorado law does not mandate that motorists who are suspected of causing a fatal accident be tested for impairment. The laws on that point differ from state to state. According to state police, there was no probable cause to test for drugs or alcohol.
“We are disappointed and saddened that Meleyna’s life was not valued more by the justice system,” Remo Kistner said. “We were hoping for felony charges since Ms. Tinner killed our daughter. Given her three prior convictions for speeding in the last three years, all for going 10 to 19 miles per hour over the speed limit, we can’t understand why Ms. Tinner still has her license and is still on the road. We would like to believe that the CSP and the DA would be concerned about public safety. She is obviously a public safety hazard.”
Three hours after the accident, the state police issued a news release saying that drugs and alcohol were not believed to be a factor in the accident. Police also said that the weather was clear and the road was dry at the time. However, the National Weather Service confirmed that there were several showers that day and evening in the area, some of them downpours.
As for the drug possession charge, prosecutor Andrea Bryan said there is no evidence to contradict that Tinner was in possession of Lorazepam illegally. As of Tuesday, no one had come forward to show that Tinner had a prescription. Bryan declined to provide investigative details about where the drug was found.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.