The Glenwood Springs man who was overheard by an Aspen police officer jokingly admitting to being “wasted” at the time of a car accident to which he had pleaded not guilty was sentenced Monday to nearly 400 days in jail.
That was a much longer sentence than was recommended by the 9th Judicial District probation department and a prosecutor, with Judge Chris Seldin of Pitkin County District Court saying the crash victims had suffered serious and life-threatening injuries.
Colin Buchanan’s statement to a friend in a local marijuana dispensary came during his jury trial in October. Aspen detective Jeff Fain was in the Green Dragon on an unrelated investigation when he heard a possibly intoxicated Buchanan say he had injured people. He also joked about the trial and possibly going to jail, Fain said.
Former prosecutor Andrea Bryan was set to call Fain, all but forcing Buchanan, 21, to suddenly plead guilty to felony vehicular assault and misdemeanor DUI after several days of testimony. He pleaded guilty on what was to have been the trial’s last day.
On Monday, he tearfully apologized to Judge Seldin for wasting his time and that of jurors, and to his parents. He said his mother and father “spent a huge amount of money in this case just to try to help me so I wouldn’t have a felony on my record.”
Buchanan had pleaded not guilty in March to the charges that stemmed from the June 11, 2015, head-on collision on Highway 82 near Emma in the midvalley. Police said he swerved his BMW from the westbound lanes into an eastbound lane and collided with a Jeep around 10:30 p.m., a Colorado State Patrol report said. The Jeep careened into a third car. Buchanan was one of three people hospitalized after the crash, one of whom had to be extracted from their vehicle.
Police found a flask with alcohol in Buchanan’s vehicle, though he told a state patrol trooper that he’d had only one beer that night, the report said. He was arrested after leaving Aspen Valley Hospital.
He refused to do roadside maneuvers or take a breath test, and the trooper wrote in an accident report that Buchanan had slurred speech when he was at the hospital. He also told the trooper that he was driving from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, though witnesses said he was headed downvalley, the report said.
After pleading guilty on Oct. 4, Buchanan’s bond was immediately revoked, and he has been in jail ever since.
Prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz on Monday asked for 90 days in jail with no credit for time served. She noted that at AVH, six hours after the crash, Buchanan still had a blood-alcohol content of 0.018. Given the body’s natural metabolism rate, it’s “just impossible” that he could have drank only one beer before the accident, Oszczakiewicz said.
She also said Buchanan had Xanax in his system and self-medicates to treat anxiety. And she said his comments to the dispensary employee showed his nonchalant attitude about the case in which one victim’s resultant chronic pain cost her her job.
“It’s disconcerting that he’s not admitting his conduct,” Oszczakiewicz said. “He needs a wake-up call.”
Buchanan’s father read a statement in which he said his son has dealt with anxiety all of his life. He said he and his wife continue to love him despite the poor choices he’s made and that he will take advantage of therapeutic opportunities outside of jail.
Lawson Wills, who represented Buchanan, told Judge Seldin that the notion that his client wasn’t taking responsibility was absurd. Buchanan doesn’t deny that Xanax and alcohol had some role in the crash, but Wills said the extent of those factors isn’t known.
Buchanan may have simply collapsed behind the wheel and fallen asleep after a long day, Wills said. He also noted that Buchanan wrote a heartfelt 11-page statement to the judge, an atypical length for a defendant. In that letter, he was honest about having only drank one beer that night, Wills said, as lying at that stage would be of no benefit.
During the trial, listening to the victims’ statements about the impact of the accident was the hardest thing Buchanan has ever had to do, the defense attorney said. And the nearly two months the 21-year-old has spent in jail has been tough on him mentally. He asked for three months in jail with credit for time served.
In addition to apologizing to the judge and jury, Buchanan also apologized to Wills for the time and emotion he put into defending him. He tearfully said that he had ruined the past seven years of his life and had pushed away his parents when they tried to help him.
Saying he was sorry for causing the victims physical and financial pain, he said he would pay them monthly restitution.
“These past two months [in jail] have been an eye-opening experience,” he said. “I don’t want to put others or myself at risk again.”
Judge Seldin, noting that the presumed sentencing range for vehicular assault is two to six years in prison, said he would not send Buchanan to the Colorado Department of Corrections.
“Frankly, you would be eaten alive in there,” the judge said. “I don’t think it would do much good for you.”
He said he did believe that Buchanan’s remorse for the victims was genuine. But going into a marijuana dispensary and “mouthing off” shows he doesn’t appreciate the gravity of what happened and his role in it, Judge Seldin said.
“I don’t believe you had just one beer,” he added.
He added that he found the defense’s attempt to impugn the credibility of the AVH staff who tested his blood “wholly unpersuasive.”
Buchanan was sentenced to 365 days for the DUI charge, with credit for 57 days of time served but with no work-release component; two years of supervised probation; and 96 hours of community service. For the vehicular assault charge, he was ordered to serve 90 additional days after he completes the first sentence, with no credit for time served; and complete six years of supervised probation.
“The community won’t be safer until you’re closer to 30” years old, the judge said. “The photographs of those cars should strike fear into the heart of any driver. It’s a miracle you walked out with as few injuries as you did. You could have been killed, the victims could have been killed.”
Oszczakiewicz said after the hearing that the victims were very happy with the sentence.