Naomi Havlen

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June 2, 2005
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Hite heads to jail; sentence still not set

Starting this morning, Dustin Hite will spend a week in the Pitkin County Jail because he crashed a car last June that killed his friend Alex Terral.Hite has been sentenced to a year in the county jail, but Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely of Pitkin County Court is interested in sending the recent Aspen High School graduate to a service-oriented program like AmeriCorps. On Thursday, Hite, his parents, his therapist and Terral's parents met individually with Fernandez-Ely to talk about what they feel is an appropriate punishment for Hite.Although everyone involved gave the judge suggestions about a program that Hite could join rather than just spending time in jail, the judge said she could use a little more time for research and to make up her mind. After telling Hite to report to jail for a week beginning this morning, she said she will readdress what is next for the teenager on June 21 in the county courtroom.Hite, 18, pleaded guilty to careless driving resulting in death last week. He was driving on Highway 82 toward Independence Pass with friends last June when he passed another car full of friends and lost control of his vehicle. Terral, 17, was thrown from the car and died four days later.During last Friday's sentencing hearing, both families agreed Hite should put his life on hold for the next year rather than going straight to college. They agreed to meet with the judge on Thursday to individually express their desires.After five hours of meetings, the parties reconvened in the courtroom."It's a learning experience for all of us, and there's no easy answer for this," Fernandez-Ely said. "We agree that this was a serious offense, that the consequences are irreversible and that they could have been avoided. A year off to honor Alex Terral, and in a way Dustin Hite as well, is the best solution."Statistics show that jail provides a "time out" but can lose its shock value after as little as two days, Fernandez-Ely said. But she said since Hite had been arrested before for reckless driving, she wanted to include some jail time in his sentence.As for the rest of Hite's sentence, Fernandez-Ely said she is strongly leaning toward AmeriCorps, a group of volunteers that does service projects throughout the country. She said she would like to see Hite in an urban area, both because after living in Aspen "he could use a little toughening up" and because of the availability of public transportation. Hite surrendered his driver's license to the court last week.Fernandez-Ely said other suggestions, like joining the tsunami relief effort in Sri Lanka, seemed too far away, too much of a punishment or too little of one. Hite essentially needs a year full of "chores," she said."I was heard," said Alex's father, Tim, after the hearing. "It is ultimately [the judge's] decision, and she really heard everyone. Some things about it I like, but some I don't. No one is going to be happy about this."Hite's father, Henry Hite, said he spoke honestly to the judge about his son's future and feels like he'll know more about the situation after June 21.Naomi Havlen's e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 2, 2005 08:56PM Published Jun 2, 2005 12:00AM Copyright 2005 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.