It’s been a tough 11 weeks for Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicles — and the deputies who drive them.
On Monday night at around 8:30 p.m., a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV driven by on-duty Deputy Erin Smiddy was rear-ended on the shoulder of Highway 82 near Wildcat Way by an alleged drunken-driver. The incident marked the third time since Christmas Eve that a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle has been hit from behind while parked on or near the state highway.
Smiddy, who was inside the vehicle at the time of the crash, was not injured, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said. She was sworn-in as a deputy in May.
“I’m so happy Erin wasn’t hurt,” DiSalvo said. “She’s tough. The best thing I can say with all three of these accidents is that none of my deputies was injured. The potential for them to get hurt was unbelievable.”
Her patrol vehicle likely was totaled, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Alex Burchetta.
“I cannot remember ever having three cars rear-ended this way in less than three months,” DiSalvo said. “That would be unusual for any office.”
Karen Marie Sahr, 56, of Aspen, was arrested by Colorado State Patrol in connection with the crash. Sahr was advised by Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely on Tuesday that she faces charges of DUI, DUI per se and careless driving.
During the advisement hearing, Deputy District Attorney Jason Slothouber said that Sahr was “extraordinarily intoxicated” Monday night, testing at a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 soon after the crash. The threshold for DUI arrests in Colorado is 0.08.
He said Sahr has been arrested for several drinking-and-driving offenses spanning many years. Court records show that Sahr pleaded guilty in Pitkin County to DUI in 2003 and 2007. Slothouber mentioned three other DUI arrests during the 1990s, along with lesser driving violations since then.
“It has put the community and law enforcement at risk,” Slothouber said of Sahr’s time behind the wheel.
Fernandez-Ely allowed Sahr to be released from jail on a personal-recognizance bond with a stipulation that if she misses future court appearances she will be required to pay $10,000 cash. An attorney assisting her case on Tuesday — she had not applied yet for official representation from the Public Defender’s Office or a private attorney — said that Sahr has two jobs and a long history in Aspen and is not a flight risk.
Sahr was quiet during the proceeding.
“It concerns me that she’s pale and doesn’t seem to be understanding (the discussion),” Fernandez-Ely said.
“I advised her not to respond,” the attorney said. “She’s fine.”
Fernandez-Ely set conditions for Sahr’s release, including monitored abstinence from alcohol and drugs and counseling sessions with substance-abuse treatment providers. She barred Sahr from driving.
Beginning Dec. 24, two other Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicles have been rear-ended on Highway 82, one of which allegedly was caused by a driver under the influence.
Deputy Jeff Lumsden was buckled up inside his Chevy Tahoe, parked in the westbound lane with flashers running, while working a weather-related accident in the Shale Bluffs area shortly before 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Through his rearview mirror, Lumsden saw a motorist coming toward him and braced for the collision. Aside from some minor back and neck pain, he was not injured, he said at the time.
Lumsden’s patrol vehicle, which received minor damage, is back in action. Paul Tefft, 51, of Woody Creek, was arrested on suspicion of DUI in connection with the crash. Lumsden estimated that Tefft was driving between 15 mph and 25 mph when the collision occurred.
A state police spokesman on Tuesday did not have information on Sahr’s speed in Monday’s incident. Sources in the Sheriff’s Office said her speed must have been high, more than 45 mph, based on the amount of damage to the patrol vehicle.
Another incident occurred one morning during the first week of February. Deputy Michael Buglione was pulled over on the shoulder near mile marker 22, assisting with a weather-related accident in the eastbound lane, when a driver rear-ended his vehicle. Buglione said the motorist that slammed into his vehicle was not alcohol- or drug-impaired.
But he probably was driving more than 40 mph, the deputy said.
“I happened to be buckled up,” Buglione recalled Tuesday. “I was just sore and stiff the next day or two — that was about it.”
DiSalvo said even though two of the three incidents allegedly involved alcohol, to have three rear-endings of patrol cars in such a short time is a mystery.
“Our vehicles are as high-profile and as reflective as they get,” he said. “I’m looking for answers myself.”