Driver pleads guilty in crash that injured Basalt couple
December 18, 2008
EAGLE, Colo. ” An El Jebel man pleaded guilty last week to two criminal charges for smashing a truck he was driving into a Basalt couple’s vehicle and severely injuring them last spring.
Oscar Canas Portillo pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular assault causing bodily injury on Dec. 10, according to the Eagle County court clerk’s office. He will be sentenced Jan. 28.
In return for the guilty plea, other charges were dropped, including driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, a court clerk said.
Portillo’s guilty pleas were an abrupt change in strategy. He pleaded not guilty the charges Oct. 1 and demanded a jury trial. A four-day trial was set for February. Portillo dismissed his public defender Oct. 1 and indicated his family helped him hire a private attorney.
Portillo appeared in Eagle County District Court Dec. 10 for a scheduled hearing on motions related to the trial. Instead he changed his plea.
Portillo has been in the Eagle County jail on $25,000 bond since his May 8 accident. Police said he borrowed a friend’s SUV at a downtown Basalt bar and restaurant after a night of partying. While traveling west on Two Rivers Road he swerved into the opposite lane and collided with the SUV of John “Jeff” Reese and Susan L. Grove of Basalt. The couple was returning from a Colorado Rockies baseball game in Denver and were also home when they were hit at about 10:30 p.m.
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Reese is an Aspen native who served in the Navy before returning to the town work as an accountant with Marolt LLP. Groves is a nurse. They both suffered head injuries and were in a coma for weeks. Family friend Roger Marolt wrote in a column in The Aspen Times last week relating their slow and tough recovery.
“As they continue their rigorous rehabilitation, they are often left with little strength to carry on basic daily tasks like cooking and cleaning. Neither will be fit to work for many months to come,” Marolt wrote. “And, on top of every other immense challenge they face, the bills keep piling up.”
The medical expenses exceed $1 million for Reese and Grove, and insurance pays only 80 percent. Authorities said it is unlikely Portillo will be able to pay any restitution.
Friends have established an account for the couple. The Jeff Reese and Susan Grove Benefit Account is at Alpine Bank. The Catholic church in Aspen also is accepting contributions on behalf of Reese and Grove, according to Marolt.