Aspen judge goes his own way with DUI crash sentence
November 21, 2016
District Judge Chris Seldin was given two choices Monday before he sentenced a 21-year-old man whose drunken-driving trial ended abruptly last month with a startling admission.
A prosecutor recommended the judge to give Colin Buchanan — who pleaded guilty to felony vehicular assault and DUI — 90 days in jail with no credit for serving the past six weeks behind bars. Buchanan's lawyer, on the other hand, called on Seldin to do "the right thing," give him the six weeks credit and allow him to pursue alcohol treatment options as soon as possible.
Seldin, however, chose a third option.
"I observe a failure to fully accept responsibility for the cause of an accident that resulted in serious injuries," the judge said. "During your (DUI) trial, you went to a marijuana dispensary and essentially started mouthing off about how you'd been wasted (at the time of the crash).
"That impresses upon the court that you refuse to accept the gravity of this."
With that, Seldin went even further than prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz wanted. He sentenced Buchanan to 365 days in jail — the maximum he could have imposed for the DUI guilty plea. He gave Buchanan credit for the 57 days in jail he's served since October, meaning he owes another 308 days behind bars.
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But Buchanan's time in jail won't be finished after that term, which will likely amount to less than 308 days because inmates can take time off their sentences for good behavior. That's because Seldin also sentenced Buchanan to another 90 days in jail for the vehicular assault plea, which will follow Buchanan's completion of the first sentence.
Buchanan will be eligible for work release during the 90-day sentence, meaning he can leave for a job during the day but will have to report back to the jail at night.
In addition, Seldin sentenced Buchanan to six years of supervised probation following the jail sentences, as well as 96 hours of community service and unspecified restitution to the two victims Buchanan injured.
"You're young and you have some growing up to do," Seldin said. "I think the community will be safer (with Buchanan on probation) until you're close to the age of 30."
Seldin told Buchanan he could have sentenced him to prison, though "you would probably be eaten alive there and I don't think it would do much good for you."
The crash at the heart of Monday's sentencing occurred June 11, 2015, after Buchanan's 2009 BMW collided head-on with a 1993 Jeep Cherokee on Highway 82 at the Emma Curve. The Jeep's driver, Guadalupe Toledo-Roque, 38, of El Jebel, suffered a nearly severed ankle, a broken leg and fractured ribs. Her male passenger also was seriously injured.
Buchanan was five days into his DUI jury trial in October when he entered one of Aspen's six downtown marijuana dispensaries on a Friday evening. Not long after, an Aspen police detective wearing plainclothes entered the same dispensary to talk with the manager about a woman he suspected might be buying marijuana for underage residents.
While at the dispensary counter, Detective Jeff Fain said he overheard Buchanan talking to a dispensary employee about the crash. More specifically, Fain heard Buchanan say he was "wasted" at the time of the accident, which Fain later reported to prosecutors.
Buchanan also appeared to have been drinking alcohol in violation of his bond conditions, and purchased marijuana at the dispensary, according to Fain and video of Buchanan in the store.
The following Tuesday, Buchanan entered his guilty pleas and has been incarcerated at the Pitkin County Jail ever since.
During his trial, Buchanan's defense attempted to convince jurors that he only had one beer and Xanax before the accident, which occurred after he fell asleep. His blood was not taken until hours after the crash, so prosecutors had to extrapolate his blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash using that data.
Lawson Wills, his lawyer, attempted to mount that defense again Monday, when he said that his client's continued insistence that he only drank one beer before the crash was accurate and honest. But Seldin, who cited evidence presented during the aborted trial, was having none of it.
"I don't believe you had just one beer," Seldin said. "I see no indication that you accept that as the truth."
Roger Adams, a local addiction counselor, said in court Monday that Buchanan has actively sought treatment in jail and planned to pursue an intensive outpatient treatment plan once he's released.
Greg Buchanan, Colin's father, said his son has struggled with anxiety since he was 2 or 3 years old. This is the first time his son has realized his problems are completely his own fault, he said.
"Colin does not want to return to his old life," Greg Buchanan said.
When it came time for him to speak Monday, Colin Buchanan apologized to his lawyer, to Seldin and to his parents, who he said spent a sizable amount of money to help him avoid a felony conviction only to see him ruin their efforts.
"For the past seven years, (my parents) tried to teach me right from wrong," Buchanan said tearfully. "The more they tried to help me, the more I pushed them away, and for that I'm sorry.
"I want to be a young man they can be proud of."
Buchanan, however, saved his strongest apology for the victims of the crash, who attended Monday's sentencing but did not speak.
"Most importantly, I'd like to apologize (to them)," he said. "I'd like to apologize for the physical pain I've caused them due to my actions."
Buchanan pledged to pay them back for their physical, emotional and financial pain once he's released from jail and begins working.
"The last two months have been an eye-opening experience for me," he said. "I never want to put anyone else at risk again, or myself. "