Case against motorist who caused Highway 82 fatality nears dismissal
The Aspen Times
The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is prepared to dismiss the case against Carbondale resident John Walls, 89, who was driving on the wrong side of Highway 82 on Aug. 23 when he hit and killed a motorcyclist, court officials said Tuesday.
During a hearing in Pitkin County Court, prosecutor Michael Warren said a written motion to dismiss the case had been prepared. The proposed dismissal is based on a Colorado Department of Human Services report that says Walls is “not competent to proceed” with his misdemeanor case. The report casts doubt on any ability to restore his competency.
Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely asked Warren to hold off on the filing, for now, so that another matter could first be addressed: the future care of Walls, who is hard-of-hearing, appears to suffer from dementia and has no official next of kin to take responsibility for him.
Walls, who lives alone in an apartment, was assisted in getting to court by his stepson, who said that he has no power of attorney to make decisions about Walls’ long-term care or anything else. Walls no longer has a valid drivers’ license — he elected not to retake a state drivers’ exam following the accident, the stepson said.
Walls was getting along OK in life on his own until the accident five months ago, and then he began deteriorating rapidly, the stepson said. He told the judge that he looked into some long-term care facilities in the Roaring Fork Valley and elsewhere for his stepfather, but there are no immediate vacancies.
A Colorado State Patrol investigation determined that on Aug. 23, Walls was driving a 2003 Ford Focus eastbound near mile marker 22 in Pitkin County when his vehicle crossed over into the westbound lane and rammed into a motorcycle, a 2002 Ducati, driven by Patrick Dunn, 53, of Basalt.
Soon after, the District Attorney’s Office filed three charges against Walls: careless driving causing death and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors, and a traffic-lane violation.
Walls was present in court Tuesday and appeared to have difficulty hearing and understanding the proceeding. A few times he answered basic questions posed by Fernandez-Ely and his stepson, but then would seem confused. He continually pointed out that he was having trouble hearing, even with the assistance of a headset with volume control and everyone speaking as loudly as possible.
“I’m sorry all this happened,” Walls told the judge. “I’ll never drive again. I’m off the road.”
Prior to the apology, Ohio resident Robert Dunn, the eldest brother of Patrick Dunn, addressed the court and took issue with Walls’ care, saying those who knew him should have understood that he was in no condition to be driving.
“I’m here for my family and for my brother, Patrick Dunn,” Robert Dunn said. “As we all know, Patrick was killed by Mr. Walls. Patrick was a kind, intellectual person with a big heart, and was always there to lend a helping hand.
“He was at the height of his life, here in (the Aspen area),” his brother continued. “It’s the best he’s ever been. He was living life, having a great time. It seemed as if he found a nice place to settle.”
Robert Dunn then turned and spoke directly to Walls.
“Mr. Walls, on August 23rd, you took my brother from us,” he said. “By looking at your condition now, Mr. Walls, I can’t believe that your license wasn’t revoked years ago. A person doesn’t just wake up one morning with dementia or incompetency. It’s a process that takes a period of time. I’m sure there were signs and symptoms that made it clear that you had a problem. It’s very hard for us to deal with the fact that you killed our brother and no charges will be brought to you.”
Later, Robert Dunn told reporters that his brother had been living in the Roaring Fork Valley for a couple of years and was working as a public shuttle driver. He had relocated from Utah, where he worked as a rancher and carpenter.
He said his brother left Ohio at an early age because people there didn’t relate to him very well, except for family. Patrick Dunn seemed to be adjusted to Colorado before his untimely death, Robert Dunn said.
Fernandez-Ely described the situation as “a very sad case, all the way around, there’s no question about it.” She asked Walls’ stepson to do some research into whether the Veterans Administration can care for Walls, who at one time in his life served in the military.
In court, Walls said he also formerly worked as an architect.
The judge scheduled another hearing for Feb. 9.
“I think you need a guardian,” she told Walls. “Each time (in court) you understand less and less.”
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