Charges dismissed against driver in Basalt pedestrian death on Highway 82
The District Attorney’s Office dismissed all charges Thursday against an Aspen driver who struck and killed a pedestrian in August on Highway 82 in Basalt, according to court records.
Blood taken from Christopher Fish, 49, after the Aug. 23 crash showed no sign of alcohol, marijuana or any other controlled substances, Aspen prosecutor Don Nottingham said Thursday.
“It’s possible another driver could have avoided (the accident),” Nottingham said. “But the evidence doesn’t show that intoxication or recklessness caused him to hit (the victim).”
Aspen Village resident Michael Campion, 54, died after being struck by Fish’s Ford F-250 pickup. An autopsy found that Campion’s blood-alcohol content at the time he was struck was 0.25, more than three times the legal driving limit.
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Fish was facing felony charges of vehicular homicide and failing to remain at the scene after an accident involving death, in addition to misdemeanor charges of DUI, failure to report an accident, possession of an open alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle, possession of an open container of marijuana in a motor vehicle and no seat belt use by the driver or passenger.
Fish, a custom home builder who’s lived in the valley since 1991, said in a phone interview Thursday that while he was happy the criminal case against him was dismissed, he was not happy overall.
“There’s no winner in this situation … because there’s a loss of life,” he said. “We all lose here. There’s no good outcome.”
With the criminal case behind him, Fish said he can now focus on processing the trauma associated with his role in ending a human life, as well as the stress of being arrested, taken to jail and falsely accused of driving drunk and killing someone.
“I feel like I lost,” he said. “I feel like a loser nonetheless. It was a very traumatic thing.”
Despite a police report quoting him as saying he’d smoked marijuana — which he uses for anxiety — at 5 p.m. the day of the crash, Fish said he actually hadn’t smoked at all that day.
“Normally I smoke once or twice a day,” he said. “I just didn’t have time that day. By the grace of God I didn’t smoke anything all day.”
He said he’d had one beer before dinner, though he weighs 200 pounds and that alcohol had already been metabolized by the time of crash. He said his girlfriend had consumed beer in the truck earlier in the day, which accounts for the two open beers found in the vehicle after the accident.
A Colorado State Patrol officer reported that Fish failed roadside sobriety tests after the crash. Also, a drug recognition expert examined Fish and reported that he believed he was under the influence of marijuana.
The Basalt police drug recognition expert should be held accountable for his mistake, Fish said.
Fish’s lawyer, Pamela Mackey of Denver, seconded that notion in a press release Thursday.
“The erroneous conclusions by the state trooper and the Basalt police officer accusing Mr. Fish of intoxication (led) to mis-information to the community, additional unnecessary heartache for the Campion family and unjustified damage to Mr. Fish’s reputation,” Mackey wrote in the release.
Fish said he was driving in the left lane the night of the crash when he suddenly saw something moving out of the corner of his eye. He said he locked up the truck’s brakes, throwing his girlfriend into the windshield.
“I didn’t know what it was,” Fish said. “I just knew something’s there and to stop.
“There was absolutely nothing I could do.”
Fish said it took him more than half-a-mile stop because he had to safely pull the truck to the side of the road with no power steering or power brakes, and that he was in shock.
A witness who was driving the opposite direction told The Aspen Times he saw Campion running across the street and “didn’t know how anybody could have stopped.”
“It’s almost like he jumped out in front of it,” the witness said.
Witness statements played a role in his decision to dismiss the case, Nottingham said Thursday.
“The People have no reasonable likelihood of success at trial,” Nottingham wrote in his motion to dismiss the case.
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The coronavirus threat delayed the opening of developed campgrounds in the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal valleys. The Forest Service will phase them back in by June 12.