Court issues county’s first felony DUI sentence
The first man ever charged with felony drunken driving in Pitkin County was sentenced to 90 days in jail Monday and three years of supervised probation.
Mark Neal, 55, pleaded guilty to his fourth DUI, which is now considered a felony after the Colorado Legislature changed the law in 2014. Previously, suspected drunken drivers would face only misdemeanor charges no matter how many times they were convicted of DUI.
“A fourth DUI is extremely serious and difficult to comprehend,” said District Judge Chris Seldin. “The risk you’re posing to the community and yourself is grave indeed.”
Seldin also suspended a two-year prison sentence and ordered Neal, who lives in Edwards, to attend Eagle County Drug Court, stay away from drugs and alcohol and remain in a sobriety-monitoring program.
Neal’s latest DUI occurred in November after an employee at Stubbies Bar in Basalt called a DUI hotline to report him. The employee later told Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies that Neal urinated in a bathroom sink.
Neal was later stopped by deputies on Highway 82.
“It was abundantly apparent to patrons at Stubbies, as well as the bartender, that he was wasted,” said Aspen prosecutor Andrea Bryan.
Bryan characterized felony DUI cases as “some of the most dangerous cases the court will see.”
“It’s only a matter of time … (before) they will kill themselves or an innocent family who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bryan said.
However, Neal’s attorney, public defender Molly Owens, said her client’s latest arrest “was not so bad of a felony DUI.” His other DUI arrests included one where he was found in a parked car and another where he had a low blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent, she said.
In addition, she said Neal sought outpatient alcohol treatment two days after the November arrest and has been sober ever since.
“He’s committed to a lifetime of sobriety,” Owen said.
Neal told the court he is not a “hard-core alcoholic” and is “more like a weekend warrior.” Still, he admitted his behavior was dangerous.
“It’s fortunate I didn’t get into an accident and hurt anybody,” Neal said.
In other court news Monday, a 32-year-old Front Range man who led sheriff’s deputies on a high-speed chase that ended near Aspen High School last fall pleaded guilty Monday to two charges connected to the case.
Marcus Trujillo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit vehicular eluding and driving while ability impaired by alcohol. His plea deal calls for him to serve a two-year prison sentence.
Trujillo was at the wheel of a stolen Nissan Pathfinder that passed a sheriff’s deputy going 95 mph on Highway 82 near Twining Flats Road on Oct. 21. The deputy gave chase and watched the SUV weaving in and out of traffic, passing vehicles on the right-hand shoulder and nearly colliding with others while maintaining speeds between 85 and 90 mph.
Trujillo drove the SUV up Maroon Creek Road and through the Aspen Public Schools complex and then cut across a yard and an area of rocky open space near the schools’ softball fields before crashing the vehicle on rocks just east of Aspen High School.
Law enforcement reportedly later found a crack pipe, a “makeshift meth pipe,” needles, a butane torch, an empty plastic bag for syringes and another “apparent crack/meth pipe” made out of an alcohol bottle.
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This past season brought with it Hailey Swirbul’s greatest individual result as a professional cross-country ski racer. But any real satisfaction she received always came when racing alongside her teammates, notably during world champs.