DA ponders charges in Mesa County crash that killed unborn child
November 8, 2007
GRAND JUNCTION ” Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger is considering charges against the driver blamed in a head-on collision that killed an unborn child.
The prosecutor is well-acquainted with the circumstances of such a case. He was deputy district attorney in Mesa County in the mid-1990s, when he weighed charges against two teens accused of stealing a Jeep, plowing into a home and killing a pregnant woman.
Now, Hautzinger’s office is charged with prosecuting 24-year-old Logan Lage, who was involved in a crash Tuesday on Highway 56 that injured 26-year-old Shea Lehnen of Collbran, as well as her 1-year-old son. The accident may also have killed Lehnen’s unborn child ” eight-and-a-half months along. The fetus died at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction after the accident, according the DA.
Can murder or vehicular homicide be charged for killing a fetus?
“I couldn’t find a way then (in the prior case) and the law hasn’t changed since,” Hautzinger said Wednesday.
“In a generic sense, Colorado law says until a person is born alive, it’s not a person in terms of being a victim of a crime,” Hautzinger said.
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Any charge of murder or vehicular homicide may hinge on a cause-of-death ruling from the Mesa County Coroner’s Office. An autopsy was performed Wednesday; results were not available Wednesday night.
Tuesday’s crash occurred after the Colorado State Patrol had pursued Lage’s Jeep Cherokee for some 15 miles, attempting to stop him for speeding, before the Cherokee slammed head-on into a Nissan driven by Lehnen.
The trooper’s pursuit of Lage is part an ongoing investigation, a state patrol spokesman said.
Lage was hospitalized Tuesday with “serious injuries,” troopers said in a news release.
A St. Mary’s spokesman did not confirm whether Lage was at the hospital Wednesday. He was not at the Mesa County Jail as of 7 p.m.
Hautzinger said he intends to charge the Lage case “aggressively,” but doesn’t believe, based on the facts that have emerged thus far, that the case is similar to a March accident that resulted in counts of first-degree murder against a driver.
In that case, Hautzinger charged 43-year-old Patrick Strawmatt with two counts of first-degree murder, arguing Strawmatt acted with “extreme indifference” to human life in a drunk-driving crash on Interstate 70 that killed two people.
Strawmatt accepted a plea deal sending him to prison for 72 years.
In Lage’s case, the DA said: “I don’t think there’s anything that rises to the level of ‘extreme indifference,’ but certainly there’s recklessness.”