DA won’t charge driver in death of pedestrian near Aspen
ASPEN – The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office will not pursue criminal charges against the driver of a public bus that struck and killed a woman early the morning of Jan. 1 near Aspen, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin said the decision was made Friday after a districtwide meeting with prosecutors from Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties. Mordkin, whose Pitkin County office would have filed the charges, said he did not want to make the decision public until Tuesday. The prosecutor said he notified the mother of victim Joanie Marie Kocab about the decision Monday evening.
“The public should feel comfortable in the fact that one person didn’t make this decision, but it was a group decision,” Mordkin said.
Mordkin declined to say what factors influenced the decision to not prosecute Vijita Evans, who was driving a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus the morning it struck Kocab, 29.
“We don’t discuss the basis on why we make these decisions,” Mordkin said.
A two-week resident of Basalt, Kocab – who was raised in Kansas and earned her master’s degree in museum studies at the University of Kansas in 2008 – was killed as she was walking in the eastbound bus-lane of Highway 82, just west of the intersection at Owl Creek Road.
On Feb. 15, the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office issued a report saying that Kocab’s blood-alcohol content at the time she died was 0.298 percent, more than three times Colorado’s legal threshold for driving under the influence.
Mordkin said Kocab’s level of intoxication did not play a role in not to charge the driver.
“In a criminal case you don’t blame the victim for being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
Had Evans been charged, she likely would have faced a misdemeanor offense of careless driving resulting in death. The statute of limitations on that charge expires 18 months after the incident, Mordkin said.
There still remain questions as to how Kocab made it from Basalt to the outskirts of Aspen – a stretch of roughly 20 miles on Highway 82 – the morning of the fatal accident.
While the Colorado State Patrol investigated the accident, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office was charged with investigating what precipitated it. Sheriff’s deputies had said she exited a RFTA bus in Basalt at 12:45 a.m. after getting into an argument with her fiance. She was wearing dark clothing at the time of her death, and her only personal belonging was her cell phone.
Lead investigator Jeff Lumsden of the Sheriff’s Office also had said that she did not take either one of the two upvalley-bound buses after she disembarked the bus in Basalt, based on statements from the drivers of both buses. Neither of the two buses had cameras, so there was no surveillance video to review, according to Lumsden.
Lumsden also had said that a passenger and driver of an Aspen-bound taxi reportedly believe they saw Kocab walking along the eastbound lane minutes before she was killed. But other than that, no other witnesses who saw Kocab between the time she exited the bus in Basalt and the time she was struck by another one have come forward, the deputy said.
Meanwhile, officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation plan to put better signs up to direct pedestrians to a bike path along Highway 82 on the outskirts of Aspen. The decision was made in response to Kocab’s death.
“We do think that we can probably improve the guidance to pedestrians,” Zane Znamenacek, safety and traffic engineer in CDOT’s Grand Junction office, told The Aspen Times last month. “Maybe we can improve things somewhat.”
The goal for CDOT is to improve the signs that direct pedestrians, whether they’re familiar with the area or not, to the safe walking route on the bike path, Znamenacek said. That direction will logically be placed at intersections with crosswalks, he said.
The goal is to have the signs installed within the next month or two, CDOT said.
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