Driver wants confession suppressed
September 17, 2008
BASALT ” A man accused of severely injuring a Basalt couple in a car accident in May is trying to get his confession to police and other evidence suppressed.
Oscar Canas Portillo faces two counts of vehicular assault causing serious bodily injury and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs for the May 8 accident.
Police accuse him of borrowing a friend’s SUV at a downtown Basalt bar, crossing the center line on Two Rivers Road 1 mile west of Basalt and plowing into the SUV of Jeff Reese and Susan Grove. The Basalt couple was returning from a Colorado Rockies baseball game in Denver when they were hit at about 10:30 p.m. Both suffered head injuries and a variety of broken bones.
Basalt police investigators said Portillo admitted while being treated for a broken leg and other injuries at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs that he was the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident.
Portillo contends now that he was in no condition while he was in the hospital to voluntarily waive his right to an attorney. His attorney, Dana Christiansen of the Dillon Regional Public Defenders Office, filed a recent motion to prevent use of the confession and other evidence at trial because it was allegedly obtained illegally.
The motion said that Spanish is Portillo’s native language and that it is unclear if Spanish or English was spoken when he was questioned in the hospital by police, or if an interpreter was present. He was also taking various painkillers and other medications administered by hospital staff after surgery to repair a broken leg.
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“As such Mr. Portillo alleges that any statements made were involuntary, were taken in violation of his right to assistance of counsel and/or right to remain silent,” the motion said. “They were also the product of an illegal arrest … or were obtained without adequate advisement of his rights” under Colorado and federal law.
Basalt police said at the time of the arrest that Portillo had been cooperative and that “he fells pretty bad” about the accident. He initially denied being the driver of the vehicle, but later admitted being responsible, police said.
Portillo allegedly released his medical records at Valley View to police. A blood test allegedly showed he was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine at the time. Portillo was arrested May 14 after he was discharged from the hospital.
The Eagle County District Attorney’s office is challenging the claim that the arrest was improper and that evidence was illegally obtained. A hearing before a judge for a ruling on the motions was postponed Wednesday. Portillo must enter a plea or accept a plea bargain from the D.A.’s office at that hearing.
Portillo is being held in Eagle County Jail on $25,000 bond. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had also requested that Portillo be detained, even if posted bond, so they could investigate if he was in the U.S. legally.
The family of Reese and Grove said earlier this summer that the couple are facing lengthy rehabilitation to recover from their injuries.