Family wants justice after daughter killed in Pitkin accident
October 22, 2014
It was the evening of Aug. 23; the skies were dark, and temperatures were unseasonably low. Despite rains in the area earlier in the day, the roads were reportedly dry.
Illinois resident Meleyna Kistner, 21, a mechanical engineering student at a prestigious Indiana university — described as family-oriented and environmentally conscious — was driving through Pitkin County on Highway 133 with her boyfriend. Earlier, they had toured the Roaring Fork Valley and visited the Maroon Bells.
They were traveling from Carbondale, heading south. The eventual destination was Oregon, where Kistner's boyfriend, Daniel Thul, 22, planned to visit a community where he had potentially lined up a job. At about 9 p.m., near mile marker 55, north of the highway's intersection with Avalanche Creek Road, a 2010 Honda hatchback driven by Basalt resident Christine Tinner, 46, crossed the center line near a curve and rammed head-on into Thul's 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier, which Kistner was driving.
Kistner was killed. Thul was seriously injured with multiple bone fractures and taken by ambulance to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Tinner also suffered injuries, including a broken leg, and was transported to the same hospital.
The accident has left Kistner's father and stepmother, Remo and Heather Kistner, of Naperville, Illinois, devastated and searching for answers. They've had a lot of conversations with officials from the Colorado State Patrol and the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office, including a conference call Wednesday.
More than anything, they want to know why Tinner was never given a test for drug or alcohol impairment. She was cited on suspicion of three misdemeanors — careless driving causing death, careless driving causing injury and improper lane usage. According to the parents, officials have suggested that Tinner may have fallen asleep at the wheel, but they aren't exactly sure what her defense will be.
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They have started a Facebook campaign, "Justice for Meleyna," in hopes that District Attorney Sherry Caloia and her Aspen office will prosecute Tinner to the fullest extent possible. They have gleaned information suggesting that Tinner was speeding, although she hasn't been charged with speeding. They believe Tinner has a history of traffic offenses and convictions and are wondering why she still has her driver's license.
"I'm not one who sees aliens in the sky coming to get us," Remo Kistner said. "Granted, we are all emotional about what has happened. I'm not looking for conspiracy theories; I'm just looking for someone to tell me what the hell happened. I'm trying to get some justice."
The Facebook page asks friends and others concerned about the case to email a form letter directly to Caloia.
"The gravity of the crime of Meleyna's death warrants more than misdemeanor charges, not only as a just result, but as a deterrent to others who engage in reckless driving," the letter says. "We urge your office to uphold the public's safety and be severe in filing charges. Tinner is a genuine public safety hazard and should be removed from the road."
Meleyna Kistner was set to finish her undergraduate degree at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the spring. She was passionate about cars and how they worked. She recently completed an internship with Remy International in Pendleton, Indiana, where she successfully managed a competitive product comparison of the company's line of alternators.
"Meleyna enjoyed spending time at the beach in Florida, time in the Northwoods area of upper Wisconsin, and had recently decided to travel and explore the great wonders of our beautiful country," her obituary reads. "She loved to listen to her tunes and take road trips and she died doing what she loved … driving through God's beautiful wonders. Her desire and passion for knowledge and exploration manifested itself in fixing cars and tinkering with mechanical things.
"If there was something to fix, improve, or make more efficient, she was on it. She would design a new way, a better way, and invent what she could. We would always call it 'Meli's way.'"
Meleyna Kistner was somewhat atypical of many college students, her father said.
"She was not this stupid college girl who was on some dumb, unplanned trip with her boyfriend, running away from life," Remo Kistner said. "They had gone on Roadtrip.com and dropped pins at every wonderful site (they visited). She was a student at one of the best, if not the best, undergraduate engineering colleges in the country. They were both brilliant kids; Daniel is still a brilliant kid. She had a bright future ahead of her in a man's world. She was going to have huge opportunities."
The Kistners also are curious as to why the State Patrol issued a statement three hours after the accident that said neither alcohol nor drugs were being considered as contributing factors in the crash. To them, it was too soon to make such a determination, especially since Tinner was at the hospital and had not been tested for drug or alcohol use.
Caloia said Tuesday that she could not discuss specifics of the case. She said, however, that state law does not mandate that motorists who are suspected of causing a fatal accident be tested for impairment. The laws on that point differ from state to state.
According to state police, there was no probable cause to test for drugs or alcohol.
"We have talked to the family on numerous occasions and given as much information as we can give to them," Caloia said. "It's not satisfying, I know, because it's not a lot of information. This can be very frustrating to people, and I understand that."
Caloia said similar cases have come across her desk.
"These cases of very sudden death, involving young people, are very sad," she said.
Basalt attorney Dan Shipp, who is representing Tinner on her criminal case, said his client has no recollection of the accident. Tinner is a teacher, healer and businesswoman in the valley, he said.
Tinner is expected to make her initial appearance in Pitkin County Court on Tuesday. The nature of the hearing is a formal filing of charges.
Shipp said he has yet to review discovery in the case. The District Attorney's Office has a 20-day window after Tuesday's hearing to start providing some information, he said.
"I've seen this with (war veterans)," Shipp said. "Christine has no memory of this tragedy. At this point, I don't even have an accident report. I've not had an opportunity to go over that report with her or to find out if it's accurate."
Shipp said that according to a state police investigator, Thul was sleeping when the accident occurred and doesn't know what happened, either.
"My client doesn't have a history of drug or alcohol abuse," Shipp said. "All I can say right now is she has no memory of it. Christine is injured desperately. She has horrible injuries to her left leg. Sometimes when people experience so much injury and trauma, the brain will erase the memory of it so that they don't have to suffer that pain again. I've seen it many times."
As for Thul, a native of Bloomington, Illinois, he and his family have incurred thousands of dollars in medical bills. He also had to put off his final semester of college.
All of that pales in comparison with the loss of his best friend.
"We both felt that we were perfect for each other and planned on spending the rest of our lives together," he said in a statement to the District Attorney's Office.