Aspen teen run over at Buttermilk stargazing party sues driver, mother
A stargazing party atop Buttermilk Mountain turned catastrophic last summer when an unlicensed and inexperienced teenage driver ran an SUV over a girl twice, resulting in brain injury and permanent disability for the victim, based on allegations in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The victim and her father, both of Aspen, are suing the driver and her mother, also Aspen residents, in Pitkin County District Court. They are claiming the defendants’ negligence altered the victim’s life to the point where she will need both physical and psychological treatment for years to come.
The victim and the driver are both students at Aspen High School. The Aspen Times is not identifying them by name because they were minors when the accident occurred. The Times also is withholding the parents’ names to protect their daughters’ identifies.
“Our understanding is that (the defendants) do not feel they did anything wrong,” said Aspen attorney Ryan Kalamaya, name partner with the Aspen firm Kalamaya|Goscha, which filed the suit.
The suit stems from July 25, 2018, when a group of Aspen teenagers, including the victim and defendant driver, visited one of their friend’s family’s ranches on West Buttermilk Road for a night of stargazing.
“The plan called for the teenagers to stargaze from the tops of their vehicles and hang out in the warm summer night together,” the suit says.
The plaintiff, who was 16 years old at the time, was one of the first teens to arrive at the ranch, while others were en route by vehicle, including the younger defendant and two of her juvenile friends, the suit says.
The three were riding in a GMC sport-utility vehicle, on loan from the defendant driver’s mother, who “often lent her Yukon to (defendant’s) teenage friends to drive unsupervised,” the suit alleges.
Initially the SUV was being driven by one of the defendant’s friends. The defendant driver took the wheel when they arrived at the ranch property, struggling to control the SUV, the complaint alleges.
After the Yukon stopped, the plaintiff girl hoisted herself atop the SUV to watch the stars, similar to what her teen friends were doing on other vehicles, the suit contends.
“While (the alleged victim) was on the top of the hood of the stationary Yukon, Defendant … floored the gas. (The victim) was thrown off the front of the Yukon and sucked under the driver’s side wheel. … The Yukon went over (the victim’s) head and her left hand. (The victim) thought she was going to die,” the suit says.
The defendant then hit the brakes with the girl still under the Yukon, before running over her a second time, the suit says.
Two of the teens at the party then loaded the victim into one of their father’s trucks and drove her to Aspen Valley Hospital, where emergency room staff initially determined she had no serious injuries but a slight concussion and laceration on her hand, according to an incident report from Deputy Grant Jahnke of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Jahnke’s report stated it did not appear the teens had been drinking or using drugs. The report did not cite the driver for any infractions because there did not appear to be any serious injuries, according to the report.
The next day, however, the victim had a concussion and was making nonsensical statements, according to Jahnke’s report.
Additionally, the automobile insurance policy on the Yukon was not valid at the time of the incident and did not cover “extensive surgery” on the girl’s left hand or mental health treatment and testing, which showed she suffered from mild neurocognitive disorder from traumatic brain injury and attention deficit disorder, the suit says.
Meanwhile, on May 17, a sheriff’s deputy cited the driver for operating a new Land Rover without a driver’s license or learner’s permit, the suit says in an effort to show her mother continues to allow her to drive unlicensed.
Chicago attorney Mary Lisa Sullivan, who is representing the defendants in the matter, said she had not seen the lawsuit and declined to discuss the nature of the disagreement between the families.
The city of Aspen has taken over the duties of producing the Fourth of July celebration in town and has an entire day planned to celebrate America’s birthday.
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