Prosecutors paint gruesome picture of fatal Rifle rollover

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

The 11-year-old survivor of a back-road Rifle rollover crash that killed two people in December 2017 testified that the alleged driver had been drinking at some point before the wreck.

Cody Christopher, 40, is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide for the deaths of Matt Smith, then 36, and Trent Johnson, then 41. He is also charged with vehicular assault and child abuse for injuring Johnson’s son, then 10 years old.

The boy testified Tuesday afternoon that he saw Christopher drinking while sitting in a ranch storeroom in the afternoon before the four people went hunting for coyotes Dec. 28, 2017.

Otherwise, the testimony was unclear. When District Attorney Jeff Cheney questioned the boy, he said he remembered Johnson, Smith and Christopher all drinking beer while in the car late that evening. When Christopher’s defense attorney Lawson Wills questioned the boy, he testified that he didn’t see Christopher drinking while driving.

The boy later told Cheney that he could not remember seeing Christopher drink while operating the Ford Excursion before it went off the road and rolled down the hill into Middle Rifle Creek.

“I remember right before (the wreck), there was like a big bump and we went off,” the boy said.

The road conditions, whether it was slippery with a small amount of snow, were also unclear. But the boy described Puma Paw Road, part of which is known as County Road 219, as a “rocky road.”

The boy also testified that after the crash, Christopher carried him part way from the scene of the wreck back to the ranch house, where Smith lived with his wife.

The boy’s family in the courtroom became visibly agitated as Wills pushed the boy to describe how he crawled from the overturned car and saw his father’s body.

The prosecution claims Christopher was intoxicated while driving, but did not get a clear answer the boy.

Smith’s wife, Lyndsay Smith, also did not testify clearly about Christopher’s intoxication.

The Smiths managed the Puma Paw Ranch, a private outdoor resort that ran some cows and hosted guests for hunting and other activities.

The jury heard recordings of two 911 calls Lyndsay Smith made after Christopher and the boy arrived at her house, bleeding and injured.

“These people are bleeding bad,” Smith told the dispatcher, and added that two people were still missing from the wreck.

Christopher was acting strangely, and had a head wound. When asked if Christopher appeared intoxicated, Lyndsay said, “No, but I couldn’t tell because of the condition he was in.”

Smith apparently told one investigator shortly after the accident that there may have been a slight alcoholic odor coming from Christopher, but in court, she said “I couldn’t smell anything over the blood.”

“This wasn’t an accident. This was a chain reaction, based on defendant’s actions, when he drank, and then he drove, and then crashed,” prosecutor Sarah Nordgaard said in opening arguments for the trial.

“(Smith) and (Johnson), their bodies grew colder and lonelier as the defendant was able to walk away from the crash that he caused when he drunkenly drove over a cliff,” Nordgaard said.

Wills did not make an opening argument Tuesday, but reserved the opportunity to present the defense’s position later.


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