Teen pleads not guilty in fatal accident
An Aspen teenager charged in a fatal car accident pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide in county juvenile court Monday.Flanked by his lawyers and parents, Dustin Hite, 18, sat quietly as defense attorney Fredric Winocur entered the plea. Prosecutors say the Aspen High student was driving a car that slid off Highway 82 and rolled east of Aspen last summer, leaving passenger and classmate Alex Terral with head trauma. Terral died four days after the accident; he was 17.Judge James Boyd yesterday set a five-day trial that will begin June 27, nearly a year after Terral’s death on June 28, 2004.The delays in the case, coupled with a trial that won’t start for nearly four months, angered Terral’s father, Tim. Gail Nichols, the deputy district attorney, and the Terral family were hoping for an earlier trial.”I just want to see the justice system work,” Terral said after the hearing, “because I think it’s being worked. Maybe that happens all the time, but I’d love to see it work the way it should work.”Monday’s hearing was the first that Terral had attended. He sat between Nichols and Pitkin County Sheriff’s Investigator Bruce Benjamin. Nichols pressed for the case to move forward more quickly, saying the pace is upsetting to everyone involved.”Speed is something that is not happening here,” she said. “[Tim] told me, ‘I don’t want to delay this anymore.'”Winocur told Boyd that he and co-counsel Katharine Sullivan need more time to prepare. He said the defense’s accident reconstruction expert came to Aspen recently, but his investigation was hampered by snowy weather. He added that the expert is coming back.In yesterday’s hearing, Winocur tried to have a prosecution exhibit that included statements on the mental health of Alex Terral’s mother thrown out. The exhibit was introduced during motions on whether Hite should be allowed a jury trial.Winocur argued that bringing in the emotionally charged exhibit was not appropriate at this point in the case. Nichols countered that the feelings of the family are very important.Boyd allowed the exhibit to remain. He also ruled that Hite was not entitled to a jury trial, citing the protection offered by the juvenile justice system. Hite was 17 when the accident occurred.”A juvenile proceeding is different from an adult proceeding,” Boyd said, partly because rehabilitation, rather than punitive, efforts have a larger role in the juvenile system than in the adult system.Hite waived his right to a speedy trial Monday, and Winocur said he would need five consecutive days for a trial. Nichols said three days would suffice.”We’re going to need at least a full day for the state’s expert, and they may have two experts,” Winocur said. He added that the testimony of the defense’s expert may take a full day as well.In addition to the June trial date, Boyd scheduled a motions hearing on May 2.Sullivan refused to comment after the hearing.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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