Trucker in fatal crash wants statements suppressed
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A trucker involved in a crash that killed two people on Highway 82 in January 2008 is trying to get statements he made to state troopers thrown out as evidence.
An attorney for trucker Mark Chamness claimed in a hearing Friday that investigators for the Colorado State Patrol should have read Chamness his Miranda rights, notifying him that statements he gave could be used against him in a possible trial.
Chamness talked to Capt. Rich Duran after the accident as part of a standard motor vehicle accident investigation. Chamness was initially ticketed for careless driving causing death and ordered to appear in court, but he wasn’t arrested. The District Attorney’s Office examined the case and eventually filed two charges of vehicular homicide. Chamness pleaded not guilty earlier this year and the case is moving toward trial.
Chamness was pulling a big rig across Highway 82 shortly before dawn on Jan. 8, 2008, when the accident occurred near Catherine Store, upvalley from Carbondale. He was using a truck to pull a mobile trailer to Buttermilk for use as an office during the Aspen Winter X Games.
Chamness pulled from a property on the north side of Highway 82, across the westbound lanes, then waited at the median to turn east or upvalley on the highway. He had to wait for traffic and the trailer sat across the westbound lanes. A Kia Sophia with three occupants slammed into the trailer. Driver Elizeo Trinidad, 21, was killed instantly along with front-seat passenger Noemy Ramos, 23. The rear seat passenger, Julio Hernandez Mendoza, was critically injured.
One of Chamness’ attorneys, Joe Kirwin, argued during Friday’s hearing that Chamness wasn’t free to just leave the scene while state troopers were investigating. Chamness was led by various government officials to different vehicles to wait during the investigation and given the impression that he had to remain at the scene until he was cited. Duran’s questioning of Chamness constituted “custodial interrogation,” Kirwin claimed, because his client was essentially in custody.
“He began to interrogate Mr. Chamness but he didn’t Mirandize him at all,” he said. “They had a duty to Mirandize him before they got any statements from him.”
Deputy D.A. Jonathan Pototsky countered that Miranda rights don’t have to be given during “most” traffic stops. The investigation of the Chamness accident didn’t include any conditions that required reading him his Miranda rights, he said, adding that the statements that Chamness provided were voluntary.
“He was not handcuffed. The tone [of Duran] was conversational. He was given a summons, not arrested,” Pototsky said. “There was only one officer there, they didn’t try to gang up on him.”
Garfield County District Judge Denise Lynch told the attorneys she will consider their arguments and issue a written decision before the trial.
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