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Does acquittal affect wrongful death claim in Colorado accidents?

A tragic accident involving a car careening into a Colorado river and claiming one life has taken a turn away from criminal sanctions. The driver was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, one count of reckless and one count of drunkenness. He was recently acquitted of those charges. The man facing the charges was the only survivor. This turn in the case could affect any wrongful death actions sought by the deceased victim's family.

The accident happened in May of last year. The two friends had borrowed a vehicle and were traveling on Colorado Highway 14 when the unthinkable happened. For unknown reasons, the vehicle careened off the roadway and into the Poudre River. According to prosecutors and the Colorado State Patrol, the positioning of the driver's seat and the injuries sustained by the surviving victim would be consistent with being in the driver's seat. This evidence is likely why the man was charged.

According to his defense, there was no way to determine who was driving the vehicle. The man recently acquitted claims that his friend was driving, and that he woke up from a nap only as the vehicle entered the water. The man claims that he escaped the vehicle by climbing out of the sunroof, and then swam for shore. The man stated to State Troopers that he returned to the vehicle, and upon not finding his friend, grabbed a sleeping bag and beer before returning to shore, where he passed out.

The body of the second man was found in the river following the accident. The coroner ruled the death was accidental, stating that the deceased victim was not likely wearing a seat belt. The exact details of this tragic accident may never be fully resolved. Troopers reconstructing the scene stated that they estimate the vehicle to have been traveling over 70 mph in a 35 mph zone.

It is important to note that just because criminal charges do not progress, civil claims, including wrongful death, may still be a viable option. Determining who was driving could have been a helpful piece of information as those involved in the crash seek their options under Colorado law. Either party in this case could still look to civil claims to obtain compensation for their losses. What may be the most helpful key now is seeking the right avenues for guidance and support.

Source:, "Jury acquits man accused of causing fatal car crash that ended in Poudre River," Trevor Hughes, April 26, 2013

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