Fort Lupton man sentenced to 37 years in prison for causing death, injuries of northern Colorado teens in Thanksgiving DUI crash
April 7, 2017
In the months since Thanksgiving, 16-year-old Nash Rider has taught Tori Hartman what unconditional love is.
Fighting through tears Friday afternoon as she spoke at the sentencing of 25-year-old Alex Rodriguez, the family friend said Nash's mother and sister are preparing to become the boy's 24-hour caregivers once he returns to Windsor from Craig Hospital in Denver. He may never walk or talk again, she said.
Rodriguez, who caused Nash's injuries, as well as the death of 19-year-old Kyle Nackos in a Nov. 24 drunk driving crash on Interstate 25, was sentenced to 37 years in prison Friday.
The head-on crash took place near the Dacono exit on Interstate 25. Rodriguez was driving south in the highway's northbound lanes when he struck a car driven by Nash, with Nackos in the passenger seat. The two friends were returning from a concert in Colorado Springs.
Rodriguez was charged with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and driving without proof of insurance. He pleaded guilty to all charges on Feb. 15.
The Rider family did not attend the Rodriguez's sentencing hearing on Friday. Hartman said it was a choice born out of survival.
"The only way they can survive is to focus all their energy on their son Nash," Hartman said.
The hearing featured statements from seven people who offered wrenching memories of the young men Nash and Nackos were growing into. Multiple people asked Weld District Court Judge Thomas Quammen to sentence Rodiguez to the longest prison term possible, a request he granted.
At a candlelight vigil held in Nackos' memory in November, the Nackos family publicly asked mourners to forgive Rodriguez and pray for him. That statement speaks to the family's religious faith, but it was not meant to excuse Rodriguez's actions.
"Mercy should never replace justice," Julie Nackos, Kyle's mother, said Friday. "Mercy is extended once justice is served."
The sound of gentle weeping filled the courtroom as she spoke, and people throughout the audience kept their eyes down, unable to look up. She spoke about her family's need for justice, but interspersed it with the love they still share for Kyle.
"We not only lost our son Thanksgiving morning," she said. "I lost my baby."
The crash had a ripple-effect on Weld County, with more than 300 people attending the vigil. Weld County sheriff's deputy Aaron McConnaughey, who witnessed the crash as he attempted to pull Rodriguez over, also felt the effects.
"(That crash) always goes through my mind," he said. As one of the first responders on the scene that night, McConnaughey did his best to save Kyle's life.
"I legitimately pushed the limits of my patrol car to get to the scene of that crash," he said. "I sprinted to the crash because I knew it was going to be horrible."
He stayed with Kyle as first responders were on their way, he said in a halting voice. But he knew the boy was dying.
"I was telling him 'hang in there man, we got help on the way,'" McConnaughey said. "But the pulse I was feeling faded away until I couldn't feel it anymore."
During the hearing, Mickey Pirraglia, one of the case's prosecutors, reminded Quammen this was not the first time Rodriguez drove drunk. In 2012, he said, Rodriguez drove drunk in LaSalle and passed out in his car as it straddled a set of railroad tracks.
"For any other reasonable person, that would have been the wakeup call to prevent this tragedy," Pirraglia said. "But it wasn't."
During Rodriguez's own tearful address, he said he was emotional that night because he was at a party during which an acquaintance made a toast that inflamed deep childhood trauma. To deal with the emotional pain, he said, he drank.
"All I wanted to do was go outside, get some air and calm down," he said.
He added that he accepted responsibility for his actions that night and apologized to the Nackos and Rider families.
"I can't emphasize how deeply sorry and shameful I feel," he said. "I want to start right now and try to save someone else's life. God has put me on this earth to use my testimony."
Deterrence was on Quammen's mind too, the judge said.
"(I hope) what is said here today is going to have an impact and provide a deterrent for others," he said. "You decided to drive, killing and severely injuring two of Windsor's most promising success stories and…crushing, crushing, an entire community."
Julie Nackos said the crash has changed how she sees death.
"I don't have a death wish, but I do have a very special young man waiting to see me again," she said. "The next time I hug him it's going to be a long time before I let him go."