One dead after family struck by vehicle on Highway 34 in Grand County
July 5, 2013
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — Lucas Paul Ackerman's bail was set at $40,000 during his arraignment, which took place on Friday at the 14th Judicial District court in Hot Sulphur Springs.
Ackerman, 33, who is being held in Grand County Jail for a vehicular-pedestrian accident that sent four family members from Estes Park to the hospital and killed one, appeared by video before Judge Mary Hoak of the 14th Judical District Court.
Upon listing the charges against Ackerman and setting bail at $40,000 upon the recommendation from District Attorney Brett Barkey, Hoak asked if Ackerman had any questions.
"I would like to just get out and provide for my family," Ackerman said, "I'm not trying to be selfish here just thinking about my own family, but I do have a family that depends on me, so I would just like to get out and get back to work."
Ackerman applied for the public defender. The Grand Lake man has a wife and two children ages 7 and 8. He has lived in Grand County for 13 years. He works at the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District.
Barkey said in court Ackerman had a prior DUI in 2002, plus past misdemeanors including a successful deferred judgement of third-degree assault in 2002, a 2001 Class 3 misdemeanor of disorderly conduct in Larimer County in 2001, and a harassment misdemeanor in El Paso County in 1999.
Due to the number of victims in the case and his criminal record, Barkey told the judge it is an "aggravated case" and that bail should be doubled from the $20,000 bail in light of alleged offenses.
Ackerman was told he could not consume alcohol nor contact victims or family in any way if he makes bail. Ackerman asked in court if he could contact his own family if he were to make bail, which the judge told him he could.
Ackerman is charged with vehicular homicide, a class 3 felony, plus four counts of assault for driving under the influence of alcohol, child abuse and possession of a weapon under the influence, both class 2 misdemeanors.
The Wesley family of 10 was walking on or near Highway 34 when Ackerman's pick-up truck hit the mother and father, Debbie Westley, 49, and Gregory Westley, 50, and their 10- and 18-year-old daughters and 3-year-old son. Gregory Westley died at the scene, confirmed Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock.
The mother Debbie, her two daughters and young son were seriously injured and airlifted directly from the scene to seek medical help.
Ackerman's blood alcohol limit allegedly was at 0.156, nearly twice the legal limit of a DUI, when Trooper G.E. Muse of the Colorado State Patrol placed him in custody, according to court documents.
Muse quoted Ackerman as saying he had six to seven beers prior to driving, and when asked on a scale of one to 10 how impaired he was, Ackerman allegedly said he was "probably at six," states the affidavit for the arrest warrant. Ackerman's two children were passengers in the vehicle.
The accident on Hwy. 34 took place around 10:20 p.m.
Grand Lake's Fourth of July celebration each year results in heavy traffic attempting to exit the town immediately following the fireworks show. Shadow Mountain Lake is also a possible egress for boaters who park boats at Trail Ridge Marina, near where the accident happened.
Linda Vissar, manager of the Bluebird Motel just north of the accident, said she did not see it but heard directly from witnesses the family was carrying lawn chairs and backpacks and were walking across or along the road.
Hwy. 34 was closed down in both directions and not until 1:05 a.m. was the southbound direction opened, allowing those who were in Grand Lake for the Fourth of July fireworks show to head toward Granby. Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson estimates it wasn't until nearly 5 a.m. before Grand Lake was considered cleared out.
Grand Lake's public works director Bernie McGinn said Grand Lake's car count on the Fourth was 6,340 vehicles.
"It was a very unfortunate tragedy and a difficult situation," Johnson said. Thousands of spectators were in Grand Lake for the fireworks show, and there was no alternative route for automobile travelers needing to head south.
The accident occurred at mile marker 12, roughly three miles south of Grand Lake on Hwy. 34 at Trail Ridge Marina near the Bluebird Motel.
Vehicular homicide carries a possible penalty of four to 12 years in jail and up to $750,000 in fines, with an exceptional conviction of up to 24 years in jail.
The child abuse charge was for placing his own two children in "unreasonable risk of injury," according to the arrest affidavit. Ackerman allegedly had possession of a handgun in his vehicle at the time of the accident.