Phillips pleads guilty to vehicular homicide, vehicular assault
FAIRPLAY – A stoic Lee Phillips pleaded guilty to two felonies Monday, as one of his victims and the family and friends of the teen he killed intently listened.
Phillips, 41, of Hartsel, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. A third charge of driving under the influence (DUI), a misdemeanor, was dropped in accordance with a plea agreement reached with the Park County district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors filed the charges against Phillips after a Jan. 15 accident on Highway 9 just north of Fairplay. Phillips’ southbound car veered off the right side of the road, hit a post and careened into the path of an oncoming car. Charles Graham, 20, of Breckenridge, was driving the other car and suffered multiple serious injuries. The passenger, 19-year-old Marcus Shirley, of Farmer’s Korner, was killed.
The vehicular homicide charge carries a possible sentence of four to 12 years in prison, a fine and a mandatory five-year parole. Aggravating circumstances would allow the judge to sentence Phillips to up to 24 years on the charge, and mitigating circumstances could reduce it to as few as two years. The vehicular assault charge carries a possible sentence of two to six years, a fine and a mandatory three-year parole. Extenuating circumstances would allow the judge leeway of two to 12 years.
The judge will base his decision, in part, on a pre-sentence report to be prepared by the Park County probation department. The report, typical in court sentencing, summarizes the facts of the case, as well as the defendant’s criminal and social history.
“It basically lets the court know who they’re sentencing,” said Deputy District Attorney David Thorson.
Eleventh Judicial District Court Judge Kenneth Plotz will sentence Phillips at a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 3. The plea agreement also gives Plotz the discretion to make the sentences consecutive or concurrent.
The Graham and Shirley families, which have participated throughout the legal proceedings, have said they would be amenable to an 18-year sentence if the matter did not go to trial.
“I think we’ll all feel a lot better when this is over,” said Jennifer Shirley, Marcus’ sister. “I think we’ll be able to start moving on.”
The 15 friends and family who attended the Monday hearing also expressed confusion and frustration at a legal system that failed to prevent the accident. The most recent Park County incident was Phillips’ fifth alcohol-related encounter with the law, and four of those involved driving.
In addition to the September sentencing date, Phillips has an appeal pending in Chaffee County court. The court revoked Phillips’ probation from an alcohol-related disorderly conduct conviction May 1, following the Park County accident, and sentenced Phillips to 120 days in jail. Phillips appealed the decision.
Phillips also is scheduled to appear in Summit County Court Sept. 12 on a DUI charge from a July 24, 2001 accident.
“I think this really shows the seriousness of drinking and driving,” Jennifer Shirley said.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or email@example.com.
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