DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Earlier this year, a driver found guilty in a careless driving crash that killed a Colorado State trooper in 2016 was sentenced to 30 days in jail, two years of probation, and 200 hours of community service.
The maximum sentence he could have received was one year in jail.
>The video above aired in May when Gamez-Ruiz was convicted
In May, a jury found Noe Gamez-Ruize guilty of the following charges:
- Careless driving - passing an emergency vehicle resulting in death
- Failure to maintain a single lane
He was found not guilty on an extra charge of careless driving.
A more severe charge, criminally negligent homicide, was dismissed by a judge as part of a sanction of the prosecution following a second mistrial in the case.
On Nov. 25, 2016, Donahue was working a crash on I-25 just south of Castle Rock when he was struck and killed instantly by a box truck driven by Gamez-Ruiz.
Gamez-Ruiz had plenty of time and space to move over on I-25, according to prosecutors. Defense attorneys argued that the driver couldn’t move over and instead slowed down to well below the speed limit when he saw the flashing lights ahead.
During the sentencing on Friday, Donahue's family, co-workers and friends asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence. His sister and parents, and wife all shared stories about Donahue's life and work while also sharing deeply emotional stories about the impact of his death on their lives.
“The pain is forever. Ever." said Donahue's mother, Susan Kauk.
The troopers sister asked for the maximum jail sentence for the driver,
"It doesn’t even begin to compare to our loss, but it’s a start,” Erin Donahue-Paynter, said.
Others stepped up to the podium to tell the judge their stories, and grief.
“When you kill a CSP Trooper, you deserve to go to jail. Period," CSP Chief Colonel Matthew Packard said to the judge. "All drivers need to know how important this is, what's on the line. Lives."
During the defense's turn to speak, both Gamez-Ruiz and his wife spoke at the podium. They shared their own stories of sorrow and grief and how Donahue's death has changed their lives, too.
Addressing Donahue's family directly, Gamez-Ruiz said:
"I am very sorry for loss of your loved one."
"Words can't express how sorry I am for all this."
And, "Since that day, I pray you can find it in your hearts to forgive me."
When considering the sentence, Judge Jeffrey Holmes said one thing he hoped to accomplish was to "give peace to everyone impacted by this terrible tragic accident."
Holmes said he was struck by how "good of a man" Donahue was after listening to loved ones describe his life and impact. At the same time, he described Gamez-Ruiz as "a good man" with "no reason to think otherwise."
He encouraged the defendant to find a way to help other people in his future.
"The judge could have [given Gamez-Ruiz]100 years. Its not enough," Colonel Packard said after court ended. "I don’t know how you equate a life to a jail sentence. but what's important is that the community understands, when you engage in careless behavior and that results in a loss of life – that you will be held accountable."
"In our system, accountability is jail. And he needed to go to jail. 30 days sentence? Sure. I wish it would be more. But he got 30 days and that’s what we deal with."
Gamez-Ruiz has had two prior trials in this case that both ended in mistrials. The first was in September 2018. The second mistrial happened in February 2019 and occurred after testimony had already begun.
Following the second mistrial, Judge Shay Whitaker issued an order to impose sanctions against the 18th Judicial District, which at the time was led by George Brauchler.
Brauchler is now a legal expert for 9NEWS.
The sanctions included dismissing the criminally negligent homicide charge, which was the most serious charge that Gamez-Ruiz faced.
In the ruling, Whitaker said, “The court has now found a pattern of discovery violations” in the case.
She wrote that the violation does not rise to the level of “willful conduct," but continued, “the haphazard preparation of the witnesses, in this case, has resulted in the defendant being deprived of the ability to fully defend himself.”
"If this thing had gone to a jury of 12 with the larger charge, would we have ended up right here again, maybe," said Chief Deputy District Attorney George Brauchler after the verdict was read. "I don’t know, but it’s always frustrating to be called out by the court when you make a mistake."
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