DENVER — Cole Sukle’s presence is still felt around his Madison street home and in the neighborhood where he spent time with his friends.
The corner of South Madison Street and East Yale Way in southwest Denver will forever display a plaque with his name. It's still decorated with pictures and flowers, just as it was two years ago, when the 14-year-old was killed by an elderly driver who was legally drunk, according to police.
“I still think that Cole is with me,” said Michelle Roche, Cole's mom.
Cole’s loss left a big hole in the family and the community.
“We have an older son who also lost a brother,” Roche said. “He’s an [only] child now, because somebody was a drunk driver.”
“I think we all are hanging in there, but there is not a day that goes by that you don’t think of Cole, probably in some part of the day you relive it a little bit,” Mike Sukle, Cole's dad, said.
“He was fun,” Roche added. “He was always making people laugh, he was always breaking up any awkwardness with a joke or a prank, something to shift people out of being too serious."
A gift for others
Even in his final moments, Cole was able to give others a gift – the gift of life.
While at the hospital, Cole’s parents made the decision to donate his organs.
The teen was taken to Denver Health, the family said, where doctors tried to save him.
“They had to start his heart several times on the way to the hospital, and in the hospital, and got him stabilized. But his injuries were just incredibly severe,” Sukle said. “The neurosurgeon that was Cole’s doctor said he had never in his entire career of 30 to 40 years ... seen that severe of trauma on a kid.”
“Cole was able to donate two kidneys,” Roche said. “He would’ve donated as much as he could have, but those were the only two organs that were viable enough to be donated.”
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” she added. “Why wouldn’t you want some good to come out of something terrible?"
Roche said Donor Alliance, a federally-designated, non-profit organ procurement organization, told the family the recipients of Cole’s kidneys were two local men, one 20 years old, the other a father of three in his 40s.
“There’s not a Father’s Day that goes by that I don’t think about the one gentleman that’s a father and he gets to be there for his kids," Sukle said. "That makes me feel good -- sad, but good."
According to Donor Alliance, in Colorado, as of July 2018, 2,202 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, including 30 children under age 18.
“The Sukle’s decision to give the gift of life in the midst of one of life’s greatest tragedies is a generous and heroic one that literally saved the lives of others in need,” wrote Donor Alliance spokeswoman in a statement. “The generosity of our community is apparent. Sixty-nine percent of Coloradans are registered as organ, eye and tissue donors, the second highest rate in the nation. You can help by saying Yes at the Driver License Office and discussion donation with your loved ones.”
According to Donor Alliance, in Colorado an average of 140 donors save approximately 400 lives. Nationally, about 10,000 organ donors save 35,000 people.
“I’d like to think that we’ve changed not only those two people’s lives, but their families’ lives and the whole ripple effect of who those people are in the world,” Roche said.
The family said Donor Alliance has given them an option to write donors a letter about Cole. But two years after his death, neither his mom or dad have been able to do that.
“There is too much that I would want to say,” Roche said. “I don’t know where to start.”
“They got a part of a good kid,” Sukle said. “Cole did a lot of things for a lot of people, right through to the end. He had a lot of courage, just a good outlook on things.”
Not quite ready
There is an option for donor families to meet recipients. But Cole’s mom and dad said they are not ready to meet them quite yet.
“There is a big part of me that’s curious and a part of me that wants to,” Roche said. “But there is a part of me that can’t really explain it, that just would be really hard.”
“At some point, I would like to meet them,” Sukle said. "I’m not sure when that will be, but at some point, I would like to know who they are, what they are like."
Cole’s pictures are on the mantels of both his mom and dad’s house. His parents are divorced.
“We think Cole is still around,” Sukle said.
Taking away the keys
The elderly driver who police said hit and killed Cole died shortly after the crash. Patricia Livingston was 81. According to documents obtained by 9Wants to Know shortly after the crash in 2016, Livingston was involved in another non-injury collision in October of 2015. But that driver didn’t want to press charges.
In July of 2016, Livingston’s family spokesperson told 9Wants to Know that after the October incident, the family had a conversation with Livingston about her driving. The family discussed taking away her keys, but she felt she could drive herself short distances, family spokesman Andy Boian said at the time.
“The family believed she was most vulnerable at night and while driving on the highway. The son and the grandson took over driving her at night, on the highway and on the weekends. Since October, [Livingston's] son and grandson split the time driving her on a regular basis,” said Boian in July 2016.
The family said Livingston appeared when ordered by police after the original incident. The grandson followed up with officers about the crash and the state of Livingston’s driving. After Livingston passed away, the charges against her were dropped.
“In this case, this woman was elderly and experiencing problems aside from her being drunk that might have precluded her from driving,” Roche told 9NEWS Wednesday, two years after the crash. “There were opportunities for law enforcement to do their job and to get her off the road and to revoke her license and to help her get other means of getting around and they didn’t do that. And I’m angry about that.”
The Denver Police Department said the department didn’t have the authority to revoke drivers’ licenses. The Department of Motor Vehicles does.
“Officers may seize a driver’s license on behalf of the DMV and then file for proceedings to revoke a license through the Department of Revenue (DMV) when DUI is involved,” a DPD spokesperson wrote in an email. “Drivers can then request a hearing with DMV to determine if they can get their privileges back.”
DPD gave examples of when an officer can seize a license for DMV and file revocation proceedings:
- A driver is suspected of driving under the influence and they refuse to take a blood test or breath test.
- The driver’s BAC is determined to be .08 if 21 or over.
- When BAC is .02 or more and driver is under 21 years
- When BAC on CDL driver is .04 and 21 or over
- When BAC on CDL Driver is between .02 and .04 and driver is under 21 years.
“Officers can issue a temporary (7 days) driver’s license to drivers that have had their licenses seized. The only exception is when they refuse a blood or breath test,” DPD said in an email.
The Colorado Department of Revenue said seniors’ driving ability can be re-tested to make sure they’re safe on the road at the request of a family member or doctor.