The man who caused a horrific head-on crash on U.S. 285 in August, killing a woman and her 2-year-old granddaughter, was on the road despite years of drug and alcohol abuse and episodes of dangerous driving, a 9Wants to Know investigation found.
Benjamin Bobier, 36, of Colorado Springs, who also died in the Aug. 26 crash, had 11 prior arrests for incidents involving alcohol or drugs and had been court-ordered into treatment at least eight times, according to records obtained by 9NEWS.
Among his court cases were three convictions for driving while under the influence, records show.
Chapter 1: 'They should have done everything they could'
Three weeks before the crash, Bobier led sheriff’s deputies and state troopers on a high-speed 50-mile game of cat and mouse across two counties.
He passed on the shoulder, weaved through oncoming traffic, hit speeds in excess of 110 mph, and failed to stop after sideswiping another motorist, according to dozens of pages of police reports, scores of radio transmissions, dash camera footage and interviews with eyewitnesses.
As that was unfolding on Aug. 6, Bobier's sister called 911 twice to alert authorities, telling them in one call about his history of drug and alcohol addiction.
Even so, after Park County Sheriff's Office deputies finally ended the pursuit by puncturing his tires, they didn't ask him whether he had been drinking and didn't request that he undergo roadside testing, 9Wants to Know has learned.
Instead, those deputies charged Bobier with eluding, reckless driving, speeding, illegal passing and running a red light.
"It really does surprise me with his history," said Frank Snell, whose wife, Dee, and granddaughter, JoJo, died in the crash on U.S. 285. "They should've done testing. They should have done everything they could to keep him from doing something like that again."
That dangerous driving that should have led to more scrutiny, according to Eric Faddis, a defense lawyer and former Arapahoe County prosecutor.
“Officers are trained to look for certain driving behaviors that are associated with drunk driving,” Faddis said. “We're talking about weaving, erratic driving, dangerous behavior on the road. And it sounds like that's certainly what's going on. So those are red flags.”
Park County Undersheriff Steve Spodiak defended the deputies who arrested Bobier after that long pursuit.
“The deputies did not have any indication that the driver was intoxicated,” Spokyak told 9Wants to Know. “They acted appropriately. They took a potentially very dangerous driver and hazard to public safety off the road and into custody safely.”
Bobier posted a $2,000 bail a few days after the Aug. 6 chase, skipped a court hearing in the case and was at the wheel of his powerful new Dodge Ram on Aug. 26 when he lost control on U.S. 285 and slammed head-on into a pickup driven by Dee Snell at an estimated 85 mph.
She was killed almost instantly.
Her granddaughter, JoJo Snell, died a short time later at a hospital. Her daughter, Amber Snell, remains hospitalized more than two months later with a traumatic brain injury, and her son, Adam Snell, faces months of rehabilitation.
“Not enough is being done,” Frank Snell told 9Wants to Know.
Chapter 2: 'He does have a history of addiction'
Bobier’s history of alcohol abuse goes back to his teenage years.
He was cited for underage possession or consumption of alcohol at least four times, according to documents obtained by 9Wants to Know through more than 40 open records requests with police and sheriff’s departments, courts in multiple jurisdictions, the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
In October 2004, a month before he turned 21, he was arrested twice on DUI charges in a span of two weeks.
He pleaded guilty in one case in El Paso County. The other case, in Teller County, was dismissed for unexplained reasons. The courts, CSP and the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office could not locate any records in the case to shed light on what happened.
Bobier was convicted of drinking and driving again in 2007 and a third time in 2013, both in El Paso County. He also had a 2012 DUI charge dismissed – again, authorities could not locate records to explain what happened in the case.
He was also cited in other incidents involving alcohol, including the theft of a golf cart and an incident when he bought alcohol for a minor.
And then, on Aug. 6, came the incident that could have provided a final chance to get Bobier off the road.
It began near Woodland Park in Teller County.
“We were stopped at a light,” said Chris Prudhomme, who was heading out on a camping trip with his family. “And this pretty large truck with a motorcycle strapped in the back – very distinctive, just seeing that – just blew right by us on, on our left, went into the median and, and just took off.”
It was the first of three encounters that Prudhomme had with Bobier that evening.
The second time, Bobier passed in a left turn lane, “just blazing right by.”
“He disappeared,” Prudhomme said. “He just plain disappeared.”
Sheriff’s deputies and state troopers tried to catch Bobier as he weaved through traffic, crossed into oncoming lanes, hit speeds exceeding 110 mph, and then vanished – only to turn up again.
Prudhomme’s third encounter with Bobier was the most frightening.
“He passed us again as a vehicle is coming toward us the other way,” Prudhomme said. “I saw it in my mirror, and I really didn't have much time to react. … By some miracle, he made it right in between us, and his mirror hit my mirror. It was a huge loud bang and scared the bejesus out of everyone in the vehicle.”
Bobier’s sister called 911 twice during the pursuit.
“I’m just concerned that he’s on the road and out of his mind, honestly,” she said in the first call.
In the second call, a 911 operator asked if Bobier had a history of mental illness.
"He doesn’t have a history of mental illness,” Bobier’s sister replied, “but he does have a history of addiction, so I’m not sure if drugs or alcohol are involved.”
Eventually, Bobier crossed over into Park County, where deputies threw down road spikes, puncturing his tires and bringing the silver Dodge to a stop.
Deputies arrested Bobier and put him in jail. Because the most serious charge, eluding, was a Class 5 felony, Bobier’s bail was set at $2,000.
The question is unanswered of what might have happened if Park County deputies had tried to determine whether Bobier was impaired or intoxicated.
With three prior convictions for drinking under the influence, another arrest would have triggered a felony under a 2015 Colorado law meant to crack down on repeated drunken drivers.
“That usually has a higher bond than other offenses,” Faddis said, “and the gentleman may have remained in custody for a period of time and not been out and able to, to commit what ultimately turned into a fatality.”
Spodyak, the Park County undersheriff, said even if officers had conducted a DUI investigation that led to an arrest on a felony DUI charge, it likely wouldn’t have changed anything.
Bail would still have been set at $2,000, at least initially, he said; though, prosecutors could have requested that a judge increase it.
“I think what we’ve seen in recent years in the state of Colorado is a movement to not have offenders in custody,” Spodyak said. “And I think that this case is a perfect example of how dangerous that can be."
Bobier posted bail a few days later, got out and bought a new pickup – a bright red Dodge Ram TRX.
Chapter 3: Going home after a camping trip
For decades, Frank and Dee Snell have been spending time at Twin Lakes, northwest of Buena Vista.
“It's the only time we can get away from everything and spend time together,” Frank Snell told 9Wants to Know.
This year’s trip included Frank and Dee, their daughter and two sons, and their two granddaughters.
“Do a little bit of fishing, running around the campfire, walking, playing with the girls – just enjoying the quiet, getting out of the rat race of the city,” Frank Snell said.
After a little more than a week away, the family set out for home on Aug. 26. Frank, his son Andrew and his granddaughter Aliyah were in one vehicle. Dee Snell was in another vehicle with their son Adam, daughter Amber and granddaughter JoJo.
After a stop for lunch, gas and a bathroom break in Buena Vista, Frank got on the road first.
Dee was probably 10 or 15 minutes behind him.
At 3:23 p.m. – as Dee Snell was headed north on U.S. 285 – a woman driving on C-470 near Bear Creek Lake Park called 911 to report an out-of-control driver in a red pickup.
“I’m sure there’s going to be an accident,” the woman said before telling the 911 operator that the truck was headed south on U.S. 285.
Three minutes later, there was a second 911 call – this one reporting a red Dodge truck “running people off the road” and driving “erratically” on U.S. 285.
Dispatchers aired a message to law officers in the area for a “large red” truck reported at a “high rate of speed – reckless driving.”
More 911 calls about the man in the red truck came at 3:29 p.m., at 3:31 p.m., and at 3:35 p.m. The last one came from a woman who was sideswiped by the vehicle.
Then, at 3:36 p.m., came another 911 call, from a woman who reported “a guy driving insanely fast in a red Dodge Ram.”
As she was on the phone, she came upon the aftermath of a head-on crash that occurred after Bobier lost control of his new truck, crossed the center line, and hit Dee Snell’s black Ford.
State troopers estimated that Bobier was going 85 mph at the moment of impact.
Eventually, Frank Snell was told to get to a hospital, where he learned that his son and daughter were critically injured – and that his wife and granddaughter had died.
It was news he had to break to his surviving granddaughter.
“Wasn’t easy,” he said, “to try to, try to tell a 5-year old that her Grams and her little sister are never coming home. It wasn’t easy.”
Chapter 4: 'There's no reason for something like that'
About three hours after the crash – after doctors had worked to stabilize Bobier – state troopers had blood drawn to test whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. Two more samples were taken later that night.
The next day, Bobier died.
Those test results are pending, and CSP's investigation of the crash is ongoing, so it’s not known whether Bobier had drugs or alcohol in his system that day.
Even with that question unanswered, Frank Snell looks at what happened three weeks before the crash and shakes his head.
“It really upsets me that something like that would happen,” he said.
Alcohol classes and treatment, like the kind Bobier had been through at least eight times, aren’t enough, he said.
“Somebody like that, I believe, should have to do some time and really get himself straightened out,” Snell said. “You know, there's, there's no reason for something like that. None whatsoever.”
It’s also impossible to know whether Park County deputies missed a chance on Aug. 6 to arrest Bobier on a felony DUI charge – a law meant to crack down on chronic drunken drivers.
What is clear is that the system doesn’t always move quickly.
Three days before the deadly crash on U.S. 285, Bobier had skipped a court hearing on the charges for that 50-mile pursuit.
By the time a judge issued an arrest warrant and upped his bail to $3,000, Dee and JoJo Snell – and Bobier himself – had been dead for nearly a week.
Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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