Grand jury to decide charges against Lucas Ackerman in Fourth of July accident
August 27, 2013
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office will present the case of Lucus Paul Ackerman before a grand jury to decide whether formal charges should be brought against him.
Lucas Paul Ackerman, 33, of Grand Lake, made his second appearance before Judge Mary Hoak in the 14th Judicial District Court in Hot Sulphur Springs on Tuesday, July 9.
Ackerman was arrested on July 4 in connection with a vehicle-pedestrian collision that took place around 10:20 p.m. on Highway 34. Ackerman was driving the pick-up truck that hit five out of 10 family members from Estes Park who were walking on the road that night. The father of the family, Gregory Westly, 50, was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife, Debbie Westly, 49, and three of the family's eight children, including a 3 year-old, were flown to Denver-area hospitals for treatment of serious injuries.
“The continued investigation has caused a question of whether there is a defense,” Han Ng, assistant district attorney, 14th Judicial District
Assistant District Attorney Han Ng commented it appeared Ackerman may have a "colorable defense" in the case, which is why the district attorney's office chose to present the case to a grand jury. "The continued investigation has caused a question of whether there is a defense," Ng said.
A grand jury is essentially a group of citizens with power to call witnesses and complete investigations to determine whether charges should be filed in a case. Their work is done out of the public eye.
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"The community should have a say in whether this is a crime or a horrible tragedy," Ng said.
The grand jury will look at evidence in the case and will determine whether it is appropriate to file charges against Ackerman and will also determine what charges should be brought against the man.
If the grand jury chooses to indict Ackerman, the district attorney's office would then be responsible to file those charges and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ackerman is guilty.
Ackerman has hired Hot Sulphur Springs Attorney Jack Dicola to represent him.
Ng requested Ackerman be released on a personal recognizance bond, which means Ackerman wouldn't be obligated to pay bail as long as he showed up to his next court proceeding in 30 days or until the grand jury is convened and has completed its investigation of the case. The district attorney's office made this request without support of the victims' family, according to Ng. The victims and family wanted Ackerman to remain in custody for public safety reasons, he said.
Judge Hoak denied the motion. "I'm not on board with reducing the bond," she said.
Ackerman's attorney Dicola argued to have the man's bail reduced to $20,000 from the original $40,000 imposed by Judge Hoak, which the judge also denied and chose to leave Ackerman's bail at $40,000.
Due to the number of victims in the case and his criminal record, District Attorney Brett Barkey told Judge Hoak during Ackerman's first appearance in court on July 5, the case is an "aggravated case" and bail should be doubled from the $20,000 bail in light of the alleged offenses.
Ackerman bailed out of Grand County Jail at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9.
The night of the accident, Ackerman's blood alcohol content was allegedly at 0.156, nearly twice the legal limit, 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 a six," states the affidavit for the arrest warrant. Ackerman's two children, ages 7 and 8, as well as his wife were passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident.
Ackerman was booked into Grand County Jail on July 4 on charges of vehicular homicide, a class 3 felony, four counts of vehicular assault for driving under the influence of alcohol, child abuse, and possession of a firearm under the influence. The child abuse charge stems from Ackerman having his two children in the vehicle.
Ackerman had a prior DUI in 2002, and past misdemeanors including a successful deferred judgment of third-degree assault in 2002, a Class 3 misdemeanor for disorderly conduct in Larimer County in 2001, and a harassment misdemeanor in El Paso County in 1999.
The Colorado State Patrol is completing the investigation, with the assistance of the Grand County Sheriff's Office, the Grand County Coroner, and the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office. The investigation is ongoing.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334