Grand Lake man charged with vehicular homicide, DUI, for Fourth of July accident
July 10, 2013
GRAND LAKE — A Grand Lake man — the driver of the white Ford pick-up truck that resulted in four injured family members and the death of the father on the Fourth of July — is facing charges of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, child abuse, and possession of a firearm under the influence.
Lucas Paul Ackerman, 33, was the driver of the pick-up truck. His two children, ages 7 and 8, were passengers, according to court documents.
A mother and father and their eight children from Estes Park were walking on or near Highway 34 when Ackerman hit the mother and father, Debbie, 49, and Gregory Westley, 50, and their 10- and 18-year-old daughters and 3-year-old son. Gregory Westley died at the scene, confirmed Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock.
The mother Debbie, her two daughters and young son were airlifted directly from the scene to seek medical help.
Ackerman's blood alcohol limit allegedly was at 0.156, nearly twice the legal limit of a DUI, 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 six," states the affadavit for the arrest warrant.
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Ackerman is being held in the Grand County Jail, scheduled for arraignment today, July 5.
The accident on Highway 34 took place around 10:20 p.m. Grand Lake's Fourth of July celebration each year results in heavy traffic attempting to exit the town immediately following the fireworks show. Shadow Mountain Lake is also a possible egress for boaters who park boats at Trail Ridge Marina, near where the accident happened.
Linda Vissar, manager of the Bluebird Motel just north of the accident, said she did not see it but heard directly from witnesses the family was carrying lawn chairs and backpacks and were walking across or along the road.
Highway 34 was closed down in both directions and not until 1:05 a.m. was the southbound direction opened, allowing those who were in Grand Lake for the Fourth of July Fireworks show to head toward Granby. Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson estimates it wasn't until nearly 5 a.m. before Grand Lake was considered cleared out. Grand Lake's Public Works Director Bernie McGinn said Grand Lake's car count on the Fourth was 6,340 vehicles.
"It was a very unfortunate tragedy and a difficult situation," Johnson said. Thousands of spectators were in Grand Lake for the fireworks show, and there was no alternative route for automobile travelers needing to head south.
The accident occurred at mile marker 12, roughly three miles south of Grand Lake on Highway 34 at Trail Ridge Marina near the Bluebird Motel.
Vehicular homicide carries a possible penalty of four to 12 years in jail and up to $750,000 in fines, with an exceptional conviction of up to 24 years in jail.
The child abuse charge was for placing his two children in "unreasonable risk of injury," according to the arrest affidavit. There are no details yet on what type of firearm Ackerman had in his vehicle.