Breckenridge woman sentenced to 16 years in prison for killing 2 in drunken driving crash
BRECKENRIDGE — Lindsey Ward, a Breckenridge woman who killed two people while driving drunk on Colorado Highway 9 last year, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Ward, 32, appeared in Summit County District Court for her sentencing Monday afternoon in what became an emotional hearing for family members on both sides of the aisle who tuned in to share their thoughts on the case.
On Aug. 30, 2019, Ward was driving southbound on Highway 9 near Blue River when she veered into the wrong lane and caused a head-on collision. Locals Benjamin Mitton, 41, and Nichole Gough, 43, were killed in the crash.
Ward was taken to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco for treatment and later tested for blood alcohol levels well in excess of the legal limit.
In April, Ward pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide DUI, both class 3 felonies. As part of the plea agreement, both sides agreed to a stipulated sentence of between eight and 20 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections along with the possibility of a community corrections sentence.
During the hearing Monday, Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Cava called on Chief Judge Mark Thompson to hand down the maximum 20-year sentence while a slideshow of photographs streamed through the court’s virtual Webex system showing imagines of Mitton and Gough before the crash.
“Niki and Ben had no chance to say, ‘goodbye,’” Cava said. “They didn’t have a chance to make any plans. The sudden and abrupt nature of this crime has left a lot of their families in emotional crisis. … The biggest regret for a lot of people is unfinished business, the idea of wanting to say something, wanting to say, ‘I love you’ one more time. A crime like this robs anyone of the chance to do that.”
Several members of Gough and Mitton’s families also addressed the court to share memories and their thoughts on how their deaths have impacted them since the crash.
Mitton’s father, Dave, shared some words about his son, calling him funny, smart and a joy to be with.
“He loved his grandma and loved being a big brother,” Mitton said. “… He loved jokes, riddles, games, driving cars and riding his bike. He loved camping trips and going to Disney Land. He was extremely happy moving up here and being with Niki.”
Gough’s son, Michael Wood, provided a powerful statement on the effects of the crash.
“It has now been nine months and 16 days since the tragic accident that has left me without a mother,” Wood said. “I’ve experienced Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and many holidays after that, where I couldn’t celebrate with one of the most important people you can have in life. There were milestones and important events that I wanted her to see happen that she was not there for. I had my 18th birthday, I finished high school and got my diploma. All of these great moment that should have been celebrated ended in tears. Because I couldn’t celebrate with my mother and hear the words, ‘I’m proud of you, my son.’”
Ward’s attorney lobbied for a community correction sentence, noting that Ward grew up in an environment that fostered substance abuse and that she was making legitimate efforts to rehabilitate. He also said she has taken full responsibility for the incident since the beginning and that the community corrections would provide her with the best chance to get the treatment she needs.
Members of Ward’s family also provided statements, and Ward addressed the court directly.
“I know there’s nothing I can say to make this better,” Ward said. “I’m so sorry. I made an awful mistake that day. … I would have taken their place any day, and I wish I could take that pain away. I will just do everything I can to get myself better … and to open up other people’s eyes to what drinking and driving can do.”
Thompson called the crime preventable, foreseeable, reckless and “verging on deliberate.” He ultimately sentenced her to 16 years in prison, noting that he was being lenient given Ward’s genuine feelings of remorse and responsibility.
“In addition to making me very sad, it frankly makes me quite angry,” Thompson told Ward. “It’s inexcusable to get behind the wheel when you’re under the influence. … It’s deliberate indifference. It’s shooting into a crowd of people, driving your car down the sidewalk on Breckenridge Main Street. You may be the best person in the world, but your actions on that day were abhorrent.”
Thompson continued to lament the issue of drunken driving and the ongoing impacts it has on the Summit County community.
“What is the most disappointing thing for the court today is I am once again here because substance abuse has intervened to kill another person,” Thompson said. “This time it was a DUI. So many other times it’s a DUI. It is shocking to the conscience of the court the way this community continues to handle DUIs. There was a whole series of newspaper articles this winter about the number of DUIs in this community and why there are so many and the culture that is cultivated in this community. People are just not getting the message.”
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