On a summer night a year-and-a half ago, an underage man drove drunk and slammed head-on into another vehicle.
Colin Buchanan is now 22-years-old. He took his drunk-driving charge to trial, but was forced to plead guilty in front of the jury last week after he was overheard boasting at a local pot shop about how he thought he’d be exonerated. He was sentenced to over a year in jail, which leaves the woman he hit -- the driver of the other car -- with powerfully mixed emotions.
Lupe Toledo Roque told her children she’d be home in 10 minutes. She would drop her friend off in Lazy Glen, and be right back. The family now lives in Glenwood, but was living in El Jebel at the time of the accident. Roque was working as a housekeeper at the St. Regis Resort in Aspen.
At 10:30 p.m., she and her friend passed the stoplight near Willits on Highway 82, and she saw headlights coming right towards her. She didn’t think she was seeing straight and even said so out loud. She honked and tried to change lanes.
“But there were cars coming in the right lane … and I couldn’t get over,” Roque said.
Roque remembers the sound of the two cars colliding the most. The front of her car crumpled back onto her. The steering wheel was pushed up against her chest. Her sternum and five ribs were broken. The gas pedal and brake rammed against her legs and feet, breaking them in multiple places. A tendon in her knee snapped. She didn’t feel pain immediately; only when she was in the ambulance did she realize just how much she was bleeding. Even then, all she wanted was a phone. .
“The first thing I remember I said to the people in the ambulance was that I needed a phone to call my children … they’re waiting for me,” she said.
What followed was one month at a hospital in Denver, six surgeries and about $350,000 in medical bills, which Buchanan’s insurance paid about $100,000 of. Medicaid also paid some. Nonprofits and other groups in the area helped with food, rent and other necessities. Once Roque was back from Denver, she was confined to a small bedroom for several months, all the while caring for a teenager and a toddler.
Eventually she could roll around in a wheelchair, and then a walker. She started going to physical therapy, which was paid, in part, by a local nonprofit. But that money eventually ran out so she stopped going. She has to be careful when she turns, and she can’t walk for long.
Last week, when District Court Judge Chris Seldin sentenced a tearful Colin Buchanan to 400 days in jail, Roque was immensely saddened.
“Young people, they never think about things like they should. I didn’t want to be hard with him. In fact, I didn’t ask that he go to jail,” she said.
Roque has a son the same age as Buchanan, named Willy. He was ready to enroll at Colorado Mesa University and would have been the first in his family to attend college. However, he needed to set those plans aside and start working at City Market to compensate for his mother being out of work for more than a year. He had to make up the roughly $29,000 in lost income.
Roque understands Buchanan’s sentence was in the hands of the judge. However, she can’t help but remember being in the hospital and being bedridden at home. She knows what it’s like to lose freedom.
“It was as if I were in jail. I would look out the window and wanted to leave, but couldn’t. You have to depend on someone to go to the bathroom, to bathe, and I just imagined him having to tell someone, ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’ This was on my mind so much,” she said.
At his sentencing, Buchanan promised to pay back the victims for the injuries he caused them. Roque continues to work at the St. Regis Resort, although fewer hours, as she finds the work painful.