Drunk Drivers Facing Tougher Penalties in Colorado (Part Two: HB 08-1377 – DUI Evasion Law)

In the late hours of March 22, 2007, Jennifer Kois and Jake Brock, both 19 year old Mesa State College students were on their way home from a date when they were rammed in the back of their 2001 Saturn at the speed of 120 mph by Patrick Strawmatt. Jennifer Kois died en route to the hospital and Jake Brock died about an hour after his arrival.

Strawmatt, a 42 year old former Wheatridge police officer, had made an obscene hand gesture and was eluding troopers who tried to pull him over after complaints to 911 about his erratic and aggressive driving on west-bound I-70 in Mesa County, Colorado.

At the time of his arrest, Strawmatt had five prescription drugs in his system and his blood-alcohol level was 0.29 percent, which is more than three times the legal limit in Colorado. As firefighters struggled to free Strawmatt from his SUV which had rolled several times, he was belligerent and swore at spat blood at rescue personnel.

After he left the police force, Strawmatt began a downward spiral and had amassed a lengthy criminal record with 28 arrests in three years for offenses ranging from cruelty to animals to drunken driving. At the time of the car crash, he was out on a $15,000 bond for another DUI arrest and charges for ramming a patrol car and punching a Park County Sheriff in the face.

In September 2007, in order to avoid a trial, Strawmatt was sentenced to 72 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree assault and one count of vehicular eluding. Since the assault charges are considered crimes of violence, he is required to serve roughly 75 percent of his sentence and as part of the plea agreement, would not be released until he is 91 at the earliest.

The families of Jennifer Kois and Jake Brock have been in contact with Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction and Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, who drafted HB 08-1377, which mandates a minimum bail of $50,000 for drunk drivers who try to elude police.

HB 08-1377 was signed into law, by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter on March 14, 2008. Maybe this bill will help prevent another tragedy like one caused by Patrick Strawmatt.