Vehicular Manslaughter=$100 Traffic Ticket: Follow-up story

July 19th, 2010

NewSpin
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

A couple of months ago I wrote about an investigation I’d done on a case in which Betty Joyce Kuykendall ran a stop sign, collided with a car, and crash that led to the death of the male driver in the other car.

Because of the timing of various steps of the investigation, the only charge brought against Kuykendall was a stop-sign violation, for which she promptly paid a $100 fine. (See the NewSpin column in the May 20 P.U.L/P., online at www.pueblopulp.com, for more about the case).

One reason the case for vehicular manslaughter or any other criminal charges could not be brought against Kuykendall was because St. Mary-Corwin hospital reported that all injuries related to the accident were not serious, even though they ultimately led to William Dorough’s death.

So I wrote to District Attorney Bill Thiebaut, asking whether or not the hospital could be held legally responsible for the death in any way. The following includes excerpts from his response:

“The case is closed,” writes Thiebaut. “The hospital or its medical staff will not be charged. However, a civil action may be filed against the hospital or its medical staff, or other persons or entities.”

“It has been said: There is no crime, there is no punishment, without law (Nullen crimen, nulla poena, sine lege).

“Every crime involves a wrongful act (actus reus) specifically prohibited by the criminal law. In most cases, the law requires that the wrongful act be accompanied by criminal intent (mens rea).

“The actus reus may take the form of an omission or failure to perform an act obliged by law, but the act or duty to act must be specifically required by law; it must have been possible for the person to have performed, and, in some cases, the person must have been aware of his duty to act.

“The mens rea or culpable state of mind accompanying the actus reus can include criminal negligence …. This state of mind is generally sufficient only where there is a conscious disregard of a substantial risk of which a reasonable man would have been aware.

“Finally, there must be a causal relationship between the act and the harm or loss suffered. The act must be both actually and legally the cause of the harm. Actual causation can use the ‘but-for’ test. In other words, would the harm have occurred whether or not the accused had acted? The legal causation is determined by a number of tests. For example, the cause must have played a substantial factor in bringing about the results.”

Within these legal limits, the hospital has not been found to be legally liable for the death. Did they screw up? It seems so, but not with any intent to do harm as outlined above. Did the accident, caused by Kuykendall, lead to Dorough’s death? Most everyone involved seems to be in agreement that it did. However, because of double jeopardy, and since Kuykendall paid the fine for the initial ticket for running the stop sign before charges could be adjusted, she can’t be charged for anything else related to the incident.

So what recourse, if any, does Dorough’s family have?

“A civil wrong…is dealt with under different standards” explains Thiebaut, “and seeks to make whole the injured or aggrieved party through appropriate remedies, including money damages.”

In short, the family can sue everyone from the hospital to Kuykendall herself, provided they have the motivation and resources to do so. And of course, even if they win a civil case (or cases), appeals can drag on for years, costing tens of thousands of dollars in court costs and lawyer fees.

Ultimately, nothing will bring William Dorough back. He’s gone, and no doubt, Ms. Kuykendall grieves the accidental death along with Dorough’s family. Justice, whether it takes the form of civil damages or jail time, are cold comfort for those who have lost someone they love.

Little, if any, legal recourse can bring families the peace and resolution that they seek in such cases. However, when left with nothing other than personal civil suits to seek restitution or some sense of justice, it’s a symptom of a legal system that has failed its people.

It’s Not About You

July 17th, 2010

It’s not about you
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

My wife, Amy, and I were driving southbound on Interstate 25 recently when a figure ran across the road, right at the edge of one of the overpasses near downtown Pueblo. Though my first instinct was to slam on the brakes, I slowed down enough to notice it was a police officer whose car was parked on the other side of the highway.

At first, we assumed he was in pursuit of a bad guy, but then Amy notice a little boy, no more than four years old, standing on the outside of the guardrail of the bridge. The point on the overpass where he was had to be at least thirty feet above ground; more than enough to inflict serious – if not fatal – damage if he fell.

The boy wandered along the four-inch ledge, which was the only thing between him and possible death, all the while apparently oblivious to the danger he was in. My first thought was, my God, this kid is going to die.

The officer who ran out into the highway traffic, however, was set on a different outcome to the story. Without regard for his own safety, he sprinted across the lanes of oncoming traffic toward the child, leaning over the guardrail and scooping the boy up tightly in his arms.

I didn’t notice any mention of the officer’s act of bravery in the paper or on the news in the coming days, and of course, that’s not why he did what he did. But for all of the bad press – some well-deserved – that officers of the law get, this guy on this particular day put the life of someone else before his own and did something truly heroic.

So what does this have to do with religion or faith? After all, I have no idea if the officer was a Christian, Pagan, Atheist or whatever. For me, the lesson is that, although organized religion often sets out to impart moral lessons to the greater culture, sometimes there are acts of humanity all around us that could teach religion a thing or two about better living into their claimed missions.

It’s no headline-worthy news these days that many institutions of faith are struggling to keep their doors open. Though at one time, churches, mosques or synagogues may have been the social hubs of their communities, a more distributed, mobile and, frankly, preoccupied American culture finds their sense of community elsewhere, more often than not.

In response, some faith communities have resorted to trying harder to reflect the culture around them, installing coffee houses in their buildings, adding more entertaining activities to their roster of programs, and sometimes even telling people what they want to hear, whether it’s theologically well-founded or not.

Enter phenomena like the best-selling book, The Secret, gospel distortions focusing on prosperity and other “God wants you to be rich” theologies. Implicitly, and in some cases, explicitly, the message becomes, “yes, it really is all about you.”

The problem is, it’s not all about you.

We live in a consumer-driven economy that relies on excess spending on things we can’t afford, let alone need, to fuel the fiscal engine. And now more than ever, targeted media marketing can tell you exactly what you want to hear, and practically custom-design products and services that will not only free you of a few bucks, but will also help confirm the sneaking suspicion that you are, in fact, at the center of the universe.

At its best, faith communities work against such fallacies, helping people get over themselves, deconstructing the narcissism that causes us too often to turn in on our own world rather than noticing that there’s a whole planet of other people out there.

Every major world religion has stories in its history of its leaders getting beyond the trappings of “self” to a more enlightened, liberated and compassionate worldview. Unfortunately sometimes we within the institutions of religion grasp desperately at the next new thing to try and maintain the legacies we’ve inherited from previous generations.

One of my favorite sayings is that true faith means planting trees under whose shade you’ll never sit. But that’s an uncomfortable, sometimes difficult place to be. It’s counter-cultural to work without expectation of reward in kind, and to labor harder for the welfare of others than for our own comfort.

For that one officer in a moment of pure instinct, I saw through a window to the best of what humanity can be. Now, if we can only get the rest of our faith communities to see through that same window, we might actually change the world in ways far greater than we imagine when worried so much about our own survival.

Story about me and my books in the Chieftain

June 26th, 2010

WHERE’S THE FAITH ?

New series of books tackles questions, issues that challenge young Christians

CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/JOHN JAQUES Pueblo author Christian Piatt talks about a series of books he is collaborating on with a variety of authors from throughout the country.

BY LORETTA SWORD

Have you ever questioned the believability of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? Ever wondered why, if Mary conceived as a virgin, the Bible traces Christ’s lineage through Joseph?

Chances are you’ve pondered these questions and many others about the Bible or Jesus, but never discussed them with other Christians — and certainly never in church.

That’s what gave local author/editor Christian Piatt and partner Brandon Gilvin the idea for WTF (Where’s the Faith), a series of books that pose such questions to a wide variety of religious, agnostic, social justice and other leaders and thinkers — some of them well-known in religious and spiritual circles. The books are published by Chalice Press. Gilvin is the associate director of Week of Compassion, an international relief and aid ministry of the national Disciples of Christ organization, based in Kansas City, Mo.

The books are aimed primarily at young adults — a demographic that churches are struggling to hold onto as their congregations dwindle in all age brackets.

The first book in the series, “OH God, Oh GOD, OH GOD! Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality,” was released earlier this year and provides “honest and open dialogue about the beauty and gift of sexuality while understanding it in a mature way, including the risks and consequences” but without the moral and doctrinal overtones of most Christian books on the topic, Piatt said.

He and Gilvin edited the book, and Piatt contributed an essay about abortion.

Two more books, which address questions that many Christians ponder but rarely explore  in depth or among each other, will be published next year — the first, “Banned Questions about the Bible,” in February and the second, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” in August 2011.

All of the books “take a more emergent-church approach. There’s no focus on denominations or creeds so much as on content and providing a variety of information, including other sources to study, to help people make up their own minds. We’re trying to present multiple perspectives so people can choose for themselves. It’s about seeking your own understanding of various issues through prayerful seeking, and trusting that if you take the first step, God will meet you halfway and help you find the answers you’re seeking,” Piatt said.

“Churches are dying everywhere, and I believe it’s because there’s been a disconnect between the lives of most people and what they hear in church on Sunday.

“These books are intended to break down the taboo of ‘We don’t talk about that in church.’ In a healthy church, there should be no boundaries, no limitations about what is explored. We’re supposed to bring our whole, human selves to the church and to our faith.”

Another book due out this August, “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics,” addresses the interconnectedness of faith and politics and explores how Christians can be part of the process without violating their faith or turning their backs on social justice issues and the political process for fear of conflict. Piatt is a contributor as well as co-editor of this volume.

“You People: Faith and Race,” will follow “Split Ticket.” All of the finished books are available through the Chalice Press website or its catalogs, at Amazon.com or through Piatt’s website. Some also are available by special order online from Barnes & Noble and smaller national booksellers, and all are stocked at Cokesbury Christian book stores nationwide. The works in progress will be as well after publication.

Piatt, who founded Pueblo’s Milagro Christian Church six years ago with his wife, Amy, who is pastor there, said the “Oh God” book already has sold more than 1,500 copies — to individuals and to churches that are using them in youth groups and young-adult book-study groups.

“The content is heavy enough that we wouldn’t recommend just throwing these books in a teen’s lap and saying ‘have at it.’ It needs to be navigated with the help of an adult leader,” Piatt said.

Despite brisk sales and many positive reviews in Christian and mainline publications, negative reaction from some conservative Christian groups has surfaced, too, Piatt said, but his response is always the same: “Why is it that sexuality can’t be discussed in the context of faith unless the whole focus is abstinence, which we all know doesn’t work?”

He gets few responses to that question, he said, and doesn’t worry about the criticism because “the people who react that way aren’t the target audience for our books.”

The same critics no doubt will see the “banned questions” books, and “Split Ticket,” as too frank and “not nice,” he predicts.

“But we believe it’s more important to be authentically relevant than it is to be nice. Jesus wasn’t always nice. He challenged the status quo and he didn’t tolerate injustice. He encouraged frank discussion about difficult issues. But some Christians can’t tolerate controversy or confrontation at all, and others only get involved — often in an angry, intolerant way — with all the things they are against.”

Piatt said he and his partner in the WTF series, and authors who contributed responses to questions or essays — despite their widely divergent religious beliefs — “all believe that our responsibility is to get actively involved in these things we’re afraid to talk about” so that younger Christians, especially, will be more inclined to form deeper commitments to their faith and to service than to abandon their church, or religion altogether. They can only do that if they’ve reached their own conclusions rather than having beliefs force-fed to them.

At the end of life, Piatt said, what will matter most is not how many souls someone has “saved” or how many foreign missions were conducted, or how big and beautiful the church is because believers were willing to give cash but not their time.

What Jesus will want to know of every individual, he said, is “What did you do for the poor, for the oppressed, for the imprisoned — for ‘the least among us’?”

Doing nothing, he said, only condones the suffering and injustices that humans inflict upon each other.

“Not getting engaged, not dealing with these issues, is not an option if you consider yourself a person of faith.”

For more information about the WTF series, upcoming books, or past titles by Piatt, go to: www.christianpiatt.com, which also provides links to videos of Piatt and some of the other authors and a link to his blog.

Cesar Chavez: Pueblo Charter School on the Cliff?

June 15th, 2010

NewSpin
by Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

It seemed, while Cesar Chavez and its affiliates remained in the stratosphere with remarkable results on standardized tests, the administration was untouchable. Though criticized for such unorthodox practices as offering gift cards to new students, and as rumors of test tampering and misogynist treatment of staff bubbled to the surface, it was hard nonetheless to argue with the results Dr. Lawrence Hernandez and company were yielding.

It seems the power went to his head, though.

In a recent press release from the Colorado Department of Education’s communications office, Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones “expressed deep concern about the network’s egregious financial practices and dubious leadership” after a formal review of the Cesar Chavez School Network’s organizational and financial systems.

“The report makes clear that the leadership of the network prioritized its needs over the students and disregarded both basic business practices and common sense,” says Jones. “The leaders of Cesar Chavez School Network squandered taxpayer money, ignored basic legal requirements, over-compensated senior staff, engaged in nepotism and failed to provide accountability over the resources entrusted to them. The results demand swift action.”

“I fully encourage Pueblo City Schools to use this analysis in any way it sees fit to hold Cesar Chavez School Network accountable,” says Jones. “Taxpayers, teachers and parents across Colorado will find that reading the report is a deeply troubling experience on many levels. I anticipate that Pueblo City Schools, the authorizers of the original charters, will be even more disturbed.”

Pueblo City Schools’ own news release echoed the scathing criticism from the CDE, detailing “nearly 40 separate findings of fact that support misappropriation and mismanagement of funds and resources at CCA schools primarily by the three principal staff members: Lawrence Hernandez, CEO; his wife Annette Hernandez, COO; and Jason Guerrero, CFO. It also finds that some of the Board of Directors at CCA and DHPH were complicit in conflicts of interest that directly benefited them financially.”

“’The apparent magnitude of egregious misappropriation and mismanagement of the public’s money is shocking,” said Stephanie Garcia, president of the board for Pueblo City Schools, per the release. “’This pervasive and perpetuated abuse of taxpayer funding at the hands of the founders of the CCA schools, explains their years of aggressive and antagonistic efforts to keep Pueblo City Schools and other authorizing agencies from actually seeing what was going on.

“’As the authorizer of the charters for these schools, we take the suggestions of Commissioner Dwight Jones very seriously and will be looking at our options very closely. We will be examining all legal remedies at our disposal to address the inappropriate actions of those responsible for this obscene abuse of tax payer monies.’”

Following these damning statements, I followed up with Ms. Garcia with the questions below, followed by her responses.

Is the district pressing any charges against CCA/DHPH staff? If so, who and what charges? And if not, why?

The district does not have the authority to press charges against CCA/DHPH. We have however contacted the local district attorney, the Internal Revenue Service and the Attorney General’s office. They are the entities that will determine if charges are in order.

Have any civil suits been considered, and again, if so, against who, for how much and on what grounds?

CCA/DHPH has 11 current civil suits pending. They are being sued by former CEO Lawrence Hernandez. I understand the suits are about alleged wrongful termination and acts of discrimination.

How, if at all, do you feel this experience has changed the district’s outlook on Charter schools?

The district has been very pleased with our relationship with our other Charter Schools. YAFA and PSAS have always responded to the district’s requests for information regarding governance, finances and instruction. I believe the audit results clearly uncovered the real reasons why CCA and DHPH continually challenged our request for this information.

I do believe that the Board of Education will have clear qualifications and standards written into future contracts with any new charter and also when we renew existing charters. I believe this will affect charter contracts for all schools across Colorado, if not the Country. There has also been new legislation presented this year that would also tighten controls over Charter conduct.

What do you expect will change about CCA/DHPH governance moving forward?

Clearly, governance will have to change and accountability will need to be in place. That being said, we are still not certain if the two schools are recognized as being nonprofit entities. They were not able to produce their 2008 or 2009 990 (IRS revenue document) or other evidence that they are still recognized by the IRS. Also, given the audit results, if they have not already lost their nonprofit status, they may.

Beyond the over 15 million dollars in bond debt and lack of reserve as required by the State, tax payers may also be owed repayment of other State and federal funds that were clearly misspent. The Board is still meeting with local State and Federal law enforcement entities and representatives with the Colorado Department of Education.

At this point, we do not know if the situation is beyond repair regardless of new leadership.

Finally, I asked District Attorney Bill Thiebaut if they were considering any charges of their own, especially considering the District’s hands were effectively tied with regard pressing legal charges.

“In addition to receiving a copy of the final report (audit) presented to the Colorado Department of Education by MGT of America, Inc.,” says Thiebaut, “over several months we have received voluminous information from a variety of citizens regarding the operation of the Cesar Chavez School Network. Our office has been in communication with, among others, the Attorney General’s Office as well as School District 60 officials (Pueblo City Schools) regarding this information.

“Our staff is reviewing this information,” continues Thiebaut. “For now, that is all I am at liberty to say.”

NEW VIDEO: “Split Ticket,” Book #2 in WTF series

June 14th, 2010

This video talks about our upcoming book on Faith and Politics, called SPLIT TICKET. The song in the background is one of my spoken word pieces, called “Revolution.”

NEW VIDEO: Concert at FCC Granbury, Texas (June, 2010)

June 11th, 2010

My good friend, Shannon Moore, and I got the chance to do a little concert at First Christian Church in Granbury, TX together in June, 2010. Here are some video highlights from that evening.

A Walk Around the World

June 8th, 2010

(Originally printed in PULP)

One of my biggest issues with Western religious groups is how we tend to treat the human body. Aside from too often condemning our bodies as inherently dirty or sinful, we also tend to over-indulge them when it comes to food, to say the least. We too rarely speak of the spiritual importance of other self-care practices such as exercise.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have to preach about it, but rather would live as examples to our communities. But more often than not, it seems like the religious leaders who are set apart are some of the worst offenders when it comes to self-care, or lack of it.

This isn’t the case in all religious circles, however. For example, Yoga is a spiritual practice that emphasizes physical and spiritual wellness, and celebrates balance, both figuratively and literally. When I was not active in organized religion through much of my twenties, I found both the sense of community and discipline I longed for in martial arts. I was particularly drawn to Shaolin boxing, which was touted as the most ancient martial art, crafted by monks both as a spiritual practice and a method of defense.

So, although there are exceptions, it seems that religions originating from Asian cultures generally tend to get the importance of physical discipline and self-care, better than we westerners do. So, it was no great surprise when my latest spiritual inspiration was a Buddhist monk.

Endo Mitsunaga, a Japanese Zen Buddhist, is only the 13th monk since World War II to earn the honor of daiajari for completing an arduous pilgrimage. A resident monk of the Enryaku-ji temple on Mt. Hiei, near Kyoto, Mitsunaga completed a 26-mile trek in a single day through the mountains, marking the journey with 260 prayers along the way.

To complete such a task in itself is impressive, walking the equivalent of a marathon on the side of a mountain, but the 34-year-old monk has done the same walk a thousand times in the past seven years. He does the circuit, which brings him back to the monastery at its end, in strings of 100 or 200 days in a row, while wearing sandals hand-woven from grass.

By completing this pilgrimage, he has walked the equivalent of the distance around the planet Earth.

For most of us, this regimen would be all-consuming in itself, but he does this in his “free time,” since he’s also charged with taking care of the other monks in the monastery seven days a week. His daily tasks take up about 80-plus hours a week, so he wakes up at 12:30 in the morning to begin his walk, finishing by 8 a.m. so he can work until after prayers at 8 p.m., sleep for four hours and get up to do it all over again.

Some might see the monastic life as selfish, not really offering anything to the world by walking in circles day after day around a mountain. But to me, such commitment, focus and self-discipline reveal how much we’re truly capable of as human beings. We tend to fall back on the “my life is already too crazy” argument for not praying, serving others or even caring for ourselves, but clearly, it’s more a matter of priorities than a matter of ability.

It’s unfortunate that we have so few examples of sacrificial discipline in Western culture to help illuminate a path by which we might better ourselves. But at least, from somewhere on a mountaintop halfway around the globe, a monk’s quiet footsteps are heard half a world away.

I’m not likely to join a monastery or walk around 26,000 miles in sandals any time soon, but Endo Mitsunaga serves as a heartening and challenging example that, given the will to do so, I can always do at least a little bit more.

New Video: Thoughts on the LOST Finale

May 27th, 2010

A recap of the show as it relates to the themes raised in my book, LOST: A Search for Meaning.

Priests and Abuse: Misplaced Anger?

May 12th, 2010

(Originally published in PULP)

It seems almost cliché to write about religious sexual abuse scandals in a faith-oriented column, but sometimes news stories simply demand a response.

First of all, I want to make clear that, as a leader in a faith community, I’m personally both saddened and outraged every time I hear about another innocent soul falling victim to a sexual predator who uses the context of the ministry to cloak themselves in protective immunity. With every new revelation of such abuses, my question isn’t why these predators aren’t defrocked; it’s why they’re not sitting in a cell somewhere.

That said, I think some of us are focusing our righteous anger in the wrong direction. Yes, priests and other religious leaders who exploit their position to take advantage of anyone in their congregation, be they of age or not, have no business in ministry. And yes, those in positions of greater power who knowingly obfuscate the scale of the problem, making it even worse by moving guilty priests around, should also be removed. But simply to direct our ill feelings toward these individuals is to ignore the deeper, more disturbing reality.

By its very nature, church leadership roles present extraordinary opportunities for abuse. Few other jobs offer such a combination of power, lack of accountability and social pressure to present oneself a certain way. People trust ministers – or at least have done so historically – because of their positions. It’s assumed that it takes a special kind of person to accept a call to act as a servant of a church and its followers.

The problem is that, although this is generally true, it also is an imperfect system. True, some potential predators see ministry as a system waiting to be taken advantage of, but more often than not, I am of the opinion that the systems of religion themselves are guilty of creating these monsters, and not just letting them slip through the cracks.

Imagine being told that, for the rest of your life, people will look at you as if you’re set apart, different. In some ways, they will hold an unnatural admiration for you, but this same perception also will distance you from the rest of the culture. Add to this that, in some cases, you’re expected never to act on your natural sexual impulses, or even the innate craving for emotional and physical intimacy, all sexual acts aside.

Then you’re given a uniform and are afforded authority over people that, by its very nature, places them in a vulnerable state, while also being drawn to you. And though it’s assumed you’re carrying out the duties assigned to you by the higher authorities from day to day, the level of oversight generally doesn’t match up with the level of responsibility you have.

We’ve all heard the stories about how lots of men “turn gay” when sent to prison for long periods of time. It’s not that these guys actually are suddenly more attracted to men than women, but for lack of a woman, a guy will have to do. This is not uncommon throughout the animal kingdom, with same-sex animals pairing off when it’s the only option.

So is it that these priests who molest boys are actually gay? Some may be, and may likely aren’t, in the sense that a homosexual act does not a gay person make. But the system itself places young boys in the trust of male priests all the time, and lo and behold, the combination of personal repression and otherworldly expectations find an outlet, though in a chilling and violent way.

An immediate reaction to such moral tragedies is to clamp down, enacting “zero tolerance” policies and throwing the so-called book at perpetrators. And although such action might make us all feel better for the moment, it’s not likely to change the behavior of a person who is already risking everything they have in the world for what amounts to a licentious thrill.

I believe that the biggest problem is the repression. When we ask people to be something they’re not by nature, those repressed dimensions find a way of seeping through the tiniest of cracks. And when they do, it’s usually not pretty. If we were actually more open about allowing our spiritual leaders to accept that their sexuality is actually a beloved gift from God rather than a dirty thing to be despised, it would go a long way toward allowing them to be what they actually are: human beings.

Not only that, but it also would give those followers within the church permission to accept as much about themselves, hopefully coming to realize that healthy sexuality expressed in mutually consenting relationships is as God meant it to be. Otherwise, none of us would be here!

From the first stories in the Bible, we’re wrongly taught to hate our bodies and to understand our sexuality as detestable and wrong. But as I’ve heard it said many times before, how’s that working out for you?

Couldn’t it be that reading stories like those about Adam and Eve could tell us why we tend to view our bodies with shame, rather than taking from it that we should hate our physical selves? Couldn’t it be that, if we are indeed created in the image of a Creator, our impulses and urges are supposed to be there, to be used and expressed in wonderfully creative ways?

If we can learn anything from history it’s that nature wins over the will of humanity every time. We may like to think that having the appearance of control over our sexuality makes us more highly evolved, or even somehow closer to God. Ironically, it’s those same God-given impulses that, when repressed find other ways into the light.

The problem is that, by then, it’s too late, and the shame continues.

Vehicular Manslaughter = $100 Traffic Ticket (NewSpin)

May 7th, 2010

(Originally published in PULP)

We are a society whose order is built upon laws. Though there certainly is no guarantee of safety and quality of life, we generally can rest assured that the legal system will provide some recourse for victims and appropriate justice for those causing harm.

But things don’t always work out the way they should.

Last September 30, Betty Joyce Kuykendall, 62-year-old Pueblo resident ran a stop sign on Tejon Avenue, rolling 85-year-old William Dorough’s car with him and his two passengers, Katherine Waller, 75, and Spencer Waller, 19, inside.

Dorough was admitted to Parkview Medical Center the next day, and on October 27 died from complications from injuries related to the accident.

For this, Kuykendall was fined $100 and faces no further criminal charges.

So what happened? A number of things, actually. First, the Sheriff’s deputy handling the accident reported that no one was injured seriously enough at the time, following a medical exam, to warrant any charges related to bodily injury. Instead, Kuykendall was issued a ticket for failing to stop at the stop sign and the rest was left to the insurance companies to deal with.

Kuykendall’s lawyer advised her to plead guilty and to pay the fine. Her check was processed at the Colorado Department of Revenue on October 26, one day before Dorough died from complications related to the wreck.

The Pueblo District Attorney’s Office, which is responsible for determining if the initial charges were sufficient or if she should be charged with something like vehicular manslaughter, didn’t receive the Sheriff’s report of the accident until December 16.  By then it was too late to charge Kuykendall with anything further, as she was protected by the principle of double jeopardy as outlined in both the Colorado and United States constitutions, which ensures that a plaintiff cannot be charged twice for the same crime.

“By the time our office received the full report and evidence,” says Bill Thiebaut, Pueblo District Attorney, “and a copy of the summons and complaint, and the disposition of the traffic case, the defendant had entered a guilty plea to the traffic charge.”

In most cases, explains Thiebaut, “Our office would staff the case and determine if someone committed a chargeable offense. If it was determined that a defendant should be charged, our prosecutors seek justice with a charge or charges equal to the offense.” The problem is, at least in this situation, that it took two-and-a-half months for the paperwork to reach the DA’s office.

I wondered if this is a normal timeframe for processing the materials needed to determine appropriate charges. “It is not unusual that we receive reports after this length of time elapses,” Thiebaut says. “It takes time to put together the case.”

As for the injuries not being reported, Thiebaut states: “Apparently, the deputy sheriff did not know the extent of the injuries to the victim and issued a summons and complaint at the scene for a traffic violation.”

I asked Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor for his assessment of the incident, to which he said, “In reviewing the case, I have found that my deputies responded appropriately given the circumstances that they were faced with. This was a terrible tragedy and atypical when it comes to investigating and prosecuting an offender.”

According to the Sheriff’s report, the lack of reported serious injury is based on medical exams performed at Parkview Medical Center by a doctor and nursing staff. “When the parties from the accident were taken to the hospital,” says Taylor, “my deputy inquired with the hospital personnel whether or not the individuals had sustained injuries that would amount to ‘Serious Bodily Injury’ (SBI) as defined by statute. He was advised on the night of the accident that there was no SBI by both the doctor who examined them as well as several nurses.”

The Sheriff’s report details the nature of Dorough’s injuries, not discovered upon intake at Parkview the day of the accident, but identified the following day when Dorough returned to the hospital and was admitted for complications. His neck was fractured and required surgery that would fuse portions of his cervical spine together.

In the week following the surgery, Dorough’s condition worsened, ultimately requiring him to be intubated. He later had the tube removed but by then had “partial quadriplegia,” according to the report, “which meant William (Dorough) could move his extremities but did not have any strength.”

On October 27, medical staff recommended a second intubation, but Dorough’s family declined, citing quality of life issues. He died at 11:11 am later that morning.

Deputy Jonathan Post, the one reporting on the investigation for the Sheriff’s Department, questioned Dr. Rochelle Elijah, Dorough’s hospital physician, asking why the Sheriff’s Department was not told about Dorough’s injuries when he returned to the hospital the next day. Elijah said “she did not know,” according to the Sheriff’s report.

Asked also if Dorough’s death was directly linked to the accident, Elijah said it was. The report does not list any of the medical staff by name that examined those involved in the accident the day of the wreck.

Following Dorough’s death, Deputy Post and others from the Sheriff’s department returned to the scene of the accident, gathering further information about the scene, which then was forwarded on to the District Attorney. But since Kuykendall had paid her traffic ticket, the DA’s hands were tied.

So the DA’s office did what they could, given the information they were provided when they got it. The Sheriff ‘s Department issued the only reasonable ticket they could, given that attending doctors found no serious physical injury to any of the victims.

I asked Thiebaut if this kind of thing happens elsewhere, or if this was a freakish, isolated incident. “Yes, there is precedent,” he explains, “however, this does not come up as often as you might think. Most bodily injury, serious bodily injury or death cases follow the model procedure [where the person causing harm is charged with inflicting injury or death]. On rare occasions, however, this scenario does play out.”

In these cases, with double jeopardy shielding the would-be plaintiff from further criminal consequences, the only option for victims is to sue. According to Thiebaut, there is a civil case underway.

Incidentally, Betty Kuykendall has since been diagnosed with a neck fracture of her own from the accident and was scheduled to undergo surgery, according to the final report addendum included in the Sheriff’s file.

Parkview Medical Center and staff involved in the case may end up being the subject of civil action before all is said and done, but I was left wondering what kind of legal responsibilities the medical staff may have failed to meet. Could emergency room doctors and nurses face legal fallout for missing two serious injuries in two different people the day of the wreck, one of which was eventually related to a man’s death? And are they legally bound to report the injury to the Sheriff once it was discovered, considering an investigation was underway?

To be continued…