26-year-old gets heavier punishment than former Colorado GOP official in auto-pedestrian death

Author: Lance Benzel - September 27, 2017 - Updated: September 27, 2017

El Paso County GOP Chair Trevor Dierdorff (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

A 26-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday in a fatal auto-pedestrian crash similar to one involving a top El Paso County Republican Party official.

One major difference: Where Ricardo Trevizo admitted to a serious driving infraction that will mean two years on probation and 250 hours of community service, the other driver, then-El Paso County Republican Party Chairman Trevor Dierdorff, got off scot-free.

The crashes occurred within six weeks of one other in Colorado Springs, and each involved an elderly victim and a driver’s fateful decision to throw a car in reverse in a drive lane.

The Gazette previously documented how 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, a Republican, dismissed all traffic counts against Dierdorff, 45, hours after police cited him for careless driving resulting in the April death of pedestrian Mel Tolbert, the longtime owner of Platte Floral downtown.

In dismissing Dierdorff’s charges, May pointed out that Tolbert, 79, was crossing against a light 25 feet from the intersection, and also emphasized Dierdorff’s report that he checked his rear-view mirrors before backing. It is not illegal to drive in reverse, he said.

But a police report obtained by The Gazette showed that investigators concluded that Dierdorff was “racing” another driver to an on-street parking spot when the deadly collision occurred.

May ignored repeated requests through his spokeswoman to address veteran police detective Dan Smoker’s finding that video surveillance rebutted Dierdorff’s claims that he exercised due caution before backing up on Tejon, a high-traffic street in downtown Colorado Springs.

“From the video, Mr. Dierdorff did not look in all the mirrors and did not check his blind spots. Had he done so he would have taken more than 1.0 second to change the gear selector, look in the three mirrors, check blind spots to his left rear and right rear, and ascertain it was safe to back up,” Smoker wrote.

The fatal crash occurred near the tony, politically connected El Paso Club, where Dierdorff and Tolbert were headed for the same meeting.

In a written statement Tuesday, the District Attorney’s Office restated May’s argument that Dierdorff should not be prosecuted because the victim was jaywalking.

“If the pedestrian is jaywalking, the car has the right-of-way,” the statement read.

Tim Bussey, a former El Paso County prosecutor now working in criminal defense, said he was surprised by the DA’s position that vehicles need not yield to jaywalkers.

“If someone is jaywalking, you can’t just say, ‘Hey, you can run them over,'” he said. “The duty is upon the vehicle driver to yield to any pedestrian, whether jaywalker or in a crosswalk. But it always boils down to whether or not the person was careless.”

The decision as to whether Dierdorff was careless would fall on prosecutors, Bussey added.

Dierdorff resigned his post with the county Republican Party this month, citing a desire to spend more time with his family and his career. He did not respond to a phone message left with a receptionist at a technology support company he owns or to written messages sent through two social media sites.

Trevizo, who is unemployed, was likewise faulted for hitting a pedestrian while driving in reverse, in a May 11 crash at Baylor Drive and East San Miguel Street in a neighborhood on the city’s east side.

In pleading guilty, Trevizo said he overshot a stop sign in the southbound lane of Baylor and decided to back up in order to clear the intersection. He said he checked his mirror but didn’t see Manuel “Pete” Peak, 86, who was walking a dog and attempted to cross behind him.

After feeling the impact of hitting Peak, Trevizo’s passenger called 911, and Trevizo applied pressure to Peak’s head wound until emergency crews arrived. Peak died six days later.

“Today I accept the consequences of my actions and pray for Mr. Peak and his family, that they may forgive me,” Trevizo told County Court Judge Shannon Gerhart.

In its statement Tuesday, the District Attorney’s Office said Trevizo was charged because Peak was “legally in the crosswalk.” There is no marked crosswalk at the Baylor Drive intersection, a Gazette reporter confirmed, although pedestrians have right-of-way at intersections.

Peak was recalled by family members as generous and loving –a vibrant man with a zest for life and level of community involvement belying his age.

After the 2012 death of Leva Peak, his wife of six decades, Peak continued volunteering at Sunnyside Christian Church in Colorado Springs and bowled twice a week in separate leagues.

“If he could have got up, he would have run to the car door and said, ‘Are you OK?'” said Jack Brooks, a son-in-law. “That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

Trevizo’s license was suspended and he had no insurance at the time of the crash. The basis for the suspension was a $220 court fine that Trevizo had paid months earlier without realizing he had to petition to renew his driver’s license, his attorney said.

Now, Trevizo will be without a license for at least a year, Judge Gerhart said. Peak’s grown son and daughter agreed to a plea agreement that took jail time off the table so long as Trevizo met several conditions requiring him to recognize his guilt and make amends.

The conditions included community service with a Colorado brain injury group; speaking about his experiences at churches and schools; completing an advanced driver’s course; and providing monthly proof of a license and insurance should he be regranted a license during his probation.

Lance Benzel