Rocky Mountain PBS I-News
One of every four motorists cited for drinking and driving in Colorado over the past two years was driving at the time without a valid license because it had been revoked, suspended or never issued.
And more than one-fifth had lost their driving privileges for a prior drunken driving conviction.
In one notorious Aurora case, Ever Olivos-Gutierrez, 40, allegedly driving drunk, ran a red light and smashed into a car being driven by Juan Carlos Dominquez-Palomino, 17, killing him two months before he was to graduate from high school.
Olivos-Gutierrez had never had a Colorado driver’s license and had been cited for two previous DUIs when he was involved in the deadly March 24 crash.
That same day, 10 other drivers across Colorado were cited for drinking while driving without a valid license. Five of them – from Pueblo to Colorado Springs to Mesa County – had lost their licenses for prior DUIs.
Rocky Mountain PBS I-News and 9News analyzed electronic court records of 45,637 DUIs issued in Colorado from April 2012 through April 2014.
The analysis did not include Denver County Court, where court officials said they could not determine how many of the 13,200 motorists charged with drinking and driving over the two years had no valid driver’s license at the time.
The analysis found:
• One-fourth or 10,978 of the 45,637 driving while intoxicated or impaired citations were issued to drivers who had previously had their licenses suspended, restrained or did not have a license. That’s an average of 15 a day without including Denver.
• At least 2,294 of those drivers, or three a day, had lost their driving privileges for a prior driving and drinking arrest.
• More than 250 separate law enforcement agencies in the state had stopped at least one driver for drinking and driving without a license.
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck said the number of motorists driving without licenses is so pervasive that it overwhelms the justice system.
“The court takes it seriously, the prosecutors it take seriously, the police take it seriously, but we don’t have enough resources to be able to punish somebody appropriately when they’re driving without a license,” Buck told 9News.
In the March 24 fatality, Aurora police arrived on the scene at East Colfax Avenue and Dayton Street and found the alleged assailant, Olivos-Gutierrez, in his car without a driver’s license.
The driving drunk without a license scenario was repeated more than once a day over the past two years for a total of 1,141 times in Colorado’s third largest city.
When police looked up Olivos-Gutierrez’s record, they found he had been cited for two prior DUIs. That has happened 211 times with other drivers in Aurora during the two years. Olivos-Gutierrez now faces first degree murder charges in connection with the fatal crash.
Aurora is not unique in dealing with the problem.
Thirty law enforcement agencies in Colorado have issued at least 100 DUI citations each to motorists with no license over the past two years.
Fran Lanzer, executive director of the Colorado MADD office, said part of the problem is that cars are such an integral part of people’s lives.
“We live in a society where people need to drive regardless of whether they are on a suspended license,” Lanzer said. “You still have to go to work. You have to pick up the kids.”
Buck said the justice system is also hamstrung because both DUI charges and driving without a valid license are misdemeanors.
“I think the most important thing from a story like this is that there are people that flagrantly abuse our laws and we need a stiff remedy for these people — a harsher sanction against them,” he said.
The Legislature turned down a proposed bill earlier this year to make a third DUI a felony, a reform that Buck and Lanzer said would help combat the problem.
Lanzer said officials hope a new state law passed last year that went into effect in January will cut down on DUI driving, especially for motorists who lost their licenses for a prior drinking and driving offense.
The law allows first-time offenders to regain their licenses after 30 days if they use an ignition interlock device to prevent them from starting their cars if they have been drinking.
Previously, DUI offenders had to wait a year without a license before they could use the device.
“We know people continue to drive anyway, so we prefer them to drive with an ignition interlock in their car,” Lanzer said.
The analysis also showed the percentage of DUIs given to motorists with no valid license varied by jurisdiction.
Among large jurisdictions, 36 percent of DUIs issued by Pueblo, 34 percent by the Adams County sheriff, and 32 percent by Greeley police went to drivers without licenses. The lowest rates were 13 percent by Boulder police, 14 percent by the Boulder County sheriff, 15 percent by Durango police and 17 percent by Fort Collins police.
MetroWest Newspapers brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at www.rmpbs.org/news. Contact Burt Hubbard at firstname.lastname@example.org. 9News reporter Whitney Wild contributed to this report.