A Steamboat Springs man was sentenced to one year in prison and 10 years of supervised probation Friday for his role in a rollover accident that severely injured two of his passengers last summer.
In December, Eric Sullivan, 32, pleaded guilty to vehicular assault, a Class 4 felony, and driving under the influence of alcohol, a misdemeanor. But because sentencing guidelines weren't established as part of his original plea bargain, neither Sullivan, his attorney, his family, the district attorney nor the accident victims knew what to expect when Sullivan's punishment was handed down by Judge Michael O'Hara.
In addition to the sentence and probation, Sullivan also must pay restitution to the accident victims for the injuries and associated medical bills, a total that could exceed $200,000.
The victims sustained injuries on June 15, after Sullivan lost control of the 1994 Jeep Wrangler he was driving on Buffalo Pass Road. The vehicle rolled 1 1/4 times, ejecting Sullivan and his two passengers, Cheryl Gartz, 20, and Tohna Nadu, 29. Sullivan's blood-alcohol content was determined to be 0.195, more than twice the legal limit.
"The scary thing is (Sullivan) never asked one of the girls to drive," special prosecutor Scott Turner said Friday before the sentence was handed down. Turner is the chief deputy dist--r--ict attorney for the Ninth Judicial District, which was assigned the case because Sullivan's father is Routt County manager.
"He felt as though he was fine to drive. It's not a mistake of simply having one too many. A 0.195 is total irresponsibility."
Turner also pointed out that Sullivan was driving 46 mph, 21 mph more than the posted speed limit.
Gartz spent several weeks in an intensive care unit at a Denver hospital, and she says her injuries still plague her.
Nadu was treated and released shortly after the incident.
Before announcing Sullivan's sentence, Judge O'Hara said he was having a hard time determining what Sullivan's punishment should be because he wanted to balance his right to punish the defendant with his need to help him.
O'Hara said he took into consideration Sullivan's two previous DUI convictions and a third DUI charge for which Sullivan wasn't convicted.
"This is a hard case. You all knew that coming in here today. Mr. Sullivan, you knew you had a problem, and you didn't take the step to rectify that problem. You put yourself into a bad situation that resulted in two people being very seriously hurt," O'Hara said.
O'Hara said his decision was further complicated beca--use the two victims in the case took "competing" positions in regard to the sentencing.
Turner explained to O'Hara on behalf of the victims that Nadu was fine with having Sullivan serve probation only, whereas Gartz was pushing for prison time.
"As I stand her right now, I can't in good conscience ask the court to allow (Sullivan) to just help himself with his alcoholism. We are asking for two or three years in prison. I just don't see any other option," Turner said.
Cheryl Hardy-Moore, Sul--livan's attorney, reiterated her client's willingness to admit his alcohol problem and work to rectify the issues that led him to drinking. She objected to a lengthy prison sentence, saying prison counseling does nothing to curb alcoholism.
"This is a young man who suffers from a very, very low self-esteem. There's something missing from his character, from his personality. I don't think he'll find it in prison," she said.
Hardy-Moore recommended that Sullivan be sentenced to probation.
"I do show great remorse for all the victims involved. I do need a lot, a lot of help. If you could give me that, it would be appreciated," Sullivan told the court.
A restitution hearing was scheduled for 1 p.m. April 14 to determine the amount of money Sullivan will have to pay the victims.
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