On May 8, 2008, illegal alien Oscar Canas Portillo, 32, borrowed the Chevy Blazer owned by Debra Pandoli, 52, of Carbondale, after they were finished drinking at the El Horizonte bar in downtown Basalt. Shortly after 10:30 p.m. he crossed the center line on Two Rivers Road about 1 mile west of downtown and slammed head on into the vehicle of John Reese and Susan Grove, who were returning from attending a Colorado Rockies baseball game in Denver. When they were hit, they were less than 2 miles from home.
Emergency responders said Reese and Grove were wearing their seat belts and that their air bags deployed, but the head-on collision was forceful enough to result in serious injuries. Reese and Grove were taken to local hospitals, then both airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center.
Reese suffered a broken ankle, three broken ribs, a head injury and possible neck injury. Grove suffered a broken leg, a broken hip, a head injury and possibly a spine injury. Portillo suffered a broken lower leg in the accident. Reese and Grove, who were married about a year before the accident, were also knocked unconscious. She remained in a coma until late June while he was out until July. When they came out of their comas, they were transferred to the Craig Hospital in Denver, which is dedicated to rehabilitating patients with severe brain and spinal cord injuries.
Over a year after the crash, Grove still had to wear a brace on her right leg. Jeff has difficulty using the right side of his body and has trouble speaking because of ongoing numbness in his mouth. Their medical bills have topped $1.3 million, of which about 80 percent is covered by their insurance leaving them liable for the remaining 20%. They face additional visits to doctors and work with physical therapists, and must take several medications.
“This man and his careless behavior have taken nearly everything from us,” Grove said.
Jeff, 46, is an Aspen native who recently returned to his hometown and was working for the Marolt accounting firm. Susan was a nurse at Aspen Valley Hospital.
Basalt Sgt. Stewart Curry, who arrested Oscar Canas Portillo said Portillo initially denied being responsible for the accident, but confessed in a later interview when an officer fluent in Spanish was present. Portillo was charged with two counts of vehicular assault causing serious bodily injury; driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs; driving under the influence with an excessive blood-alcohol level; and driving while his license was under revocation for a prior alcohol-related offense,
Sgt. Curry, , confirmed that Portillo had no documentation that he was in the United States legally at the time of the accident and that ICE had put a hold on him.
During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Steve Mallory showed that Canas Portillo had two prior convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol; his blood-alcohol content in this latest incident was .249, or three times higher than the threshold for a DUI conviction; and he tested positive for cocaine.
Canas Portillo had earlier convictions for drunken driving in Pitkin County, in April 2003; and Garfield County, in April 2007, according to law enforcement records. He was in the U.S. legally with a work visa at the time of those convictions.
Mallory said. The work visa had lapsed before the accident in May 2008, making Portillo an illegal alien. Mallory confirmed ICE had a “detainer” on Portillo and that he will likely be deported to El Salvador when he is freed from prison.
Portillo plead guilty to two counts of vehicular assault causing bodily injury. Eagle County District Judge Thomas Moorhead sentenced Canas Portillo to 12 years in state prison on each count Thursday, but allowed the sentences to run concurrently.
In July 2009, Debra Pandoli, the woman accused of lending her vehicle to Portillo, was convicted of reckless endangerment and ordered to perform 250 hours of useful public service and placed on one year of supervised probation.
Grove and Reese spoke at the sentencing. Reese said it was difficult to forgive Pandoli, but he would be a “hypocrite” if he didn't as he had already forgiven Portillo. “So I forgive you and I pray for you,” Reese said.
Grove said it was important for Pandoli to hear all the pain, suffering and financial hardships she and her husband have endured since May 2008. Grove said she suffered a broken back, a broken hip, broken ribs and a brain injury. Her right lower leg remains partially paralyzed. The injuries and ongoing treatment have robbed them of many of the things they loved to do, she said.
“I was a ski instructor. I ran marathons. I can't do those things now. It's hard cleaning my house,” Grove said.
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