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Case against woman in double fatality is dismissed

Who was driving remains unclear, but DA could refile case

A vehicular homicide case against Rowena Yanito has been dismissed in Montezuma District Court, according to an Aug. 3 court order by District Court Judge Doug Walker.

The case arose after a fiery crash on County Road G on Dec. 13, 2014, left two people dead and a teenage girl with severe injuries. A 2006 Chrysler Pacifica struck a 2012 Nissan Sentra and burst into flames, according to court documents.

Yanito, 34, of Bluff, Utah, was accused of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, reckless driving and driving under the influence in the crash. After a trial in March, a jury could not reach a unanimous agreement on a guilty or not-guilty verdict, so a new trial date had been scheduled for Sept. 1.

Defense attorney Katherine Whitney argued in the March trial that it wasn’t clear that Yanito had been driving the Pacifica. Janeen Black, 27, admitted several times that she was driving the car, according to an arrest warrant.

Black was arrested Dec. 18, 2014, and jailed for six months before law enforcement officials said she had been wrongly charged.

“The identity of the driver of the automobile in this case is a hotly contested issue,” Walker wrote in the Aug. 3 order.

Yvonne Padilla and passenger Gerald Padilla, of Cortez, were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. A third passenger, a 15-year-old girl, was transported to Southwest Memorial Hospital with serious injuries.

The District Attorney’s office, under DA William Furse of the 22nd Judicial District, filed the motion to dismiss the case “without prejudice,” meaning that the case could be refiled, according to the order. The district attorney’s office indicated it wished to work with the Colorado attorney general to conduct further investigation into the identity of the driver, Walker wrote in the order.

The court determined that dismissing the case without prejudice does not violate the defendant’s right to due process, a speedy trial or her right to be free of double jeopardy.

“Rather, those issues are not decided here,” Walker wrote.

Yanito’s bond was released, and the trial that had been set for Sept. 1 was vacated, according to the order. All other hearings and court appearances also were vacated.

Assistant District Attorney Sean Murray told The Journal in an email that “an investigation of the matter is in progress at this time.”

A call Friday to defense attorney Whitney has not been returned.

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