A Durango man who hit a pedestrian with his car following an altercation between the two in July was sentenced Friday to serve three years at the Hilltop House Community Corrections, a halfway house in Durango.
Brian Walker Kruse, 41, was charged with heat of passion assault – a class 6 felony. He pleaded guilty to the charge in February as part of a plea agreement that negated the original charge of attempted murder.
Kruse has been in the La Plata County Jail since the July 25 incident, which occurred on West Eighth Street in front of the Durango Post Office. The man he hit with the car, 37-year-old Kenneth O’Neill, is in prison for assaulting a police officer.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson rejected the public defender’s request Kruse be sentenced only to probation. She noted that although O’Neill “reacted like a cat” in landing relatively unscathed after landing on top and then rolling off the hood of Kruse’s car, he could have landed on his head. She also cited Kruse’s criminal history of violence toward others and failure to comply with previous probation requirements.
“Reacting in the moment has been a pattern your whole life,” Carlson said. “Reacting badly.”
But Carlson also noted that Kruse has been making important strides toward recovery while in jail, which included attending anger management, and concluded that a prison sentence would be too much. She also listened to testimony from Kruse’s mother and a neighbor who talked about how well Kruse had been doing before the incident in excelling at his job, paying his rent and bills, and being a good neighbor.
“He knows what he has done is wrong and I think he’s been in the woodshed long enough,” said neighbor William Shultz, who has been paying Kruse’s rent while he has been in jail so that he will have a home to return to. “He deserves a fair shake, a chance. He’s a go-getter and he’ll get back to work.”
The incident that led to Kruse’s arrest and incarceration began when Kruse encountered O’Neill walking slowly across the crosswalk adjacent to the post office. Kruse revved his engine and yelled out the window for O’Neill to hurry up. Kruse testified before his sentencing Friday that he believed O’Neill was high on meth at the time.
Kruse veered toward O’Neill after he passed. Video shows O’Neill picking up a rock and throwing it at Kruse’s car, then pursuing and confronting Kruse in the post office parking lot. The men squared off before Kruse went inside the post office. When he returned to his car, O’Neill approached again and shattered the passenger window of Kruse’s car before walking back to the street.
Kruse drove after him, pulling a U-turn in the street to strike O’Neill.
Kruse testified before sentencing that he knew what he did was wrong and choked with emotion as he said he thought about it every night while in jail.
“I acted out of fear,” he said. “I’ve learned from this and want to get back to the experience I had of living a good life. I’m done. My past is a mess. ... I’ve changed. I apologize to Mr. O’Neill and hope he forgives me. I wish I had done things differently.”