The man who killed a Durango firefighter in a drunken crash and then attempted to mislead investigators was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.
Another man who helped conceal the crime was sentenced to 90 days in jail to be followed by four years probation.
Scott Gallagher, 49, a fire training captain with Durango Fire Protection District, was riding his bike home on Florida Road shortly after 2 a.m. Aug. 7 when Lorenzo Jones, 20, struck him with his vehicle at 50-plus mph, about 15 mph over the posted speed limit.
Jones then fled the scene of the crash.
Tremon Rice, 23, who had been drinking downtown with Jones that evening and was driving ahead of Jones when the crash occurred, helped Jones in leaving the scene and later tried to help cover up Jones’ involvement.
More than 20 friends and family members of Gallagher attended the joint sentencing hearings Friday in 6th Judicial District Court. Gallagher’s wife, Karen Gallagher, and his mother, Sue Gallagher, made statements about how the men’s reckless actions took Gallagher away from them and left his 12-year-old daughter to grow up without a father.
Several other friends of the Gallagher family provided statements to the court, including DFPD Deputy Fire Marshal David Strobel, who said Gallagher was a “superhero” and he didn’t believe superheroes could be killed until the defendants proved him wrong.
Karen Gallagher said her late husband had an “intense enthusiasm for life.” Because he was a firefighter who regularly put his life at risk for others, she always feared an untimely death could befall him – but she never imagined him dying at the hands of a drunken driver.
Prosecuting attorney Vance Davis, as well as friends and family of Gallagher, provided anecdotes about how passionate Gallagher was when it came to helping others. Davis said Gallagher was “inches and seconds” away from safety when Jones hit him with his vehicle.
He said downtown street camera footage of Aug. 6-7 reviewed during the investigation showed Gallagher leaving downtown on his bicycle and stopping to help someone up who had fallen. At the same time, he said, Jones was preparing to get on the road.
The few seconds it took Gallagher to help a man who’d fallen down on the street – another testament to Gallagher’s character – could have made the difference of whether he and Jones’ lives would intersect, he said.
He said Jones and Gallagher had interacted with each other earlier that evening, even raising a toast to one another and taking a shot together.
Davis said Jones’ case is among the most difficult he has ever worked. Gallagher’s friends and family requested the maximum sentence for Jones, eight years under terms of the plea agreement.
Jones’ defense said “his circuit breaker was off” and he was scared and not thinking clearly when the crash occurred. Jones, who was released from jail on $25,000 bail before his sentencing, hasn’t had a single drink of alcohol since the morning of Aug. 7, has been receiving therapy and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said Jones scored well on presentencing reports, which indicates he requires a low level of supervision and is generally at low risk of recidivism in the future; he has no previous criminal record; and a maximum sentence to the Department of Corrections would only increase his risk of becoming a hardened criminal.
Despite all of that, the defense said he and Jones could not, in good faith, request a probationary sentence in light of the irreparable damage done to Gallagher’s family, and Jones was prepared to serve prison time for his actions.
In a statement to the court, Jones said he wishes he could rewind time and change the past, but he can’t, and he hopes Gallagher’s loved ones will someday find it within them to forgive him.
District Judge Suzanne Carlson agreed with Jones’ defense that a maximum sentence of eight years risked immersing Jones in more criminal behavior, and she settled on a six-year prison term.
Carlson said Jones owes Karen Gallagher restitution as well as several other family members, although dollar figures have not yet been determined.
Rice’s defense first requested that he be given the opportunity to voluntarily surrender himself to the custody of La Plata County Jail and that he be allowed to serve part of his sentence before to the start of the fall semester at Fort Lewis College and then finish the rest of his sentence after graduation at the end of the year.
Rice’s plea deal originally capped his jail time at 30 days. But Carlson said the case called for at least 90 days. She gave Rice a chance to back out of his plea agreement, but he agreed to move forward with a 90-day jail sentence.
Carlson said it is unfortunate that Rice’s college education will be delayed, but the seriousness of obstructing justice in a case in which someone died by vehicular homicide outweighs Rice’s plans for college, and that he must serve his full 90-day jail sentence.
Rice told the court he wanted no involvement in Jones’ behavior and had repeatedly told Jones not to drive the night of the crash.
Karen Gallagher said Rice was also driving drunk and speeding above 50 mph down Florida Road when the crash occurred, details she said the court was overlooking.
Jones and Rice were enrolled at FLC when the crash occurred. Jones is no longer enrolled and Rice was planning to complete his undergraduate degree this year.
In April, Jones pleaded guilty to one count of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol, and Rice pleaded guilty to accessory to the crime.
Gallagher was riding a bicycle on the side of the road when Jones hit him. The impact sent Gallagher’s bicycle under the grill of Jones’ vehicle and Gallagher through the front windshield on the passenger side.
Jones falsely reported his vehicle stolen to investigators later that morning, and later confessed to killing Gallagher after questioning.