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Mancos man found guilty of vehicular homicide in 2021 crash

Scott Chilleen was convicted of vehicular homicide on Thursday.
Scott Edouard Chilleen denied he was driving in crash that killed woman

Scott Edouard Chilleen of Mancos was convicted of vehicular homicide Thursday in Cortez for killing a passenger in a crash on Colorado Highway 184 in 2021.

After deliberating about three hours, the jury in 22nd Judicial District Court case convicted Chilleen, 63, of killing one passenger and injuring another in a high-speed crash that came after a night of drinking.

According to prosecutors, Chilleen’s passengers asked him to slow down. Instead, he sped up.

Mary Murphy of Phoenix, 58, died in the crash. Houston Leigh Davis of Mancos, who was 22 years old at the time of the crash, suffered a broken neck.

The four-day trial began Monday. Evidence included photos from the scene of the crash and of passengers’ injuries as well as one of the seats from the Chevy pickup truck that Chilleen drove.

Prosecutors focus on Chilleen’s character

Thursday morning, the prosecution, led by District Attorney Christian Hatfield and aided by assistant DA Jason Eley, gave final arguments in their case, noting that Chilleen had been involved in a “substantial amount of drinking” and drove while under the influence of alcohol.

“He’s no stranger to drunk driving,” Hatfield said.

According to Hatfield, Murphy and Davis asked Chilleen to slow down as they drove up the hill from Dolores to Colorado 184 after a night of drinking.

After he sped up, Hatfield said, Murphy told Davis and Chilleen that she loved them. Chilleen then lost control of the 2001 Chevy Silverado and it rolled at least two times, ejecting Murphy, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, from the truck. Murphy, who was dating Chilleen at the time, died shortly after officers arrived at the scene.

“Her last words were, ‘I love you guys,’” Hatfield said. “And then he killed her.”

Hatfield emphasized that Chilleen left Murphy unattended at the scene of the crash and fled “as the dust was still settling.”

Sgt. Jacob Lanyon, who was a deputy at the time, of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office discovered the crash during a regular patrol, according to his initial crash report. Dust from the crash was still in the air, and Chilleen was nowhere to be found.

After he was found by Lanyon and Colorado State Patrol Officer Joseph Gonzales, Chilleen claimed that Murphy had been driving the vehicle, Hatfield said. He did not ask about Murphy and Davis.

“He never once asked if Mary and Houston were OK or if they were even alive,” Hatfield said.

Although Chilleen insisted that Murphy had been in the driver’s seat, first responders reportedly found some of Murphy’s hair on the passenger side mirror, and blood from Davis’ head on the back seat.

Disputing the defense argument that Davis might have been thrown from the driver’s seat into the back seat, Hatfield pointed out that Chilleen’s white shirt was spotless and would have been stained from blood in the back seat.

“We knew the bleeding passenger was Houston Davis,” Hatfield said. He further argued that because the truck rolled sideways, the driver would not have shifted front to back.

“Scott Chilleen is a liar and a thrice-convicted drunk driver,” Hatfield told jurors. “Justice is now in your hands, and it is a profound duty.”

After Hatfield’s remarks, the court took a 15-minute break before hearing final arguments from the defense.

Defense claims Chilleen wasn’t driving

Chilleen’s defense lawyer, Beale Tejada, told jurors there was no way to confirm whether Chilleen was the driver, saying that the rollover crash was chaotic and a driver could be thrown into the back seat.

Earlier in the trial, Tejada showed the jury video footage of a crash in which a man was thrown into the back seat. He contended that Davis was driving the truck.

He also called Davis’ testimony into question, saying that Davis’ DNA had been found on the steering wheel of the truck, while Chilleen’s had not.

“Is Houston Davis afraid to tell you what really happened?” he asked.

Tejada also cast doubt on claims that the truck was speeding, since deputy Layton did not choose to pursue the vehicle after it passed him on his patrol.

Countering prosecutors’ claim that Chilleen fled the scene of the crash, Tejada said that Chilleen left his wallet and other possessions in the vehicle, actions that would be incompatible with someone trying to leave undetected.

After Tejada’s closing arguments, prosecutors had a chance to respond.

Eley reiterated that the blood evidence linked Davis to the back seat – not Chilleen. Chilleen was found wearing a spotless white shirt despite the presence of blood in the back seat.

Eley also challenged Tejada’s reliance on DNA evidence and reminded jurors about testimony from the scientist who ran the DNA test. DNA isn’t always a deciding factor, Eley said, noting that Chilleen and Murphy obviously were in the truck, but their DNA was not found in the vehicle.

Chief Judge Todd Plewe then dismissed the jury.

Guilty on eight counts

The jury came back to the courtroom three hours later with a verdict of guilty on all eight counts.

Chilleen was found guilty of vehicular homicide under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury, vehicular assault under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence for subsequent offense, and two counts requiring seat belt use for the driver and front-seat passenger.

Chilleen’s sentencing hearing was scheduled for Monday, March 18 at 9 a.m.

Plewe requested a presentence investigation and alcohol evaluation prior to the sentencing. Chilleen was then arrested by the Sheriff’s Office, with no bail.

Prosecutors Hatfield and Eley later expressed sympathy for Murphy and satisfaction about the verdict.

“It won’t bring Mary Murphy back, but justice was served,” Hatfield told The Journal.

“There is no justice that can undo the damage done, but I am glad to see the defendant was held accountable,” Eley said. “I want to thank our officers for their investigation and everyone who assisted in preparing this case for prosecution.”

Additional evidence becomes available

According to Eley, Chilleen was once on Paramount’s reality TV show “Bar Rescue,” in Season 3, Episode 9. In the episode, Chilleen and his former wife, Donna, were sent to an addiction counselor for alcohol problems.

According to a redacted report from the Sheriff’s Office acquired by The Journal, Chilleen was arrested the morning of the crash, Nov. 18, 2021, by Trooper Gonzales. He was released from the Montezuma County Detention Center on Nov. 23, 2021, on a $100,000 cash surety bond.

Additional details of the crash were given in deputy Laynon’s incident report.

According to the report, the truck crashed about 11:38 p.m. near 38000 Colorado Highway 184 on Nov. 17, 2021. Lanyon reported that he came upon the crash after he said he noticed the truck driving fast, but could tell how fast it was moving. He then drove in the direction of the truck, but did not attempt to pursue it because it was already out of sight.

After a few minutes, Lanyon said, he noticed skid marks and saw flying dust at the crash site. He observed Davis in the back seat of the truck, which had “significant damage.”

Later investigations estimated the truck was traveling 81 mph in a 65 mph zone. The truck crashed into a boulder and multiple trees, snapping the trunks of four pine trees, Eley said.

After speaking with Davis, Lanyon found Murphy under a tree. She was bleeding from the mouth, nose and ears. In a state of agonal breathing, she died at the scene.

Davis was flown for treatment to Grand Junction and was found to have fractured vertebrae in his neck.

About two hours after the crash, Lanyon and Gonzales found Chilleen about 2 miles away. According to police, he said he was walking home to Mancos to get another vehicle to tow the crashed truck.

Chilleen had a BAC of 0.13 five hours after the crash. In Colorado, a driver with a .08 BAC could be convicted of a DUI absent any other evidence.

Troopers Jeremy Tice, Gonzales and the District Attorney’s Office investigator Steve Brunk led the investigation of the case.