Jenna Breen's hit-and-run death: New info in case of three-time DUI offender
Update:There have been some new developments in the tragic story of Jenna Breen, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident with Viet Nguyen, a man with three previous DUI arrests. Below, get more information about the search for possible witnesses (or perhaps additional suspects), a fund in Jenna's name, a memorial service and the reason Nguyen's passenger at the time of the crash hasn't been identified.
Via e-mail, Breen family friend Larry Feyerherm points out that the Justice For Jenna Facebook page has now registered over 1,000 likes -- evidence of Jenna's impact on friends and family, as well as support for the site's original cause. Feyerherm launched it with the blessing of Jenna's mom, Gail Parrish, in part to demand higher bail for Nguyen, and bond was subsequently upped to $250,000.
In addition, Feyerherm notes that "a Justice for Jenna Memorial fund has been set up with TCF banks. People can donate at any TCF bank in Colorado."
Formal charges are expected to be filed against Nguyen in Adams County Court at 1:30 p.m. today. Feyerherm adds that "a white car was seen following the driver and his passenger as they fled the scene, observed by a Kohls security camera." No telling at this point if this was coincidence, or if those in the white vehicle had a connection with Nguyen, but "the police would really like to talk to these people," he stresses.
"Many people are wondering why the passenger has not been identified," he continues. "Apparently, there is no requirement of passengers to report a crime, stay at the scene of an accident, render aid to the injured parties. There are no penalties for passengers that flee the scene of an accident. I bet many of your readers do not know that. That doesn't seem right."
Finally, a memorial service for Jenna has been scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, January 28, at Crown Hill mortuary chapel, 7777 West 29th Avenue in Wheat Ridge. See the Justice for Jenna Facebook page for more details, and look below to read our earlier coverage.
Original item, 1:34 p.m. January 17: Early Saturday morning, Jenna Breen, 21, was killed in a hit-and-run crash. The man charged in the incident -- Viet Nguyen, 25 -- has three previous DUIs on his record, yet reports of his initial bond were so low that Breen's loved ones set up a Justice for Jenna Facebook page to protest it. Now, the DA's office in question has apparently reached the same conclusion.
Breen family friend Larry Feyerherm launched the page with the blessing of her mother, Gail Parrish. "She's shattered, as you can imagine," he says. "That was her only daughter, and she was only 21. Words can't describe how the family feels. They're completely devastated by this."
Just past 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, Breen was reportedly returning home after wrapping up the late shift at her waitressing job when her vehicle was struck near the intersection of 118th Place and Sheridan Boulevard. She was ejected from the car and died at the scene.
Nguyen, the man driving the other car in the crash, allegedly scampered from the vehicle on foot, joined in flight by a companion. But neither of them got far. With assistance from a canine unit, Westminster police found Nguyen hiding behind a bush. Meanwhile, officers from Broomfield cornered the thus-far-unidentified passenger.
This wasn't Nguyen's first opportunity to enjoy the dubious pleasures of police custody. As 9News notes in the piece linked above, he also sports convictions for numerous drug crimes, plus theft, receiving stolen property and more. But more pertinent to Breen's family are his three DUI arrests in the past six years, with the most recent one resulting in the revocation of his drivers license.
"What was this guy doing behind the wheel?" Feyerherm asks. "And to make things even worse, the driver and the passenger left Jenna bleeding on the pavement rather than giving aid or calling the police."
Such behavior by DUI drivers is hardly unusual, as noted by Jennifer Albo in a June 2011 post. Jennifer's brother Tim was severely injured in a hit and run, and she believes Colorado law actually encourages drunk drivers to split under such circumstances.
"Nobody is going to stick around to turn themselves in and help injured people as long as the laws say it's better to leave the scene of the accident and avoid any kind of alcohol-related punishment for drinking and driving," she told us.
"Right now in Colorado, a hit-and-run driver is punished less severely than someone who is found to be above the limit for intoxication," she continued. "Hit and run is classified as a class-five felony, and if there is serious bodily injury, it increases to a class-four felony" -- see the statute here. "But that's it. There's nothing beyond that, which is why, in Colorado, the drivers make the choice. Either they decide they're not going to stay and help somebody, or they're so drunk they can't figure out if they've hurt somebody -- so they leave."
Also frustrating to Feyerherm was the initial bail placed on Nguyen -- $20,000, according to a bondsman who spoke with Parrish. This figure led to the Facebook page. In his words, "We thought, if we put a spotlight on this, it might raise awareness about the situation -- influence the legal people involved to use some common sense and make the bail high enough where he's not likely to get out."
That appears to have happened. While Westminster Police public information officer Investigator Trevor Materasso is unable to corroborate the $20,000 figure, he does confirm that Nguyen's bond was raised at the request of the DA's office to $250,000. (Update: Adams County DA spokeswoman Krista Flannigan does likewise.) Nguyen remains in custody at this writing, and it's Materasso's understanding that if he is released, he'll be required to wear an ankle monitor to insure that he doesn't drive soused again.
Because Breen's family is making funeral arrangements today, they haven't had a chance to set up an account in her memory, but Feyerherm says information about one will be posted on the Justice for Jenna page once it's online. In the meantime, here's a look at Nguyen's booking photo.
Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Tim Albo: Hit-and-run victim making progress, but brother Rodney says he faces long road."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.