Labor Day weekend is one of the biggest drunk-driving holidays on the calendar. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, 1,342 people were arrested over a nineteen-day stretch between August 16 and September 3 of 2013 for suspected driving under the influence. One of them was Rebecca Maez. She was drunk and driving the wrong way in an I-25 HOV lane early on September 1 when she smashed into another vehicle. The driver of that car was seriously injured; passenger Jenny Kush was pronounced dead.
On Friday, April 11, the 27-year-old Maes pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and assault.
As William Breathes reported in his September 19, 2013 cover story, "The life and tragic death of cannabis advocate Jenny Kush," 34-year-old Jennifer Monson -- better known as cannabis activist Jenny Kush -- and her boyfriend, 37-year-old Jeremy DePinto, had just left the (hed) p.e. concert at Summit Music Hall. Wary of drunk drivers on Labor Day weekend, they'd skipped drinking themselves that night, and were cautious as they drove through LoDo and headed to the freeway to get back home to Westminster. "Take the HOV lane -- it will be safer," Kush told DePinto. Those were the last words he remembers from the woman he loved.
An illustration of Jenny Kush.
Jenny Kush had moved with her four children to Denver in 2010, driving an old Chevy Suburban through one of Colorado's March blizzards to get away from what friends say was a toxic relationship in Montana. It didn't take long before she was a fixture on the local cannabis scene, blowing glass pipes at the former Street Glass and hanging around a group of people loosely related to iCannabisRadio, an Internet station based out of attorney Warren Edson's office.
"I feel like Jenny has just always been a part of my world, and so I don't have this great 'the first time I laid eyes on her I knew she was a special person' story," says Georgia Edson, Warren's wife and co-owner of the station. "It's just that Jenny was always there and always around. The reason why that is, is because Jenny would volunteer for everything and organize and coordinate everything. If there was an event to be done, to be figured out, Jenny was at the heart of it. That is who she was -- she was great at coordinating things."
And among Colorado's cannabis activists, she quickly became known as the girl who got shit done. This wasn't a hostile takeover, though; it was a labor of love. Kush was all over: sitting in front of cop cars on Broadway during Occupy Denver; helping found Moms for Marijuana in Colorado; working as an organizer for Mile High NORML and numerous other groups. She met DePinto in the community.
"We considered ourselves to be teammates," DePinto says. "Neither was more important, but that allowed us to both be more important. It sounds strange, like turning right to go left. But once you get it, it makes perfect sense."
Kush and DePinto were frequent fixtures at the cannabis rallies on the final Saturday of every month at the State Capitol. For the past seven months, those rallies have honored Kush. The sad irony of a cannabis activist getting killed by a drunk driver was not lost on her friends.
Maez shouldn't have been on the road that day. Her license had been revoked for a drunk-driving-related arrest in Edgewater less than four years earlier. In 2010, Maez was arrested again after she was stopped in Denver for driving without a license and gave the police a false name, Stephanie Ortiz. She failed to appear at her arraignment that September, and another warrant for her arrest was issued. In April 2012, Maez was jailed in Denver on her failure-to-appear charge; she was still technically a fugitive in Jefferson County.
None of that deterred Maez from driving once she got out of jail. She was behind the wheel of a borrowed Chrysler sedan on Labor Day weekend when she killed Jenny Kush.
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Released from custody on a $60,000 bond, Maez is scheduled to appear in Denver District Court on May 23 for a sentencing hearing. She faces up to 36 years in prison.
Kush was buried close to where she grew up in Bottineaux, North Dakota. Her four children are with their grandmother.
From our archives: "The life and tragic death of cannabis advocate Jenny Kush."