Former DU Player Coban Porter Sentenced to 6 Years for DUI Crash | Westword

Coban Porter Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Deadly DUI Crash

The criminal case over the deadly crash is now settled, but Coban Porter and the bar he allegedly drank at face civil lawsuits.
The criminal case over the deadly crash is now settled, but Coban Porter and the bar he was allegedly drinking at are facing civil lawsuits.
The criminal case over the deadly crash is now settled, but Coban Porter and the bar he was allegedly drinking at are facing civil lawsuits. Denver Police Department/Sarah McGill/Google Maps
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Former University of Denver basketball player Coban Porter, brother of Denver Nuggets player Michael Porter Jr., was sentenced to six years in prison for a January 2023 DUI and car crash that killed Katharina Limon Rothman, a local woman who was driving for Uber. It was the maximum sentence Porter could have received.

On February 7, Porter pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide-DUI and vehicular assault, which are both felonies. He had also been charged with an additional count of vehicular homicide due to reckless driving, but that was dismissed as part of a plea deal with the Denver District Attorney.

Under terms of the deal with the DA, Porter faced up to eight years in prison. The judge sentenced him to six years on one count and two on the other, allowing both sentences to run concurrently.

The night of the crash, Porter, who had allegedly been drinking at a popular college bar in south Denver, was driving into the intersection of South University and Buchtel boulevards when he ran a red light at an estimated fifty miles per hour. Jason Blanch, a passenger in Rothman's Uber vehicle, sustained injuries but survived.

”All I can say is I’m sorry,” Porter said at his April 19 sentencing hearing in Denver District Court. “I’m so sorry that it’s your daughter, your sister, your wife, your mother’s life that had to be taken for me to learn the lesson that I’ve learned. … I don’t know why it was her life that was taken instead of mine when it was my choices. Ten times out of ten, I would rather it be me than her.”

Friends and family on both sides filled every possible seat in the courtroom. Rothman’s mother, Connie Johnson, also addressed the court.

“On January 22, 2023, my life ended along with my sweet, innocent daughter Katharina Rothman,” she said in tears. “As a parent, you are not supposed to bury your children. As a mother, you know your child before they were even born into this world. You feel their heartbeat, you go through the labor, you raise them and you try your hardest to protect them.”

Johnson said she still experiences pain from not being able to protect her daughter the night of the crash.

“Her life was tragically taken from a collision caused by a man who should have listened to what his parents probably told him long ago,” Johnson said. “Never to get behind the wheel of a vehicle if we have been drinking, but he did, and his choice caused my grandson to grow up without a mother.”

Johnson added she does not wish harm to Porter, but asked his family to consider what they would do if the roles were reversed. She asked the judge to sentence Porter with a mind toward justice for her daughter.

Many of Rothman’s family members spoke about the devastation of losing her, including her sisters Leslie and Erika Beach.

“I won’t have Mr. Porter walk away from this the way he walked away from our sister,” Leslie said.

“Being incarcerated won’t bring our sister back, but it will set an example for others,” Erika added, asking the judge to recognize the impact a prison sentence for Porter could have.

Porter’s pastor, Nirup Alphonse, testified that he has seen Porter grow since the crash.

“In my position, I meet people daily who have made mistakes, and rarely find those like Coban who own up to them, display remorse, decide to learn from them and find a way to make a positive impact because of it,” Alphonse said.

Two basketball coaches and close family friends testified to Porter’s lifelong work ethic and character, saying he truly understands what remorse means. Cherie Smith of All Seasons Counseling, the organization responsible for mandated DUI education and counseling to Porter, said she believes he recognizes the consequences of his actions.

“In working with Coban, I really felt his sincere remorse, his regret,” Smith said. “Everything that he was processing he was willing to share and he takes full accountability.”

Michael Porter Jr. attended his brother's sentencing hearing on April 19 along with other members of the Porter family. However, their brother, Jontay Porter — who was just banned for life from the National Basketball Association for betting on games in which he played — was not spotted.

Michael testified on his brother’s behalf on April 19. He said he hadn’t intended to speak but wanted to give the court a different perspective on his brother.

“He was the one that I looked up to, even though I'm the older brother,” Michael said. “I just want to say that I understand your family’s pain. … Even though he made choices, there's a lot of people in life who have made bad choices, and it doesn't end up the way this did. I remember during the whole process, I was just thinking, man, I wish it was me.”

The Denver District Attorney’s Office recommended an eight-year prison sentence for Porter despite his remorse and apparent good character. Judge Ericka Englert said she had received 55 character letters about Porter and that she had not seen such a breadth of those testimonies in other DUI cases. Englert also acknowledged the irrevocable harms of Porter’s actions that night.

Civil Lawsuits for Porter and Crimson & Gold Tavern

Though his criminal case is now settled, Rothman’s husband and Blanch are both suing Porter in civil court.

Mason Rothman filed a lawsuit on January 18 on behalf of himself and Katharina’s minor son. He is represented by Bachus & Schanker in the wrongful death lawsuit. It also names Potter Restaurant Group, which does business as the Crimson & Gold Tavern, the DU-area bar where Porter was allegedly overserved prior to the crash.

Blanch, represented by Hagen Nares PLLC, filed his lawsuit against Porter on January 21 for his injuries and also named Crimson & Gold.

Porter’s felony sentencing could impact the civil lawsuits brought against him.

“She was a working mother,” says Kyle Bacchus, Rothman’s lawyer. “Not only did a child and husband lose a spouse and parent, but they lost financial resources in the household.  … Then there's a second bucket of damages that can be recovered, which are the non-economic losses, which is everything you go through when you lose a loved one that is not something that has a receipt attached to it.”

In Colorado, there is a cap of just under $600,000 for those damages. However, if the killing is determined to be felonious, that cap goes away.

“We do not believe that he intended to run somebody over, run into their side of their vehicle and kill them,” Bacchus says. “But instead, the conduct of drinking and driving and killing somebody is considered to be a felony, and that's what he was charged with.”

The civil trial judge will have the ability to decide if the killing is indeed felonious, but Porter’s plea to felony charges has led the Rothmans to believe the cap should be lifted, according to Bacchus. 

Rothman’s lawsuit describes Porter’s alleged refusal to cooperate with sobriety tests on the night of the crash. 

However, according to the lawsuit, Porter “admitted to having consumed alcohol and displayed bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred and mumbling speech, and a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath, and had a ‘Bud Light’ paper wristband on his left wrist.”

Both lawsuits allege the tavern served Porter shortly before the 2 a.m. crash.

“Our theory is that he was visibly intoxicated when he left the bar and the bar was overserving him,” says Christina Hagen, of the law firm representing Blanch. “They have a duty under the law not to serve alcohol to someone who's visibly intoxicated, and if they do so and that person injures or kills someone, they could be liable.”

Crimson & Gold declined to comment for this story. 

The lawsuits both ask for a jury trial to determine whether they can collect damages and the amount they can collect. It’s not permitted to name suggested amounts for damages in lawsuits, so the number each plaintiff will receive will be determined during a trial.

Bacchus says the complaint thus far doesn’t include too many details about what the Rothman family has been through, because those will also be discussed at the trial. 

These cases were placed on hold by the judge until after the criminal matter wrapped up, so they haven’t received responses from Porter or undergone discovery yet.

“While there's a criminal case pending, we're very limited in the amount and type of information that the district attorney’s office is able to release to us and to the public,” Hagen says. “They have certain privacy protections as it relates to not being able to disclose body cam footage and dash cam footage and other stuff that's being used in the criminal investigation.”

Now that Porter has been sentenced, they expect his response as soon as Monday, according to Hagen. Crimson & Gold has already responded: In a legal response to the lawsuit, the bar owners admitted Porter was a patron who bought alcohol, but denied the allegations that he was visibly intoxicated or overserved.

Once both parties have responded, they will be able to access surveillance footage, body and dash cam footage and receipts from the bar, along with other evidence.

The two cases will undergo discovery together; the court may still split them up for trials, but Porter’s and Crimson & Gold’s defense lawyers requested the cases be combined.

“It’s been a very long road for our client,” Blanch's attorney, Christina Hagen, says. “He’s still very much dealing with the aftermath of this and his injuries, and just his ability to be who he was before. It's really changed who he is now.” 

All of the families involved will continue the process of healing in the meantime.

“It is my hope that Mr. Porter will make it his life's mission to share the awful tragedy that he has caused with others and to try to bring awareness about it,” Philip Beach, Rothman’s stepfather who raised her since she was five, told the court.
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