Last October, Tim Albo was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that left him in a coma; companion Heather Kornman was also badly injured. And while the driver, Brandon Mondragon, was subsequently charged and convicted of the crime, his six-month sentence so frustrated Albo's family that they're fighting to change Colorado's hit-and-run law even as Tim continues to struggle toward full recovery.
As Jennifer Albo, Tim's sister, notes, hit and runs have been taking place in these parts at an epidemic pace. She counted 26 from the date of Tim's accident until early June -- meaning her total doesn't include high-profile incidents like the one involving Brittany Gonzales, who allegedly struck a child but only stopped for her hubcap, and Lisa Norton, the so-called hit-and-swim driver arrested just days after being sentenced to probation for a previous DUI. And yesterday, the Denver Police Department announced the arrest of Daniel Kleim in a June 26 motorcycle-versus-car hit-and-run in which the cyclist was killed.
Why so many? Jennifer's got a theory. "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.
"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 continues. "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."
For this reason, Jennifer advocates "closing the gap. Say you've injured somebody while driving drunk and you stay. It's not like a reward, but it would be less punishment than if you injure somebody and leave. If you do that, you're going to do a mandatory eighteen months in jail and not be eligible for early release until you've completed 75 percent of your time. And we'd also like to change the classification of the crime, so if you hit somebody and leave, you go from a typical crime to a more serious crime. That way, it doesn't allow the DA's office to whittle down the punishment to get the complaint off their desk, and it lets people know, 'You will pay this. You will go to alcohol classes. And there will be a mandatory sentence regardless of what anybody else says.'"
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Mondragon claims he wasn't intoxicated at the time of the accident that injured Tim and Heather, Jennifer acknowledges, and because he wasn't picked up until much later, there's no way to prove otherwise. However, she says the family insisted that his community service obligation be overseen by Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- and he also was ordered to pay approximately $12,000 to the state's victims-compensation fund. But in her view, this punishment pales in comparison to what Tim went through -- brain damage plus serious damage to his shoulder and pelvis, among other injuries.
The cost of his care was astronomical. "Our medical bills are in excess of $2 million," she says. "Tim was in Denver Health for 23 days, so that stay was close to $1 million, and then he went to Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital for 65 days, and I think that was over $1 million." And while Tim had insurance, the policy was more or less exhausted by the time he came home. He wouldn't be receiving three-times-a-week therapy sessions were it not for the kindness of a donor who offered to pay for them.
These extra efforts seem to be helping.
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"Physically, my brother is amazing," Jennifer allows. "He's surpassed every expectation the doctors have had. Every day, it's better than the last day." He doesn't have a full range of movement in one arm due to the shoulder injury, but his pain has subsided enough that he can now ride a bicycle. But, she goes on, "we always knew the brain damage he suffered was where he would struggle." Sometimes, for instance, "he'll have problems picking the right word out. If he wants something to drink, he might need a straw, but the closest he can come is, 'Give me a spoon.' And there are memory issues, like forgetting to turn off the water. And because he's an electrician, that's really important. He needs to be able to remember if he shut off the power."
A computer software system is helping Tim tackle these challenges. Meanwhile, the family is working with elected officials like Representative Rhonda Fields, whose teen-advisory council project was recently featured in this space, and Senator Cheri Jahn to develop new hit-and-run legislation for the next session.
"We were dealt this hand," Jennifer says. "But we want to help people in the future."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Tim Albo: Hit-and-run victim making progress, but brother Rodney says he faces long road."