Last summer, we told you about a fatal crash following a Grand Lake 4th of July fireworks display for which Lucas Ackerman had been accused of vehicular homicide, a felony, as well as driving under the influence. But what initially seemed like a straightforward case has become unexpectedly complicated.
Earlier this year, a judge rejected a plea deal for Ackerman under the argument that he would be getting off too lightly for a serious crime. But now, the prosecutors in the case have dropped all felony charges against him, raising the possibility that his punishment may wind up being even less severe. Details below.
As we've reported, five people were struck by a Ford pickup truck allegedly driven by Ackerman as they crossed Highway 34 after the conclusion of Grand Lake's renowned annual patriotic spectacular.
Survivors include Debbie Westley, 49, two females, ages nineteen and ten, and a three-year-old male, all of whom were helicoptered to Denver-area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to serious. But Debbie's husband Greg, fifty, was pronounced dead at the scene. A police report accessed by Sky-Hi News documented some risky behavior on Ackerman's part -- specifically the pre-drive consumption of six or seven beers, which reportedly pushed his blood-alcohol level to 0.156, around twice the legal intoxication limit.
Accompanying him in the vehicle were his two kids, ages seven and eight at the time.
Also revealed was Ackerman's criminal past, which begins with a 1997 bust for possession and consumption of alcohol by a minor. Other marks on his record include misdemeanor assault, a harassment conviction, a guilty plea for disorderly conduct and drunk driving, for which he spent sixteen days in jail.
A slam-dunk prosecution? Not quite. As noted in a subsequent Sky-Hi News report, a Colorado State Patrol analysis of the accident determined that Westley "was in the roadway at the time of the accident and failed to yield to right of way of Ackerman's vehicle."
That didn't exonerate Ackerman, and earlier this year, he agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a one-year jail sentence on the DUI beef and a four-year deferred judgment in regard to four vehicular-assault counts and the vehicular homicide charge. But 14th Judicial District Judge Mary Hoak didn't go along.
"I find that this plea bargain diminishes the seriousness of this crime," Hoak is quoted as saying during a February hearing. "This is a hefty crime. Someone's life was lost. People were seriously injured. The defendant had a high blood-alcohol content.
"It sends the wrong message to society and to this community," she added.
This week, however, 14th Judicial District DA Brett Barkey announced that all felony counts against Ackerman were being dropped. Instead, he'll be prosecuted only for driving under the influence and two counts of misdemeanor child abuse, because his kids were riding with him.
The only explanation for the move thus far is the following statement from Barkey: "A prosecutor's foremost duty is to do justice. After consulting closely with law enforcement agencies and the victims, I have concluded that dismissing the felony counts and proceeding only on the misdemeanor counts is what is just in this case."
Look below to see a 7News report about Ackerman from last July, plus a larger look at his booking photo.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our News archive circa July 2013: "Lucas Ackerman, driver in fatal July 4 Grand Lake crash, has past DUI bust."