In February 2011,Monica Chavez had a seizure behind the wheel
, causing an accident that killed five members of the Stoolsteimer family.
Chavez was charged with negligent homicide in the tragedy because she was aware of her condition -- but a jury found her not guilty, prompting reactions a shock from the Stollsteimers' loved ones and plenty of community members.
As we reported in May 2011, when the accusations were formalized, Chavez, then 34, was reportedly well-known to law enforcement, with a number of allegations (and several aliases) cited on her arrest record. Included among them: a November 2010 felony menacing beef, in which she was accused of threatening women with a knife.
Several months later, on February 17, police said Chavez was driving her SUV south in the northbound lanes of North Grant Street at a high rate of speed. Near the intersection of Grant and 84th Avenue, the vehicle went airborne, landing on a pickup truck containing the Stollsteimers -- mom Crystaldawn, dad Randy and kids Sebastion, Darrian and Cyrus, whose ages ranged from six to twelve. The entire family was killed on impact.
No, Chavez was not drunk. But back in 2006, Chavez had seizures serious enough to precipitate a visit to an emergency room. There, she was advised not to drive until a neurologist gave her the all-clear. But she never visited such a doctor because, she subsequently told cops, she couldn't afford it.
In August 2010, Chavez suffered another seizure in a parking lot and actually lost consciousness. Once again, though, she declined to visit a doctor, chalking up the collapse to dehydration and overwork.
Last week's trial was the opposite of a slam dunk. Indeed, as the Denver Post noted, Judge Chris Melanokis actually chided prosecutors for what he saw as a shaky case. After all, it turned out that Chavez had actually followed up with her regular doctor after the 2006 incident, and the standard neurological exam he'd given hadn't raised any alarms. And even though she'd steered clear of the doc in 2010, four years had passed since her previous behind-the-wheel flareup.
The jury took such factors into consideration, clearing Chavez of the charges against her. That angered members of the Stollsteimer clan, including Crystaldawn's father, Rich Headley, who told the media that the justice system had failed. And the debate roared online, in places like the CBS4 Facebook page. Most of those who've posted to date think Chavez deserved to wind up behind bars. Here's an example:
She should have been taken straight to prison for the rest of her life. She was driving while advised not to, so her selfish behavior caused the death of 5 innocent people. In my opinion no less premeditated than taking a gun and hunting them down.
But the jury also found support in posts like this one:
Obviously there was not enough evidence to convict her. I trust the jury which heard all the evidence. The comments of hatred here should be a lesson to the media to stop reporting only sensational details in cases like this!! Imagine the sentence of knowing you killed a family.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The people who shouldn't be lost amid the controversy are the Stollsteimer family, captured in the following family photo and heartfelt obituary, courtesy of Horan & McConaty:
Randy & Crystaldawn Stollsteimer Family
Departed on Feb. 17, 2011 and resided in Thornton, CO.
Crystaldawn Cheri: Was born May 8th 1979 at Rose Hospital.
A very healthy and curious child, not more than 5 minutes after she was born she rolled over to see what was going on. Was into theatre with her sexy legs! Her laugh was the most unique thing that everyone would recognize. Her courage to fight for anything she would believe in or just to argue her point.
Randy Patrick: Was born July 10th 1976.
Randy started out as the quiet shy timid gentleman but then once you got to know him he was a wonderful outspoken person. The simplest toys would frustrate Randy at Christmas time to put together and in turn he became a fine sheet metal worker.
Randy's sister is the one who introduced them; they then became middle school sweet hearts and were inseparable. Crystal drew Randy out of his shell. They were married in 1997 and started a family soon after.
Sebastion Orion: Was born October 1st 1998.
So loving and just adorable, he grew to become a very respectable young man and a wonderful charmer. A big kid whose latest endeavor had him playing basketball.
Darrian Demetriouse: Was born August 2nd 2001.
Just very quiet until he would start playing video games, he would get so excited he would be bouncing around and Crystal would always ask him if he needed to use the restroom.
Cyrus Vincent: Was born March 3rd 2003.
Very sweet and cuddly and looks like a little man. Loved to tease Randy and his Gramps and then run and flop his feet up on Grandma to rub.
In closing we want you to know how strong this family was, the many surgeries they had to overcome made them stronger. Most people would only wish to have their strength. Randy, Crystal, Sebastion, Darrian, and Cyrus passed away as they lived, together.
Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "DA Carol Chambers under fire for giving witness a car in death-penalty case."