Pueblo man bound for trial in suspected DUI vehicular homicide

Justin Reutter
Pueblo Chieftain

A Pueblo man is set for trial in connection to a June vehicular homicide after a Pueblo judge found there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed.

Danny Espinoza, 40, is charged with vehicular homicide along with driving under the influence, careless driving causing death, and failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving death.

On June 13, 2023, at approximately 4:10 p.m., Pueblo police received a call regarding a vehicle crash involving a pedestrian in the area of Broadway and Routt avenues.

Cpl. Steven Vaughn of the Pueblo Police Department testified Friday during a preliminary hearing that when he arrived to the scene, he observed a 2007 Jeep Liberty, which had come to rest in front of 221 Broadway Ave.

Vaughn said a man, later identified as Jonathan Weinell, 55, was lying dead and covered in a sheet next to the Jeep and a gold Chevy Malibu.

Vaughn wrote in an affidavit of probable cause for an arrest warrant that the Jeep had heavy damage to the driver's-side, and the front driver's-side tire was missing. The Chevy had heavy damage to the windshield and the hood of the car, consistent with something landing on the vehicle, Vaughn said.

A white Toyota Prius had side damage to the front on the driver's front quarter panel and in the driver's door. A third vehicle, a Toyota Tundra, was parked in front of the Prius and also sustained damage to the driver's side.

A video of the incident taken by a neighbor's doorbell camera was also played in court.

The video showed Espinoza driving the Jeep in the 200 block of Broadway Avenue, traveling in the eastbound lanes before crossing the broken line into westbound traffic, striking the Tundra that was parked on the street and finally striking the Prius. While hitting the Prius, the Jeep also struck Weinell, who appeared to be trying to get something from the vehicle.

Weinell was thrown into the air and landed on the hood of the Prius before landing next to it.

Vaughn testified that witnesses told him Espinoza attempted to leave the scene of the wreck but was chased down and compelled to come back to the scene.

Witnesses told Vaughn that Espinoza "realized he was outnumbered" and that "physical force was not required" to bring Espinoza back to the scene, Vaughn testified Friday.

Witnesses stated Espinoza initially told several stories; he first claimed his aunt had been driving, then stated someone had swerved in front of him, causing him to oversteer into the parked vehicles, Vaughn testified.

No evidence was found to support either story, Vaughn said.

Police outline evidence of impairment

Officer Carlos Medina later responded to the hospital to speak with Espinoza.

During the conversation, Medina observed Espinoza had small pupils, a raspy voice, and droopy eyelids, Medina testified.

Due to Espinoza's injuries, Medina could not perform most standard field sobriety tests, such as balancing on one foot or walking in a straight line, but he was able to perform a test that involved Espinoza following a light with his eyes.

During the test, Espinoza's eyes were rolling into the back of his head, Medina testified.

A blood draw conducted by hospital staff tested positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl, in an amount that would cause "substantial impairment to driving ability," Medina testified.

Paul Jose, a public defender representing Espinoza in the case, pointed to a head injury sustained by Espinoza in the crash, arguing that an injury to the head may also be responsible for the symptoms of impairment noted by Medina. Under questioning by Jose, Medina admitted he did not know if Espinoza may have suffered a traumatic brain injury during the crash.

Nonetheless, Judge Allison Ernst decided there was probable cause to send the case to trial, as under the standard of probable cause, a judge determines simply whether there is enough evidence that a reasonable person could suspect the defendant of the charges against them — a much lower bar than the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" needed for a conviction at trial.

Espinoza is scheduled for a routine hearing on Nov. 8. He remains in the Pueblo County jail on a $2,500 bond.

All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in court. Arrests and charges are merely accusations by law enforcement until, and unless, a suspect is convicted of a crime.

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