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Distracted driver gets jail time in fatal crash

Yolanda Griswold was driving 88 mph and rear-ended another car

A Durango woman who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and careless driving causing death was sentenced Thursday in 6th Judicial District Court to 90 days in jail.

Yolanda Griswold, 36, sobbed and dabbed tears with a tissue as family members of the woman who died in the crash remembered their loved one and lamented Griswold’s driving behavior.

“I am so very, very sorry,” she said prior to sentencing. “My intention was never to cause harm that evening.”

The crash occurred at 5:48 p.m. Dec. 11 on U.S. Highway 550, just south of Bondad Hill. Griswold was driving a 2007 GMC Denali north at 88 mph when she became distracted and rear-ended the car in front of her.

The impact sent the car, a 2013 Ford Focus driven by Jennifer Powers of Aztec, careening into oncoming traffic, where it was struck head-on by a Ford F-150.

Powers died in the crash, leaving her 12-year-old son, Dawson Powers, who was in the passenger seat, injured and without a mother.

Dawson Powers wrote a letter to the court that was read by his father. In it, he asks Griswold why she was speeding, why she didn’t use cruise control and why she became distracted.

“That was the worst night of my life,” Dawson wrote. “I lost my mom. But I forgive you. Things happen, but you still have to pay the price. I’m sorry, but you killed a person. I hope you can forgive me for thinking that, but I’m upset that I lost my mom. It feels like having your heart ripped out.”

Griswold was facing up to four years in prison after signing a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office. In addition to serving 90 days in jail, she must complete 300 hours of public service and participate in victim-offender mediation, if Power’s family wants it. She will be on probation for four years.

Family members were split on whether Griswold should serve jail time, and if so, how much.

Andrea Talmadge, Dawson’s aunt, said jail time would further stress the prison system and accomplish nothing other than punishment.

“Jenny will still be dead, and Dawson will still not have his mother,” she said. “I would rather see some good, some change, some growth come out of this tragic event.”

But John Luccous, Jennifer Power’s father, asked Judge Herringer to send a message and sentence Griswold to the maximum.

“People need to be aware that what we’re driving is a bomb on four wheels,” he said.

Deputy District Attorney David Ottman asked Judge William Herringer to impose a 90-day jail sentence – the same amount recommended by the probation department. Had the case involved alcohol or texting and driving, Ottman said he would be asking for more.

Griswold’s defense lawyers, Ryan Brungard and Bobby Duthie, said jail serves no purpose in this case. Griswold wants to share her story and do what she can to discourage reckless and distracted driving, they said.

“She does not need to sit in a cell to think about what she did,” Brungard said. “This will devastate her for the rest of her life.”

Griswold said she’s not sure how she became distracted. What’s important, she said, is that she wasn’t focused on her driving.

Griswold plans to report to jail at 9 a.m. Friday to begin serving her sentence.


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