A man with two pending DUI cases has been arrested on suspicion of a third drunken driving offense, this one involving vehicular homicide in Durango.
Rupert Harrison Chee, 35, appeared Tuesday in La Plata County Court via closed-circuit television to be advised of possible charges, including vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident involving death. He is being held at the La Plata County Jail on $50,000 bail.
Chee is suspected of rolling his vehicle and killing his passenger, Shaun Tso Begay, 35.
The crash occurred early Monday in the 1100 block of South Camino del Rio near the “High Bridge,” just north of the La Plata County Humane Society.
Chee was driving a white Chevrolet Silverado southbound when he drifted off the right side of the road, hit a guardrail and rolled down an embankment toward the Animas River, according to police and an arrest affidavit filed in 6th Judicial District Court.
The crash occurred just past the bridge on the south side. The vehicle tumbled about 300 feet down a steep embankment before coming to rest near a raft put-in.
“It was definitely a unique place for it to happen, and very steep over there,” said Cmdr. Ray Shupe, spokesman for the Durango Police Department. “It was a pretty violent crash based on the amount of impact and trauma to the truck.”
A bicyclist came upon the crash Monday morning. Police were alerted to the crash about 7:30 a.m., but the crash is believed to have occurred as early as 4 a.m.
Begay, the passenger, apparently was ejected from the vehicle and died on scene. His body lay 8 to 10 feet from where the vehicle came to rest near the Animas River and the Animas River Trail, according to the affidavit.
Police were familiar with Chee and his previous run-ins with law enforcement, specifically that he had two prior DUI arrests involving the same vehicle, according to the affidavit. One of those arrests occurred July 31, and the other occurred Aug. 21.
Chee was nowhere to be found at the crash scene.
Police contacted Mercy Hospital to inquire whether Chee had checked himself in, and were informed Chee arrived shortly after 7 a.m.
Police went to the hospital and found Chee alert and in stable condition.
Chee told police he had been living in the truck near Junction Creek. He said he had been hanging out with Begay the previous night and they shared a fifth of vodka. He also admitted to consuming marijuana the previous evening.
Chee said he had to be at Dunkin’ Donuts at 5:30 a.m. that morning. At some point, he crashed his vehicle and exited the driver’s side door. He said he looked around the vehicle and walked to Dunkin’ Donuts, which is less than a mile southeast of where the crash occurred. When he arrived, a co-worker took him to the hospital.
Chee was under the impression he had dropped off Begay, who he referred to as his “homie,” earlier that night at McDonald’s in Durango. When police informed him Begay was in the vehicle and died in the crash, Chee became emotional.
Police asked Chee why he didn’t notify law enforcement about the crash, and Chee seemed to think he had called for assistance but couldn’t clarify further.
At the time he was admitted into the hospital, Chee’s blood-alcohol level was 0.244, more than three times the legal driving limit of 0.08. Three more blood draws were taken over a period of time, which will be sent off for a more accurate analysis of his blood-alcohol level.
When police asked Chee what time the crash occurred, he estimated it was at 4 a.m.
Chee has two pending DUI cases in La Plata County, including one involving a crash in August that he was on bail for at the time of his most recent crash. He also has two prior cases for driving on restraint of a license, both alcohol-related, according to court records. His license was revoked at the time of his most recent crash.
La Plata County Judge Anne Woods issued a personal recognizance bond in the second DUI case, even though there was another one pending, meaning he didn't have to pay anything to be released.
The Durango Police Department said Chee and Begay are part of a transient community living in Durango. The department has had contact with both men, including Begay as early as 2016 and Chee as early as 2018.
“This is certainly a tragic situation and our hearts go out to the family members of the victims,” Shupe said. “This is one of the reasons why we take DUI investigation so seriously inside the city limits. We try and prevent fatal crashes like this. It's important to remember to designate a driver and not get behind the wheel intoxicated because it only takes a split second to have a tragedy like this.”