SAGUACHE — On a Monday night around 6:30 p.m., just a few days before Thanksgiving in 2019, lifelong Saguache County resident Barbara Vigil was killed when her 2004 Blazer was struck by Boulder resident, Jason Huntress.
According to official records, Huntress, 27 at the time, was driving a 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup on Highway 17 in Moffat with his cruise control set at 101 mph until just seconds before he broadsided Vigil’s vehicle as she was turning left on to Moffat Way. Colorado State Patrol Trooper David Kerker, who investigated the crash, determined Huntress impacted Vigil’s vehicle going 89 mph, 40 miles over the speed limit.
Vigil died at the scene. Christina Salgado, Huntress’ passenger and girlfriend, sustained serious injuries and was taken to a hospital. Huntress came out of the accident unharmed.
A subsequent search of the truck found close to three-fourths of a pound of marijuana, marijuana concentrate, psilocybin mushrooms and a weapon, all which Huntress claimed belonged to Salgado.
In April, Huntress pled guilty to vehicular homicide, a class 4 felony, and careless driving resulting in death. In exchange for the guilty plea, Huntress would receive a four-year deferred sentence, and avoid any jailtime, unless he violates the terms of the court. If he remains out of trouble, the sentence will be expunged from his record.
The plea deal was made with 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne’s office.
Vigil’s family was, admittedly, not optimistic going into last month’s sentencing hearing. At the plea hearing in April, Tony Vigil, Barbara’s son, asked for Huntress to spend “some time — even 30 days — in jail, just to make sure he realizes what he’s done.”
But comments made by 12thJudicial District Court Judge Amanda Hopkins, citing precedence in other similar cases, indicated she was likely to grant the deal.
Nonetheless, the sentencing hearing allowed the Vigils to finally say what they had been wanting to say since Vigil was killed and the plea deal was struck.
Mariah Vigil, Barbara’s granddaughter, stood up and addressed the court in a letter written by the family.
“Our family keeps asking why,” she said. “A few days before Thanksgiving, our mother was trying to finish up her work in Crestone for that week to spend time with the family.
“Like so many times before, she got in her Chevy Blazer and started to drive home. But [because of Jason Huntress]…speeding through the town of Moffat at a rate of 100 mph…she did not make it home.
“That night, our lives completely changed forever. It has been a year and a half, and we are still trying to understand what happened and deal with our grief. The hardest part is the circumstances surrounding our mother’s death and how it did not have to happen. We never got the chance to say goodbye, I love you. We could not even see her body again because it was so damaged. The cause of death was ‘multiple blunt force injuries.’ Each one of us has been affected in a different way and the pain is so real. With each day that goes by, with each birthday and holiday, we just keep going forward. All we can do is miss her, visit her grave at the Hillside Cemetery and struggle with the hurt daily.
“We are asking for a strict sentence that bears responsibility, fairness, and most important justice…for the crime. ‘No single drop of water thinks it is responsible for the flood.’ It is our hope that [Jason Huntress] can learn from this life-changing event and keep from committing such a crime again. The choices made by [him] that night deserve for him to be held accountable as we, as a family, continue to ask why.”
In their letter, the family also expressed disappointment with the DA’s Office, saying they had not been contacted about the case until the first part of 2021, more than a year after Vigil’s death, when they learned that there was discussion with counsel for the defense and an offer was made for a deferred sentence.
DA Payne could not be reached for a response prior to publication.
Huntress also addressed the court. In a somewhat emotional statement that lasted roughly a minute, Huntress said that he was “deeply saddened” by “the loss of Barbara Vigil,” adding he “planned to spend time on probation doing good for others.”
Huntress said the accident had impacted his life and the counselor he has been seeing made him realize he “must devote time to doing good to relieve the immense guilt that I feel.” He then apologized for “taking up everyone’s time and being a burden to the Vigil family.”
Judge Hopkins addressed the family, saying she had read the family’s statements, listened to what they had to say and knows the Vigils were “very upset” with the plea arrangement. She reminded them that there was precedence set for Huntress to receive the sentence he did and, just as it was her responsibility to uphold the Constitution in listening to them, she also had to uphold the Constitution in ensuring that the defendant was treated fairly. She also acknowledged the Vigils were “very upset” with the DA’s office and assured them that the DA’s office was aware of that, as well.
Hopkins then addressed Huntress and started by saying that, after she reviewed the investigative report of his background, she “very nearly rejected” his plea agreement because she “had never seen such a waste of opportunity and of privilege” as he has displayed in his life, citing his loving family, his going to be the best schools and “having everything [he] needs without having done a thing to get it.”
“You have so much more than others, and you’ve done nothing with all that you’ve been given,” Hopkins said.
She went on to say that Huntress also has a conviction for careless driving, brought down from reckless driving, on his record as well as an unsafe vehicle conviction, pled down from speeding 25-39 mph in a 75-mph speed limit, meaning he was driving faster than 100 mph.
Hopkins said was led to believe he was younger than he was, and this was a “one-off from a normally responsible person” but learned he was someone who drove in whatever he wanted with no regard for the safety or well-being of others.
But, she continued, she had also read the letters submitted on his behalf and hoped he really was the person the letters described him to be.
“Even if you’re not, I accepted your plea because I don’t want to give you one more reason for doing nothing with your life or not fulfilling your responsibility to society,” Hopkins said.
After advising him to follow everything laid out in the court’s conditions — and strongly cautioning him that, if he does not, he will return to court where things will not go well for him — she granted the agreement.
When asked how the family was doing, Tammy Vigil said they were “very disappointed.”
Nonetheless, after a year and a half of intense sorrow, the family is vowing to move on with life, in honor of their mother who loved life so deeply while she was with them.