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The recent trial in Santa Fe during which alleged drunk driver Scott Owens was acquitted of all charges stemming from a fatal accident in 2009 struck a chord with some Los Alamos students who had the opportunity to observe some of the testimony in the case.
The situation looked like an open and shut case: Owens was driving drunk, he hit a car full of teens that were on their way to a party on the outskirts of Santa Fe and four of the five passengers in that car died.
But as New Mexicans would soon find out, prosecuting the case would be a lot more difficult than it appeared.
Students from Los Alamos High School’s Business and Personal Law class got a first-hand look at the trial. Betsy Raichur’s class had been studying media coverage of the case and was scheduled to observe State District Judge Michael Vigil’s juvenile criminal docket, but instead sat through the morning half of Owens’ trial.
During a recess, the class joined Vigil in his chambers downstairs, where they asked him questions.
This was the first trial the class had witnessed and left some of the students wondering why Avree Koffman, the driver of the car carrying the teens, was allowed to drive so late at night on a provisional license, with so many passengers. However, that question, as well as what type of party the teens were headed to, was not entered into evidence during the trial.
The students got to hear from the prosecution’s expert witnesses and most of the students agreed that the trial was complicated.
“We were confused,” CJ Branconi said. “He (Owens) may not have been completely at fault.”
Myles Gurule said because Owens was drunk, that made him guilty, but “I could see how a jury could go that way. I could see both sides.”
“The lawyer defending Owens did a good job,” Vanessa Duran said, “I didn’t expect that outcome.”
Though some might say that Owens got off lucky when he was acquitted of charges that he caused the deaths of the four teens, however, Meghan Montoya pointed out that he will have to live with the reminder of what happened for the rest of his life.
“I thought they were going to say that Scott Owens was guilty,” Montoya said. “I don’t see either side as guilty. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time … technically, it’s not his fault, but it’s still scarring.”
Branconi said it’s important to have the legal system, because when all the facts in the case were presented, it wasn’t such “a clear cut image.”
“There are a lot of factors to take in,” Duran said. “I learned a lot.”
Mariah Zerr described the opportunity to hear the case as “cool.”
“I really liked the cross-examination. It was very interesting,” she said. “It was emotional and very conflicting with both sides.”
For Lauren Mendez, seeing the trial made her think about her own driving skills.
“Reckless driving makes me think about endangering their (her friends’) lives.”
Cassie Whitman said the case made her think about safe driving and being responsible for the lives of those in her vehicle when she’s behind the wheel.
“You have to be careful,” she said, “and I have to be responsible for my friends.”
Branconi said, “It doesn’t have to be your fault for something bad to happen. The road is still dangerous.”