Driver who caused crash while on meth sentenced in Arapahoe County; victim remembered as loving mother

"She only stood 5 feet tall, yet she carried so much on her shoulders and did all this with a smile and a laugh," family of the victim said.
Cayla Cushman mug.jpg
Posted at 9:35 AM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 11:43:30-05

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — A woman who had previously been convicted twice on drunk driving charges was sentenced to 12 years behind bars after she smoked meth, got in a car and caused a crash that killed a 60-year-old mother in Arapahoe County.

Cayla Lynn Cushman, 28, was sentenced to prison on Jan. 14. She pleaded guilty on Sept. 25, 2020 to vehicular homicide-DUI. Other charges against her were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

The charges stem from a crash that occurred on Feb. 16, 2020. That evening around 10:15 p.m., Alice Yuan, 60, was driving home from a 10-hour shift at work on South Platte Canyon Road in Columbine Valley. Cushman was driving in the opposite direction, traveling 70 mph while high on meth, according to an arrest affidavit. She crossed the double yellow line and hit Yuan's car.

An officer with Columbine Valley Police Department responded to the crash and discovered that two vehicles had been involved in a head-on crash — a red 1999 Honda CRV and a white 2010 Ford Edge, according to an arrest affidavit. He discovered two female drivers and no passengers.

The Honda was badly damaged on its front and the driver was slumped over. The officer checked her pulse but could not find one, according to the arrest affidavit.

The Ford was just south of the Honda, and also had heavy front-end damage. The officer heard somebody crying as he neared the Ford, according to the arrest affidavit. He located the driver, who was awake and alert but could not describe what had happened. She did relay to the officer that she had been driving alone in the car, according to an arrest affidavit.

The officer determined that the driver of the Honda, later identified as Yuan, had been traveling north and the driver of the Ford, later identified as Cushman, has been driving southbound at the time of the crash.

Yuan was pronounced deceased at the scene at 10:44 p.m.

Cushman was transported to a hospital and while in the ambulance, a medic found a white crystal substance on Cushman. The substance was turned over to the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office. Cushman admitted to a deputy that the substance was methamphetamine and that she had smoked two hits around 8:30 p.m., according to the arrest affidavit.

She initially consented to a blood draw, but then said she may not be willing. She then added that she had been in the backseat of the car and a person named Josh or a person named Candace had been driving. However, court-ordered blood draws were taken, according to an arrest affidavit.

Her blood had a methamphetamine content of 181ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter).

A deputy who investigated the crash confirmed that Cushman's Ford had crossed over the double yellow line into northbound traffic that evening. Based on his investigation and crash data from the car, the Ford had completely crossed over the yellow line, meaning it was more than 7 feet in the opposite lane. She had been traveling 70 mph at the time of the crash, which is 25 mph above the posted speed limit for 45 mph, according to an arrest affidavit.

Cushman has two previous DUI convictions, one from 2015 and one from 2018. There was an interlock device on the car she was driving at the time of the crash.

During Cushman's sentencing, two of Yuan's four daughters issued statements.

“My family lost a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a grandmother to six grandchildren,” one daughter said. “She only stood 5 feet tall, yet she carried so much on her shoulders and did all this with a smile and a laugh.”

In a statement read in the court, another daughter said her mother had been by her disabled father's side for years.

“The fact that the defendant was acting selfishly and decided to speed down a small street ... while under the influence and having been convicted twice prior upsets and infuriates me," the statement read. "My mother did not deserve to die.”

Alice Yuan.jpg

Senior Deputy District Attorney Megan Brewer asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 12 years, noting Cushman's previous convictions and how treatment had not changed her behavior.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Darren Vahle chose to impose that sentence.

“Whether you had a gun and killed someone or drove your car drunk and killed someone, a family is destroyed. The devastation you brought is overwhelming,” Vahle said as she issued the sentence. “You had no right to drive, you had been using an illegal substance, yet you got behind the wheel, and that caused a death. … It was your choices and your decisions.”