DENVER — Renee Lund feels like time has not moved since March of 2022.
“Tanner was my 19-year-old son who was killed by a drunk driver on March 26, 2022," Renee said. "This is our second Christmas without him.”
Noe Menjivar Chavez was charged in Adams County Court with two counts of vehicular homicide related to reckless driving, and one count of vehicular homicide related to DUI in connection to the crash that killed Tanner. He was convicted in the case and sentenced to nine years in prison.
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Renee was nervous, naturally, about the court proceedings that followed the crash. She did not know what to expect, and had only heard negative accounts from other victims of crime related to the judicial process.
When she met the prosecutors assigned to the case, Edward Barrett and Art Hernandez, they immediately put her mind at ease.
“They never once made me feel like they were in a hurry, or that they needed to be somewhere else. So, I am grateful for that because that is something I didn't expect," Renee said. “The biggest impact that I didn't notice right at first is that every hearing we had, they ended up wearing a purple tie, which is Tanner's color... It was very subtle, and they didn't have to say anything and they didn't bring it to my attention. But, that alone said a lot to me.”
Renee said when she first met Barrett and Hernandez, they asked for photographs of Tanner. She provided them with a notebook filled with pictures, Tanner's obituary, and notes from friends and family.
Barrett and Hernandez, who are both senior deputy district attorneys with the 17th Judicial District, still have the notebook Renee gave them. The two of them take turns with who has the notebook on their desk.
“Looking at these pictures, it's a reminder. You know, victims of crime, it's not just the one victim. It's their family, it's their friends, it's the community that feels the pain and the hurt," Barrett said while flipping through the pages of the notebook. "A reminder of why we do the job, cases like this.”
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Renee nominated the two prosecutors for an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and they were recognized at the annual Tie One On for Safety Community Honors & Fundraising Breakfast on December 7.
“I had the opportunity to nominate them with MADD, and I felt like everyone needed to know about them," Renee said. "And everyone needs to hear something positive from such a tragic experience... They fought very hard for justice. And I know, a lot of it is that's their job. But they also looked at Tanner as a person.”
According to MADD, there are 347,000 incidents of drunk driving every day and Americans face 21 million chances of encountering a drunk driver on the roads between November 1 and January 1. MADD also reports that across the country, someone is killed or injured in a drunk driving crash every 79 seconds, which rises as much as 40% over the winter holidays.
Local numbers from MADD show that in December of last year, 24 people were killed by suspected alcohol-related crashes, totaling to 51% of all traffic fatalities in Colorado that month.
“I used to be in a gang unit. I've done a lot of homicide prosecutions and you know, aggravated robberies and cases like that, those are crimes of violence where somebody's actually intending or knowingly causing harm to somebody else. And in vehicular homicides, a lot of times these are tragic cases on both sides," Hernandez said. “I don't think these are, you know, your cookie cutter cases that we normally deal with. These are challenging cases for us personally.”
Both Barrett and Hernandez said the recognition from MADD was humbling and an honor.
“It's hard because you know that nothing you do is going to bring their son, Tanner, back. But you do the best that you can, and you try and get them some closure and justice," said Hernandez. “At the end of the day, this is a team. We had victim advocates, we had investigators, obviously law enforcement officers who did their job. We have administrative assistants that help us every single day. And this is something that people in our office do every single day... This is an award that's really for the team.”
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Chavez was sentenced to nine years after being convicted in Tanner's case.
“Nine years, eligible for parole in four and a half. He [Chavez] killed my son. It's vehicular homicide DUI. That's not enough," Renee said about the nine years. “There are good people fighting for us. And sometimes the outcome is not what we want it to be. But they're working within the laws of Colorado and that's where the change has to be.”
Renee believes the punishment for vehicular homicide is not strong enough in Colorado, and District Attorney Brian Mason agrees.
“The maximum sentence for a vehicular homicide is 12 years in prison. In certain limited, extraordinary cases, you can get up to 24 years. That's for a homicide. That's for taking somebody else's life," Mason said, who oversees the office where Barrett and Hernandez work. “Right now, you could kill somebody driving drunk and only get two years in prison. That seems remarkably too low... I would like to see the legislature take vehicular homicides more seriously, and increase the punishment for the serious cases.”
So far in 2023, the 17th Judicial District has filed 12,510 total cases. Of those, 1,571 are DUI/DWAI cases, totaling to around 12% of their caseload. Out of the cases filed this year in that category, 9 were vehicular homicides, 34 were vehicular assaults, and 120 were reckless driving.
For more information about MADD, click here.
MADD provides support services to victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving crashes at no charge. MADD’s helpline is there for victims and survivors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-877-MADD-HELP.