COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) reported 745 people died on Colorado roads in 2022, marking the most roadway deaths since 1981 in the state. According to CDOT, 278 people died in 2022 as a result of impaired driving, which is almost a 60% increase from 2019.
The long Fourth of July weekend is filled with celebrations, but one Colorado family wants to remind everyone how critical it is to drive sober.
The past few years have been difficult for 16-year-old Sophie Lowery. The teenager lost her father to cancer just over three years ago, and one of her older cousins was killed by an impaired driver last year.
Her cousin, Tanner Lund, was 19 years old when he died, following a March 2022 car crash involving an impaired driver at the intersection of West 98th Ave. and Federal Boulevard in Denver.
“Tanner was a selfless, really funny, kind, amazing cousin," Sophie said.
Then, on May 20 of this year, Sophie was in a terrifying car crash in Falcon. It happened just under two months after getting her license.
“I saw these bright lights coming at me super fast. I realized that this person was in my lane. It was inevitable that I was going to get hit," Sophie explained. “I swerved left to try and get in his lane because I thought if he's in my lane, I'll get in his lane for a second. And then I got hit and I blacked out.”
Sophie's mother, Robin, said her daughter sustained significant injuries in the crash.
“Even our pediatric trauma surgeon said it was a miracle she didn't have abrasions and contusions on her face or forearms. She didn't have a traumatic brain injury, but she's got a lot of other internal injuries that she's working through," Robin said. “When he [the other driver] hit her car, the impact was so great, it pushed her car back 89 feet.”
The Lowerys said they received the police report about the crash last week. Robin said it estimated the other driver was traveling at around 60 miles an hour, which is nearly double the speed limit on that stretch of road.
Sophie was shocked to learn from the police report that her vehicle spun counterclockwise, because she did not remember that happening.
“Seeing the words 'vehicular assault' as a primary violation, because her injuries were serious, just definitely rattles you... And to know that he likely was impaired," Robin said, who believes the family will have concrete answers about the state of the other driver after the toxicology reports are finalized.
“To get this report was very validating for her [Sophie] as well. To see she had no violation, she was not in the wrong," Robin said while looking over the report.
Sophie spent a few days in the hospital recovering, and said getting back behind the wheel has been scary.
"I have a lot of PTSD and trauma from cars coming at me, and so I'm scared I'm going to get hit again," Sophie said.
Renee Lund, Sophie's aunt and Tanner's mother, said it felt as though she crawled out of her skin when she learned her niece was in the car crash.
“Anger and frustration and disbelief. Like, I can't believe that someone else in our family is being affected by an impaired driver," Renee said. “I believe that her [Sophie's] father, and I'll give Tanner a little credit too, were with her that night."
The Lowery family does not have confirmation the driver in Sophie's case was impaired at the time of the crash, but the trauma of the night cannot be forgotten.
“When you see your 16-year-old in a neck brace and in the ER and you see her clothes have been cut off of her and she's screaming in pain and crying, and the first words out of her mouth were 'Mommy I thought I was going to die. Mommy I thought I was going to die.' That's a hard memory to hold in your memory bank for sure," Robin said.
Lund said the driver in her son's case, Noe Menjivar Chavez, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to nine years in prison. She does not believe the punishment adequately fits the crime, and wants to push for harsher penalties when it comes to impaired driving in Colorado.