Man with four DUI arrests gets 24 years in prison after fatal crash

Thursday, April 12, 2018 3:46 PM

A Montezuma Creek man with four DUI arrests has been sentenced to prison for causing a fatal crash in 2016 while driving drunk to the Ute Mountain Casino.

Timothy Amos Merritt, 57, was sentenced to 24 years in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn on April 9, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

After a jury trial Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court in Durango, Merritt was convicted of second-degree murder and assault for causing a head-on collision that killed the other driver and severely injured a passenger. He was driving in the wrong lane and had a blood alcohol content of .23 to .25.

The crash, which occurred Aug. 3 on Colorado Highway 141 a mile from the Utah border, killed Cecil Vijil Sr. and severely injured his wife, Sallie Vijil, according to court records cited by the Denver Post.

Merritt had been arrested for DUI three times prior to the fatal crash. Three months after the fatal crash, Merritt was again arrested for driving drunk, narrowly avoiding causing another crash.

“I hope with all my heart that this conviction and sentence brings some relief to the deep suffering Merritt caused his victims and their family,” said U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. “Our prosecutors and the BIA and FBI agents worked tirelessly on this case, for that sole purpose.”

Merritt’s sentence also includes five years of supervised release, with the special conditions of participating in a cognitive behavioral treatment program and a substance abuse program.

Between 2005 and 2016, Merritt had three DUI convictions, including one in Arizona on U.S. 163 in which he drove in the wrong lane toward an oncoming Kayenta police officer. After the fatal crash in Southwest Colorado on Aug. 3, Merritt was arrested for a DUI in Arizona. He was pulled over for almost causing a head-on crash with a semitrailer, and had a blood alcohol content of .2, according to the Post.