A Farmington man has been sentenced to seven years in prison for a head-on collision on U.S. Highway 160/491 that seriously injured a Cortez man.
Thaddeus M. Ponder pleaded guilty to felony vehicular assault and was sentenced Thursday to seven years to the Colorado Department of Corrections and three years’ parole by 22nd Judicial District Judge Doug Walker.
According to the Colorado State Patrol, Ponder was speeding southbound in a red Ford F-250 pickup on Oct. 22 when he crossed the centerline in a construction zone south of Cortez. He hit a northbound silver Impala driven by Kenneth Todd, 71, of Cortez.
Ponder reportedly hit another vehicle in Cortez before the head-on crash and clipped a guardrail, police said.
Todd suffered a fractured rib, a pelvis injury, a spleen injury, a broken femur and a punctured lung. He was taken by helicopter to San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington.
District Attorney Will Furse recommended a 10-year sentence. He cited Ponder’s “significant criminal history” in Colorado and New Mexico, which includes violent offenses, parole violations, robbery and sexual assault. He also faced a DUI charge in New Mexico and was driving without a license.
“He brings risk to communities where he lives and has for a great number of years,” Furse said. “He could have killed Mr. Todd, who spent a week in intensive care.”
Furse said that in a victim impact statement Todd did not seek out a lengthy prison sentence for Ponder, and wanted to see him improve his life through drug and alcohol treatment.
But while Todd’s empathy for his offender is something to “respect and admire, The People must take a more aggressive and punitive request of 10 years considering the facts of the case and criminal history,” Furse said.
During the sentencing hearing, an emotional Ponder expressed remorse and responsibility for his actions.
He said he has struggled with alcoholism and illegal drug use for years as a way to self-medicate for a spinal injury, but the drugs “slowly took over my life.”
“The pain I go through is nothing compared to what I caused Mr. Todd and his family,” Ponder said. “I’d like to apologize to Mr. Todd and his family for the heartache and pain I caused. I take full responsibility because it was my choice to take illegal drugs and get behind the wheel and endanger lives. I realize I need long-term treatment to make sure this never happens again. I will seek out the help I need and become a better person.”
According to a case affidavit, on the day of the crash, several people reported a drunken driver in a red pickup traveling in the same area. The Colorado State Patrol said witnesses saw the truck passing on the shoulder and weaving. One witness estimated it traveled 80 mph in a 40 mph construction zone.
“The construction zone was active at the time of the crash, and there were numerous workers in the immediate area of the crash,” according to the State Patrol affidavit.
Drug and alcohol use was a suspected cause, police said.
Ponder originally was charged with felony vehicular assault, reckless vehicular assault, DUI, reckless driving, failing to stop at a red light, leaving the scene of an accident, failing to report an accident and being a habitual criminal.
Ponder pleaded guilty to felony vehicular assault, and the rest of the charges were dismissed.
During the court hearing, measures were taken to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Prisoners sat 6 feet apart, and the DA and defense attorneys participated by phone. Other defendants participated via video conferencing.
Attorneys could not sit next to their clients at the same table.