By Jacob Klopfenstein
Ellis, 28, was the driver in a crash near Mancos on March 30 that killed 22-year-old passenger Shea Berhost, of Farmington. Ellis pleaded guilty Nov. 23 to vehicular homicide, reckless driving and DUI charges.
After serving four years in prison, Ellis will serve a one-year probation term. He also is required to pay $6,000 in restitution and complete 120 hours of public service.
Though prosecuting attorney Matthew Margeson asked Walker to issue a maximum sentence of seven years in jail, Walker declined. The judge said his sentence was a combination of punishment and rehabilitation, but he said he wasn’t completely satisfied.
“There is no satisfaction with this sentence,” Walker said. “The best we can do is hope to find closure and hope the scars heal.”
About 11:30 p.m. March 30, James Ellis was driving a pickup truck with two passengers on County Road 31 just north of Colorado Highway 184, according to Colorado State Patrol. He reached a speed of 89 mph, according to Margeson.
He lost control of the truck, which traveled off the left side of the road and rolled multiple times, striking a mailbox, parked motorcycle, propane tank and several other items, according to the state patrol.
Shea Berhost was partially ejected from the truck and suffered fatal injuries. James Ellis and 31-year-old passenger Casey Collins had minor injuries. No one in the truck was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, according to the state patrol.
James Ellis fled the scene of the crash and was arrested just over a month after the incident.
In a sentencing hearing, which lasted for more than an hour, Walker heard from a dozen family members and friends.
Shea Berhost’s father, Chris Berhost, told the court in a prepared statement that before the crash, his daughter was excited about her future and her radiology education at San Juan College.
“It was morning, and her sun was rising,” he said. “Shea’s absence will be felt not only by her family but by an entire community.”
Shea Berhost’s mother, Tatia Fernandez, said her life had been forever altered. She said her two sons were devastated, and she asked Walker to give them “hope of justice” for their sister.
James Ellis’ mother, Becky Trujillo, and brother, Jody Ellis, also spoke at the hearing. Jody Ellis said his brother was a good person and took the blame for the aftermath of the crash. He said James Ellis loved and cared for Berhost.
“I hope you give him a good chance to put his life back together,” Jody Ellis said.
James Ellis told Walker during the hearing that Shea Berhost was the love of his life, and he did his best by her every chance he had. He said he took responsibility for his actions, and that it affected him every day.
He said he felt horrible for what he caused, and he hoped that someday he could forgive himself.
“I carry this heartache every day, and I will for the rest of my life,” he said.