District Attorney Craig Westberg broke his neck and was fighting for his life as a result of a mountain biking accident last weekend in Arizona, according to several reports circulating Monday in the legal community in Durango.
"It's quite a shock," said defense lawyer Alex Tejada. "It's sad, sad, sad."
Westberg, 64, is the chief prosecutor for the 6th Judicial District, which includes Archuleta, San Juan and La Plata counties. He has been in the news frequently in the last year for driving under the influence of sleeping pills, which he pleaded guilty to in October.
His four-year term ends Jan. 13; he did not seek re-election.
To assist with the situation, district attorney-elect Todd Risberg was sworn in Monday by District Judge Jeffrey Wilson to serve as a deputy district attorney.
Assistant District Attorney Kim Kitchen is leading the office until Risberg becomes district attorney Jan. 13, Risberg said in a phone interview.
Kitchen did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Efforts to reach Westberg's wife, Jan, and other close acquaintances were unsuccessful Monday.
Risberg confirmed Westberg was injured in a mountain biking accident last weekend in Arizona, but he declined to discuss details.
"I don't want to characterize his injuries," Risberg said. "We're just all trying to think good thoughts for Craig."
He described the atmosphere in the District Attorney's Office as one of "shock."
Durango defense lawyer David Greenberg said lawyers and judges shared the same set of events Monday: That Westberg was mountain biking in Arizona when he flipped over the handlebars and broke his neck.
His wife, Jan Westberg, performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation until medics arrived. Westberg reportedly was in a coma and had a slim chance of surviving, according to sources. If he does survive, it is possible he will be a quadriplegic - paralyzed in both the arms and the legs.
The description of events is similar to one Chief District Judge Gregory Lyman has heard.
"I've heard those same things," he said. "It's a terribly sad time for him and his family. Hope for a miracle; hope for the best."
Lynn Westberg, director of the San Juan Basin Health Department, is Westberg's ex-wife and remains a close friend. She could not be reached for comment Monday. He has two sons.
Westberg is a dedicated prosecutor who is deeply interested in victims' rights, said Shari Dyer, who used to work for him as victim witness coordinator for the District Attorney's Office.
"I really enjoyed working trials with Craig," she said. "I enjoyed his caring and compassion."
Even though they were professional foes, Greenberg expressed a deep respect for Westberg, saying he always was willing to re-evaluate a situation and always made an effort to reach the right conclusion.
Greenberg, who has lived in Durango for 28 years, characterized the incident as the greatest tragedy this community has experienced. Westberg was a professional member of the community, which carries some notoriety, he said.
"I'm personally devastated," Greenberg said. "It has not sunk in. I'm still trying to absorb it. My heart goes out to his wife; I cannot even imagine the pain she is feeling."
Like most people, Westberg has made mistakes, including driving under the influence of sleeping pills, but he always has been resilient, Greenberg said.
"When he makes a mistake, he's sort of like a cat with nine lives - he does bounce back," Greenberg said.
"It's been a tough year, and to have it all culminate like this is tragic," he said. "I assume Craig would have liked to have started over. That he never got that opportunity is tragic. It just seems so unfair."