An Arizona man was sentenced to 18 months probation Wednesday as part of a plea agreement for biting a firefighter who tried to help him after a rollover crash south of Hesperus.
Joe Benally, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault, a felony.
According to terms of the plea agreement, Benally will be given a deferred judgment, meaning the felony will be wiped from his criminal record if he successfully completes terms of his probation.
District Judge William Herringer also ordered Benally to receive a mental-health evaluation.
“You have the opportunity to avoid a felony and stay out of jail,” he told Benally, who was free on bail.
The incident occurred about 4 p.m. Feb. 23 in the 20600 block of La Plata Highway (Colorado Highway 140), about four miles south of Hesperus.
Benally was a passenger in a car that rolled over. Colorado State Patrol stopped the occupants from fleeing the scene of the crash.
State Patrol arrested the driver of the vehicle on suspicion of drunken driving. Benally was sitting with a second passenger on the side of the road when a firefighter attempted to check on them.
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office said Benally started fighting with the firefighter and bit him on the finger. He also fought with a sheriff’s deputy and state patrol trooper when they tried to handcuff him.
At Mercy Regional Medical Center, Benally told three deputies he knew where they lived, and threatened to do a drive-by shooting of their houses.
Annie Woods, Benally’s public defender, said he reacted “out of panic.”
“He is extremely shy and has never been in trouble before,” she said. “I know that he is sorry for what he did.”
Woods read aloud an apology letter Benally wrote to the firefighter and La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.