Family and friends on both sides of the courtroom gallery suppressed sobs Friday as District Judge Todd Norvell sentenced 22-year-old Benjamin Keil to the maximum sentence of six years in prison for vehicular homicide in the death of Mercedez Lynn Farley.
Keil pleaded guilty in December in 6th Judicial District Court to vehicular homicide, a Class 3 felony, and two counts of careless driving causing bodily injury.
Authorities say Keil was driving a 2002 Audi S6 on the night of June 9, 2017, in the 200 block of Fir Drive in the Durango West II subdivision, where he failed to negotiate a turn and struck a tree.
Farley, 17, of Durango was taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center, where she later died. Keil and passengers David Myers, 20, of Durango and Angela Rosales, 23, of Durango all suffered minor injuries.
Keil told authorities he drank “about two martinis and a sip of Hennessy” before the crash, according to an arrest affidavit. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.139 at the time of the crash, well over the 0.08 legal driving limit in Colorado.
The subdivision has a posted speed limit of 25 mph, but Keil was driving at speeds upward of 50 mph at the time of the crash, authorities said.
According to the affidavit, Trooper Jonathan Silver of the Colorado State Patrol reported seeing multiple open and unopened alcohol containers in the vehicle the night of the crash.
Friday’s sentencing hearing lasted two hours, during which multiple friends and family members addressed the court on behalf of Keil and Farley.
Ezric Villafuerte of Rice Monkeys restaurant, where Keil is employed, said he is “far from a menace to society.”
“I urge you to have mercy on my friend and colleague,” Villafuerte pleaded with the court. “He has the determination and work ethic of a leader. He would do anything for his family.”
Keil’s juvenile record shows a history of substance abuse, including cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogens.
Farley’s parents, Andy and Monica, carried poster-sized photos of their daughter. One was positioned toward Judge Norvell and the other faced Keil’s family.
“Was the choice to drink and drive accidental?” Andy Farley said. “She (Mercedez Farley) blessed me with the most true, pure love. I’m proud to have been your daddy. ... Our sentence from this is life. A lifetime of devastation.”
Keil cried quietly as each person addressed the court.
“I take full responsibility,” he said. “There are no words to express how truly sorry I am. If I had the opportunity to trade places with Mercedez, I would in a heartbeat.”
There was a brief recess before Judge Norvell delivered the sentence.
“There is never a case more serious in front of me than when a life has been lost,” Norvell said. “You (Keil) have a lot of good people who care for you and you let them down. You let yourself down, but also someone who was depending on you to do the right thing. ... Mercedez is gone forever and her family will suffer forever.”
Keil was taken into custody by La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputies at the end of the sentencing.