A La Plata County judge Tuesday rejected a plea agreement in a careless driving case that resulted in the death of Greg Ryder, a longtime, regular performer at the Diamond Belle Saloon and The Office Spiritorium in the Strater Hotel.
Judge Dondi Osborne said the plea agreement, which would have sentenced Nathaniel Andrew to 160 days of electronic home monitoring, was too lenient. Instead, Osborne said she would settle for nothing less than 10 days in jail.
Ryder, 67, died the morning of April 23 on U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango after Andrew swerved across the center line. Andrew, a former deputy with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, fell asleep at the wheel of his Ford pickup on his way home from a 12-hour night shift at the La Plata County Jail.
The crash sent Andrew to Mercy Regional Medical Center with moderate injuries and forced state troopers to close the highway for about 3½ hours as investigators surveyed the scene. Law enforcement does not suspect drugs or alcohol were factors in the crash.
The plea agreement between Andrew and the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office called for 160 days of electronic home monitoring – requiring an ankle bracelet device to track his whereabouts – 100 hours of useful public service and up to two years of probation. He also would have been barred from driving between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
In denying the agreement, Osborne said a jail sentence seemed more appropriate. Judges can reject plea agreements if they don’t believe a stipulated agreement serves justice.
‘Great remorse’More than two dozen of Andrew’s family, friends and former colleagues sat in the gallery behind him and his attorney, Rae Randolph, at Tuesday’s scheduled sentencing hearing. Four people spoke on the defendant’s behalf. Andrew wiped his nose with a tissue as they spoke.
Jacob Harris, a sergeant with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office appearing in a personal capacity, said he was Andrew’s supervisor the night before the fatal crash.
“(Andrew) has proven to be a man of character and integrity,” Harris said. “I know he’s having a really hard time dealing with the effects of what’s transpired.”
A probation officer who interviewed Andrew before sentencing reported that not even Andrew felt he was being punished enough under the terms of the plea agreement, according to Osborne. She said Andrew is a good person, but he has caused a lot of harm.
Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Herlong said Andrew “has taken full accountability and responsibility (for his actions).” Osborne said Andrew “has exhibited great remorse, which I accept as genuine.”
Andrew has since resigned from the Sheriff’s Office – his last day was Sept. 28, said jail Capt. Ed Aber, who declined to discuss reasoning for the resignation.
In a brief statement to the court, Andrew addressed Julie Ryder, Greg’s widow, whom he said he has not had a chance to speak to since the crash.
“I’m sorry – deeply, deeply sorry,” he said while facing Ryder in the back of the courtroom. “I’m sorry to the community; there’s a big hole left with Greg gone.”
While Osborne said “I have no doubt that you will suffer remorse for the rest of your life” related to the crash, “the impact on you is not comparable to the impact on Julie Ryder.”
Andrew is scheduled to appear again in court Jan. 14. He’s been offered the right to revoke his guilty plea and take the case to trial. He may also stipulate to another guilty plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office.
“We all want this to be over,” Ryder said in an interview after the hearing. “Nate is taking responsibility, and that’s all I can ask for.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgAn earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date of the crash that killed Greg Ryder. The crash happened on April 23.