While outpourings of grief and love have punctuated the days since four Santa Fe teenagers were killed in a late-night crash June 28, anger, too, has begun to surface.
A group of nearly two dozen teenagers piled into Santa Fe Magistrate Judge George Anaya Jr’s courtroom on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 30, only to be disappointed. They missed Scott Owens’ first court appearance by moments.
Owens is charged with causing the deaths of 16-year-olds Kate Klein, Julian Martinez and Alyssa Trouw, 15-year-old Rose Simmons, and of causing severe bodily harm while driving intoxicated for the injuries inflicted on Avree Koffman, 16, who remains hospitalized. Even if the teenagers that stormed into Magistrate Court—all friends of the five youths involved in the accident—had been on time, they still would have left disappointed: The 28-year-old Owens appeared for his arraignment via closed circuit television.
“He was smiling in his mug shot,” Tessa Sinanae, a friend of Rose Simmons and Avree Koffman, told SFR after the hearing. “I’m here because I wanted to see that motherfucker knocked out.”
The victims’ friends’ emotions boiled over outside magistrate court, leading KOB-TV Santa Fe Bureau Chief Gadi Schwartz to break from his role as reporter-observer to remind them to keep it cool for the television cameras.
That didn’t stop some of the teenagers from shouting threats against Owens into the cameras. One young man admitted he had intended to jump the courtroom barrier and punch Owens. The same young man also said he planned to place a hit on Owens through friends already in lock-up in county jail.
The sheriff’s deputy assigned to the courthouse told SFR that the kids were just emotional. But following the arraignment Sheriff Greg Solano told SFR that he had alerted jail personnel about possible threats to Owens, sent deputies to speak with Owens’ mother, Barbara Owens, about safety measures and planned to send patrols periodically through her neighborhood.
At the hearing itself, Judge Anaya told Owens he would not accept a plea yet, but gave Owens the opportunity to ask for a public defender. After a brief statement from Chief Deputy District Attorney Charles Baldonado, Anaya accepted Baldonado’s recommendation of $3 million in bail.
Baldonado told the court that Owens faces at least 30 years for the five 3rd degree felonies if convicted. He added that the district attorney may ask for another 20 years depending on the office’s evaluation of another DWI case filed against Owens in Santa Fe Municipal Court. A prior conviction could bring a four-year sentence enhancement per charge.
In 2001, Owens was stopped by Santa Fe Police on suspicion of street racing on Cerrillos Road and then failed a field sobriety test. In court he plead guilty to DWI while a street racing charge was dismissed.
Santa Fe city prosecutors in municipal court handled the case and Baldonado said the district attorney’s office has yet to obtain the file. Owens came before Santa Fe Municipal Court earlier this year on a charge of marijuana possession. The case was dismissed in June after Owens met several conditions requested the city prosecutor, including treatment and evaluation.
Scott Owens lives with his mother, Barbara Owens, in Eldorado. Reached by telephone, she tells SFR she is “horrified” by the portrait of her son that’s been painted in the press with information provided by law enforcement.
Not the drunken demon some Santa Feans now assume, Owens is “a very dear, kind, caring man,” Owens says.
“It’s horribly difficult. And it’s horrible for the families of the children that have died. It’s horrible for me. My son is devastated,” she says.
Owens is mechanically talented, a family friend tells SFR, and often works on cars. He attended classes at Santa Fe Community College until fall 2007, a college spokeswoman says. Owens had a girlfriend, at least as of January, when local skater Kody Noble met the couple snowboarding. (Noble recalled meeting Owens after seeing his mug shot.)
Barbara Owens says she has shied away from the publicity storm of the past several days, although she has given interviews to local papers expressing her beliefs regarding the crash. She has advanced to Sheriff Solano a version of events that differed from what multiple witnesses in the other car told police. She believes this version relieves some presumed fault from her son, though she does not deny that he had been drinking.
“He was drinking. There was some drinking involved. I don’t know how much. But that is not what caused the accident,” Owens says. “There is no way that what was told to the sheriff had happened—happened.”
Her theory rests on two witnesses she says arrived at the scene soon after the crash and spoke to some of the teenagers there.
Solano confirms that two witnesses, who are “either friends of Scott or know Scott,” spoke to investigators Monday, June 29. “They have come forward to say they thought another vehicle was in front” of the car Koffman was driving, Solano says.
To Barbara Owens, this means “something happened to the car in front of the Subaru [carrying the victims] with my son's Jeep that caused him to go into the other lane.”
But Solano stresses this account rests on limited evidence. “The evidence we’ve seen so far didn’t seem to line up with that, but we’re still interviewing both of those subjects,” he says.
At the time of the crash, Owens didn't seem to know that there were deaths involved in this crash," Undersherrif Robert Garcia says. “He repeatedly asked what he was being charged for. When he was told four counts of homicide by vehicle and grievous bodily harm, he looked stunned, like shocked. I'm told he asked no questions and showed nothing beyond that, emotionally.”
Garcia also says Owens told officers he thought he was driving home, toward Eldorado—which would explain why he was in the wrong lane.
SFR spoke to two teenagers who were in what they said as the second and third cars in a caravan of four.
Taylor Johnson says she was driving the second car, behind Koffman’s.
“I saw him come up. I guess he swerved into her lane,” Johnson says of Owens’ Jeep.
Johnson remembers her car, a white Subaru, grazing Owens’ Jeep after it struck Koffman’s maroon Subaru, which Undersherrif Robert Garcia confirms.
Johnson didn’t see much of what happened immediately after the crash. “I just heard everyone screaming,” she says.
Teens riding in other cars give much credit to Mikhail McReynolds, 18, for “holding it together” after the crash. McReynolds says he rode in the front passenger seat of the third car in the caravan, and was first to call 911 after the accident. From what he saw, Owens definitely wasn’t speeding, but was driving on the wrong side of the road. “He was in our lane…He realized what happened and swerved into them,” McReynolds says.
McReynolds isn’t shy about verbalizing the rage of some who lost friends that night: “Here’s a quote for the paper: I hope Scott Owens gets butt-raped by a really large inmate. He deserves it,” McReynolds says.
Owens himself may be little help sorting things out.
“He had a concussion and doesn’t remember much,” Barbara Owens says.
Regardless how much he remembers, Solano says Owens is “cooperative” and had met with investigators all Monday afternoon before his arraignment on Tuesday.
SFR staff writer Dave Maass breaks down how to track Owens' case online as it progresses through the court system: Click Here