Because of Colorado’s level of tourism, many of the victims served are not residents and do not have family and friends nearby for support. Previously, these individuals did not have acceptable access to needed victim services. When arriving at the scene of a crash, a victim advocate does not know if criminal charges will be filed or if the victims will be subject to the specific protections afforded by Colorado’s Victims Rights Act. From the beginning, the CSP has made it a priority to serve every crash victim with the same standard of excellence, applying victims’ rights standards to every crash and situation. In 2004, seven advocates provided direct services to more than 3,000 victims and family members. These included providing on-scene crisis intervention, care for injured pets, lodging for uninjured passengers, transportation for out-of-state family members, and assistance to school principals and counselors of young victims. Members of the CSP Victim’s Assistance Unit are well educated in victim’s rights, bringing integrity into difficult situations, and giving care and confidence to victims
On April 21, 2005 the Colorado State Patrol Victim’s Assistance Unit received the “Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services” from the United States Department of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), given by United States Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. This award was instituted in 2001 in memory of OVC Susan Laurence, who helped professionals who had not traditionally served victims, to develop effective victim responses. In her honor, this award recognizes a program, organization or individual who has helped to expand the reach of victim’s rights and services.
Has this ever happened to you?
You're driving with your family along a busy interstate at night, when suddenly there's a flash of oncoming headlights and then everything goes black. When you come to, you're in a hospital and you hurt all over. Someone tells you that a drunk driver crashed into your car.
A hundred thoughts flash through your mind:
- "What happened to my spouse and children?"
- "I should notify my relatives."
- "How will I pay the medical bills?"
- "I must contact my insurance company."
- "Did they arrest the drunk driver?"
- "Did my dog survive the crash?"
- "I need to talk to a lawyer."
- "Where are my wallet and my credit cards?"
- "How am I going to get home?"
- "I need help!"
If this hasn't happened to you, be thankful, because it happens to hundreds of people every year in Colorado. The Colorado State Patrol Victims' Assistance Unit was created to help people who become victims of criminal behavior on Colorado's highways.
Although the services available to most crime victims have expanded greatly over the past decade, the victims of traffic accidents h ave been overlooked and underserved until recently.
Police and sheriff's departments have focused on the victims of crimes such as homicide, assault, robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping and others, but a traffic accident can also be a crime. Some of the charges that can arise from traffic accidents include:
- Criminally Negligent Homicide
- Vehicular Homicide
- Vehicular Assault
- Child Abuse
- Careless Driving Resulting in Death
- Hit and Run Causing Death
In 1992, Colorado voters approved Constitutional Amendment A, which guarantees rights to the victims of many crimes, including five of those listed above. In 1997, the remaining two crimes on the list were added to the amendment.
The Colorado State Patrol Victims' Assistance Coordinator operates the Victims' Assistance Unit from an office at the State Patrol Academy in Golden. The Unit also includes six Victim Advocates who are located in Durango/Alamosa, Evans, Colorado Springs, Fruita and the Denver Metro area.
When a traffic accident occurs on a road that is patrolled by the Colorado State Patrol, the responding Trooper determines if a Victim Advocate is needed on the scene. An Advocate may be needed to:
- Provide crisis intervention to victims and witnesses at the scene.
- Make timely notifications to family members.
- Obtain on-scene information for later use.
- Assist in the transportation of victims.
If an Advocate is not needed at the accident scene, an Advocate may be asked to meet the victims at the hospital to:
- Make death notifications, if necessary.
- Gather information about injuries.
- Provide transportation from the hospital.
- Help the victims find lodging, if they're are not from the local area.
- Contact social workers or other professionals who can help.
- Obtain money for clothes, groceries or other basic needs.
- Assist with funeral arrangements and expenses, if necessary.
- Answer questions and provide factual information about the accident.
The Advocate ensures that the support system (family, friends and co-workers) is in place to help the victims begin to deal with this traumatic event.
Because it is usually 3 to 16 weeks before criminal charges are filed in a traffic accident, the Advocate will maintain contact with the victims, updating them about the status of the investigation, until charges are filed with the District Attorney's office.
When criminal charges are filed, an Advocate at the D.A.'s office is required by the Victim Rights Amendment to keep the victims informed about all legal proceedings until the final disposition of the case.
Have You or a Family Member Been Assisted by a CSP Victim Advocate?
In order to continue to provide these much needed services, it is important for us to understand how we can improve our program to better serve those who have experienced situations similar to yours. Your input enables us to evaluate our program and make those improvements.
If you or family member have been assisted by the Colorado State Patrol Victims' Assistance Unit regarding and incident, please assist us by downloading and completing the short questionnaire below. Please return the questionnaire to Dolores Poeppel, Director of the CSP Victims' Assistance Unit. Thank you.
CSP Victim Assistance Questionnaire
Advocate District Map