A judge finds Carlos Viveros-Colorado ignored steps to avert the tragedy, in a verdict that brings relief to the victims' family, as well as teachers and students at Harding High.
This memorial to Clarisse Grime stands outside Harding High School in St. Paul, near where she was killed. It reads "A Harding Knight Forever" and is adorned with flowers, a crucifix and a ball that people have left in memory of the 16-year-old.
A Ramsey County judge on Wednesday convicted an unlicensed driver of criminal vehicular homicide for running over and killing a 16-year-old girl near Harding High School, as well as a second crime for injuring her 17-year-old boyfriend last summer.
Judge John Van de North ruled that Carlos Viveros-Colorado, 51, "engaged in illegal, high-risk driving while suffering from a known and debilitating physical condition" that killed Clarisse Grime and injured Eduardo Vazquez-Torres.
The judge rejected Viveros-Colorado's defense -- that his leg went numb and his foot fell on the accelerator, causing him to lose control of his Ford Expedition as the two teens waited in a grassy area near Harding for a city bus after summer classes on July 5.
"It has been suggested that this incident back in July of this year that resulted in the death of Ms. Grime and bodily injury to Mr. Torres was an accident and that sometimes accidents just happen and no one is to blame. But that is not the situation," Van de North said.
Viveros-Colorado's "very serious mistake in judgment" led to criminal vehicular homicide, a felony, and criminal vehicular operation, a gross misdemeanor, the judge said.
"While we disagree with the judge's decision, we have to respect the legal system we operate under," defense attorney Alberto Miera said Wednesday evening. "Mr. Colorado reiterates that whatever the consequences are to him, the loss of Clarisse is ultimately more devastating to her family and those close to her. And it's a burden that weighs heavy on him."
Twice before July 4, Viveros-Colorado had numbness in at least one leg and one arm, the judge wrote in his order.
Then, while at work on the morning of July 5, he experienced a recurrence of the numbing problems that took five to 15 minutes to subside and required him to rub his legs, the judge wrote. "Nevertheless, he proceeded from work to his home on a busy four-lane highway and city streets."
Among those in the courtroom were Vazquez-Torres and Grime's mother, Martha Woldegiorgis of St. Paul.
"It was good; we're very happy to hear that decision," said Grime's aunt, Meseret Semeani.
"It's a huge relief, not because we're vengeful, but I wanted something to happen to the guy who killed Clarisse," said teacher Yeugeniya Malikin, a close friend of the talented teen who spoke four languages.
Nov. 11 would have been Grime's 17th birthday. Last Friday, students and teachers at Harding held a memorial service, showing a video of her life. Outside, in a location where students can see buses but sit safely, two benches and a table were dedicated.
Another bench made by students, with a mosaic design and Grime's image, is displayed inside of the school. Vazquez-Torres helped with the mosaic bench and the memorial.
English teacher Angela Raven said students "are going to be happy that justice has been served."
County Attorney John Choi called Grime's death a tragic loss for the entire community of a 16-year-old who, by all accounts, "was going someplace really good, and unfortunately, that was all taken away."
Van de North noted that during Viveros-Colorado's trip home from his morning shift at a south metro bakery, he experienced some numbness on Hwy. 61 near I-494 but ignored it.
As he headed east on 3rd Street toward his Hazel Street apartment, Viveros-Colorado lost his ability to brake, then stepped on the accelerator.
"He never pulled over to the side of the road; attempted to slow or to stop; attempted to use the unaffected left leg to brake his vehicle using his regular or emergency brakes; attempted to shift gears, or took any other action," the judge wrote.
"He inexplicably allowed his vehicle to veer at speeds increasing to more than 40 miles per hour across the westbound lane of traffic on 3rd Street and to proceed eastward, crashing over multiple curbs, shearing off a fire hydrant, damaging a street sign, and ultimately striking and killing Clarisse Grime and injuring Eduardo Torres."
The judge said the gross negligence "is particularly inexcusable" when considering testimony of Herbert Colby, who drove behind the SUV for at least two blocks, watching it weave across the center line at least four times.
Viveros-Colorado, an undocumented immigrant, faces at least four years in prison when sentenced on Dec. 17, followed by deportation.
Joy Powell • 651-925-5038