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Gazette Premium Content Former firefighter sentenced in DUI wreck that killed friend

By Andrea Sinclair Updated: February 14, 2014 at 5:48 am

People packed into an El Paso County courtroom Thursday for the sentencing of a former firefighter who pleaded guilty to DUI and vehicular homicide charges in a January 2013 crash that killed her passenger and friend.

Ashley Lea Brooks, 28, a former Cimarron Hills Fire Department lieutenant and EMT, was sentenced to 28 months in prison and three years of parole.

Fourth Judicial District Judge William B. Bain turned down defense attorneys' request for probation or a work-release sentence, and added 180 days to Brooks' sentence for one count of DUI, to be served concurrently

Brooks and Katherine Banzhaf, a Soaring Eagles Elementary School teacher, were on Interstate 25 near Monument on their way back from Denver. About 1:30 a.m. Brooks lost control of the car, which spun across the interstate, hit the median then rolled, state patrol said.

Investigators said Brooks' blood alcohol content was 0.13, above the legal limit of 0.08.

Family members of both Brooks and Banzhaf, as well as several firefighters, attended the sentencing.

The victim's mother, Rose Banzhaf, spoke about her family's struggles since her daughter's death and asked Bain to sentence Brooks to the fullest extent of the law, saying that anything less would have been an injustice.

"Ashley acted with disregard for her life and Kate's when she chose to drive from Denver to Colorado Springs at such a late hour and after a day of drinking," Rose Banzhaf said. "This was not an accident."

According to Brooks, she and Banzhaf had driven up to Boulder to spend some time together and visited several stores but did not elaborate on how much alcohol they drank throughout the day.

On their way back through Denver, Banzhaf asked to stop by her cousin's house for a football party, where Brooks said she had a glass of wine. At the party, Brooks said, she noticed "illegal activity" that prompted them to leave, although an extra bedroom had been offered to them to stay overnight.

Defense attorneys argued that Brooks has been clinically depressed and had attempted suicide repeatedly since the crash.

She was apologetic as she addressed the judge and said that she accepted full responsibility for her friend's death.

"I would give anything to trade places with Kate, right this second," Brooks said. "This was the worst mistake of my life, and it cost Kate her life."

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