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Rebecca Maez pleads guilty in drunk-driving death of Jenny Kush

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Rebecca Maez.
Labor Day weekend is one of the biggest drunk-driving holidays on the calendar. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, 1,342 people were arrested over a nineteen-day stretch between August 16 and September 3 of 2013 for suspected driving under the influence. One of them was Rebecca Maez. She was drunk and driving the wrong way in an I-25 HOV lane early on September 1 when she smashed into another vehicle. The driver of that car was seriously injured; passenger Jenny Kush was pronounced dead.

On Friday, April 11, the 27-year-old Maes pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and assault.

As William Breathes reported in his September 19, 2013 cover story, "The life and tragic death of cannabis advocate Jenny Kush," 34-year-old Jennifer Monson -- better known as cannabis activist Jenny Kush -- and her boyfriend, 37-year-old Jeremy DePinto, had just left the (hed) p.e. concert at Summit Music Hall. Wary of drunk drivers on Labor Day weekend, they'd skipped drinking themselves that night, and were cautious as they drove through LoDo and headed to the freeway to get back home to Westminster. "Take the HOV lane -- it will be safer," Kush told DePinto. Those were the last words he remembers from the woman he loved.

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An illustration of Jenny Kush.
Jenny Kush had moved with her four children to Denver in 2010, driving an old Chevy Suburban through one of Colorado's March blizzards to get away from what friends say was a toxic relationship in Montana. It didn't take long before she was a fixture on the local cannabis scene, blowing glass pipes at the former Street Glass and hanging around a group of people loosely related to iCannabisRadio, an Internet station based out of attorney Warren Edson's office.

"I feel like Jenny has just always been a part of my world, and so I don't have this great 'the first time I laid eyes on her I knew she was a special person' story," says Georgia Edson, Warren's wife and co-owner of the station. "It's just that Jenny was always there and always around. The reason why that is, is because Jenny would volunteer for everything and organize and coordinate everything. If there was an event to be done, to be figured out, Jenny was at the heart of it. That is who she was -- she was great at coordinating things."

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Jeremy DePinto and Jenny Kush.
And among Colorado's cannabis activists, she quickly became known as the girl who got shit done. This wasn't a hostile takeover, though; it was a labor of love. Kush was all over: sitting in front of cop cars on Broadway during Occupy Denver; helping found Moms for Marijuana in Colorado; working as an organizer for Mile High NORML and numerous other groups. She met DePinto in the community.

"We considered ourselves to be teammates," DePinto says. "Neither was more important, but that allowed us to both be more important. It sounds strange, like turning right to go left. But once you get it, it makes perfect sense."

Kush and DePinto were frequent fixtures at the cannabis rallies on the final Saturday of every month at the State Capitol. For the past seven months, those rallies have honored Kush. The sad irony of a cannabis activist getting killed by a drunk driver was not lost on her friends.

Maez shouldn't have been on the road that day. Her license had been revoked for a drunk-driving-related arrest in Edgewater less than four years earlier. In 2010, Maez was arrested again after she was stopped in Denver for driving without a license and gave the police a false name, Stephanie Ortiz. She failed to appear at her arraignment that September, and another warrant for her arrest was issued. In April 2012, Maez was jailed in Denver on her failure-to-appear charge; she was still technically a fugitive in Jefferson County.

None of that deterred Maez from driving once she got out of jail. She was behind the wheel of a borrowed Chrysler sedan on Labor Day weekend when she killed Jenny Kush.

Released from custody on a $60,000 bond, Maez is scheduled to appear in Denver District Court on May 23 for a sentencing hearing. She faces up to 36 years in prison.

Kush was buried close to where she grew up in Bottineaux, North Dakota. Her four children are with their grandmother.

From our archives: "The life and tragic death of cannabis advocate Jenny Kush."



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11 comments
Trish Carpenter
Trish Carpenter

Yay!!! Lesson #1 complete! Thanks Tricia Zyrowski Nickerson!

Dani Ball
Dani Ball

Typo Rev! My bad. LOL. Maybe I should write for Westword!

RobertChase
RobertChase topcommenter

This is a very sad story that bears on the societal debate over ending Prohibition -- an advocate for cannabis (which is not a threat to motorists), was killed by a drunk.  Jenny and ~18,000 other Americans are killed every year (and another quarter of a million are injured) due to society's predilection for a drug that severely impairs motor coordination.  Colorado's rate of traffic fatalities has fallen because drivers are starting to switch from a dangerous drug to a safe one -- would that Maez had made the safer choice that evening; I have no doubt that Jenny would be alive today if she had.


The City's incompetence in failing to close the HOV lane to wrong-way traffic needs to be fully investigated.  As is always the case, Denver's taxpayers will suffer the consequences of the liability for that incompetence, but they also must take responsibility for electing those running our unrepresentative, ineffectual, and wasteful municipal government.  Jenny left four young children behind who need raising; just this once, Denver needs to step up and offer appropriate compensation to its victims instead of being compelled to do so by a court.

fognl7
fognl7

"(which is not a threat to motorists)"

Will you please clarify what you mean? Thanks.

RobertChase
RobertChase topcommenter

@fognl7 Evidence suggests that drivers with moderate levels of THC in their blood (~3 ng/ml) may be safer drivers than sober ones.  Even substantial levels of THC do not correlate well with driving impairment.  A recent study found a 9% drop in traffic fatalities in states with medical cannabis; there is no basis for the assertion that the use of cannabis poses an increased threat to traffic safety.  There is no more likely a place and time to study cannabis' effect on driving than here and now, but the State has not undertaken to do so -- despite the prohibitionists demanding a standard for impairment with THC for years in the General Assembly, despite the prohibitionists on the A64 Task Force issuing a laundry list of recommendations to study indices they hope will worsen in the wake of the limited legalization of cannabis for personal use, and despite a $2 million campaign against stoned driving by the CDOT, Colorado still has no explicit plan to conduct scientific study of cannabis' effects on driving.  If there were cause for concern, it certainly would be irresponsible; as it is, it is irresponsible anyway -- I suspect the prohibitionists don't want Colorado to prove just how  harmless cannabis is!

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@fognl7 Recent news reports have suggested that officers are having a difficult time spotting stoned drivers.  They have a much easier time spotting drunks.


There are so many awful drivers, it's hard to imagine that they are all intoxicated.  Truth is, as bad as most people drive and given how poorly the lights and traffic are managed, it's surprising there aren't more accidents than there are.

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