Why is Demaryius Thomas being charged with a felony?

DENVER -- Demaryius Thomas, the former Broncos wide receiver, limped into court on Thursday facing charges of vehicular assault and reckless driving.

Police say the 31-year-old was going 70 mph in a 30 mpg zone on Auraria Parkway on Feb. 16 when he crashed. Thomas and his two passengers were all injured.

"The 70 mph in a 30 mph zone is what strikes me. If you're going 70 in a 30, the District Attorney is going to argue that's reckless driving in and of itself," said Gregory  Daniels, a Denver defense attorney.

Daniels has no connection to Thomas' case, but he says the vehicular assault charge is a serious one because it's a felony. However, Daniels does believe it's a little unusual to see someone in a crash like this charged with a felony since police determined Thomas wasn't under the influence.

"I've never had one that wasn't drug and alcohol fueled," Daniels said.

The much more common charge, according to Daniels, is careless driving, which is a misdemeanor.

"If there's a traffic accident and someone's injured, that happens all the time, and that's careless driving causing injury, typically," he said.

Daniels says the speeds involved and the injuries suffered by the passengers may be the motivating force behind the felony charge. Police say one of the passengers suffered a serious bodily injury.

"That makes a huge difference. In order for it to be vehicular assault, you have to have serious bodily injury, which is defined by state statute. And if there is not that injury, it is not vehicular assault," Daniels said.

It's been a difficult year for Thomas. The Broncos traded him to the Houston Texans mid-season and he was released by that team just days before the crash. His season also ended prematurely when he tore his Achilles tendon.

Thomas, however, is no stranger to adversity.

He was just 12 years old when his mother and grandmother went to prison for selling drugs. During an interview with FOX31 in 2013, he told us their arrests have always motivated him to stay out of trouble.

"I got in school and I stayed away from all the bad stuff because when my mom went to jail, I moved in with someone else who was using drugs, and I got away from it and tried to stay positive and just keep my grades up and work hard," he said.

For the most part, Thomas has stayed out of trouble. The only exception was a careless driving charge in 2012. Thomas was able to plead down to operating an unsafe vehicle in that case.

If the District Attorney's office decides to pursue the charge of vehicular assault this time, Thomas could face up to three years in prison if he's convicted.

The other passenger hurt in the crash suffered minor injuries. Police have not provided an update on the passenger with serious injuries.

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