BRIGHTON, Colo. (KDVR) — A 28-year-old driver facing life in prison for killing two innocent bystanders during a high-speed chase will now face up to 40 years in prison.
Nicholas Villarini pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of DUI vehicular assault, despite the objections of the victim’s relatives.
Villarini was originally charged with nine counts, including two counts of first-degree murder for the crash on Oct. 26, 2021.
Two innocent bystanders, 25-year-old Gustavo Mosqueda and 21-year-old Dulce Castro, were killed that day. Castro was a passenger in a vehicle that was hit by the car Villarini was driving. Mosqueda was walking in his own neighborhood when he was struck.
“He was a huge part of my life,” said Mosqueda’s 18-year-old sister, Analucia Mosqueda.
She and her siblings told FOX31 they wanted prosecutors to take Villarini to trial, not settle for a plea deal.
“It’s extremely disappointing. I mean, we were failed by the legal system and to see how easy criminals can get off is really disappointing,” Mosqueda said.
Investigation finds chase should not have happened
Dash camera video obtained by the Problem Solvers shows Villarini speeding through at least seven stop signs and disregarding multiple yield signs while he was trying to get away from former Brighton Police Officer Charles Hundley.
The incident led Brighton Police to fire Hundley in January after the department determined he violated the city’s chase policy.
The city of Brighton hired Santo Consulting, an external group, to conduct an independent investigation into the chase and, in January, found the chase should not have been initiated.
“There was no violent felony crime being committed or other act of violence that required the suspect to be immediately pursued,” the independent report found.
“Officer Hundley did not establish exigent circumstances to pursue a stolen vehicle,” the consultants’ report found.
According to the Brighton Police Department policy at the time, “vehicle pursuits are generally not authorized for property crimes, including stolen vehicles, absent exigent circumstances” — that is, a situation where there’s an imminent threat or emergency.
What video shows of the Brighton incident
Prior to the start of the chase, video obtained by the Problem Solvers showed Hundley approaching the vehicle to get Villarini’s name and date of birth as well as the name of the passenger with him.
He returned to his patrol vehicle to wait for backup.
Someone on the police radio asked whether the stolen vehicle could be “pinched,” a police term for blocking the car, but Hundley responded by saying the tactic was unnecessary.
“There is no need to pinch. They’re already parked, not moving. I have my patrol vehicle in front of them,” Hundley responded.
Less than a minute later, body camera video showed Brighton Police Commander Nick Struck attempting to block Villarini with his unmarked pickup truck by pulling to the front of the stolen vehicle.
That’s when Villarini tried to pull away from the scene.
As he fled the area, he clipped the front of Struck’s vehicle and then put the stolen car in reverse before pulling around Hundley’s patrol car and speeding away.
Review finds flaws, leads to penalty for commander
“Based on increasing risks to public safety, Hundley should have discontinued the pursuit when he witnessed the suspect’s reckless driving, high rates of speed through residential neighborhoods, and near-miss accidents with uninvolved motorists,” the review found.
The review also found flaws in how the commander handled the chase.
“Commander Struck did not take immediate control of the pursuit after Officer Hundley drove off,” the review found, and the investigation found he “did not exercise control in supervising the pursuit or provide clear direction to the officers to terminate the pursuit.”
Commander Struck was later demoted to an administrative sergeant but his recommended three-day suspension was overturned.
“There could have been multiple chances for them to stop and they didn’t. I mean, I don’t know. No one was in their right mind that day,” Mosqueda said.