A drunk driver who struck and killed an Aurora woman as she walked on the sidewalk was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Phillips’ sisters were among the numerous family members in the courtroom May 19 for sentencing, which was up to the discretion of the judge.
“My sister did nothing but good for the world. She served a purpose, and she meant more than something left on the side of the street,” one told the court.
“My sister deserved to live,” another said. “She didn’t deserve to die, no matter the weapon.”
On Oct. 28, 2018, Knutson had been drinking at a bar when he decided to drive home. Phillips was walking home on East Iliff Avenue after she had been out that evening.
Knutson’s Jeep Patriot jumped the curb and drove down the sidewalk. He hit Phillips near East Iliff and South Rifle Street. He dragged her a short distance and kept driving.
Phillips’ body was found by a passerby. The impact was such that even her socks and shoes were stripped off. She sustained massive injuries and was dead at the scene.
Aurora police arrested Knutson a short distance away on a drunk driving charge. Three open alcohol containers, numerous empty containers and a marijuana cigar were found in his Jeep. They linked him to Phillips’ death by the car parts he left at the scene and for a quarter mile along the roadway.
“Jana had no chance to get away from a car barreling down on her. She was struck and dragged, and her injuries were devastating,” Deputy District Attorney Meghan Gallo told the court during her sentencing argument. “He got behind the wheel drunk, barreled down a sidewalk and took out an innocent 24-year-old woman. She was run down like roadkill.”
Phillips’ mother spoke passionately to the judge through her tears.
“I act like everything is OK, and it’s not. I miss my baby,” she said. “All I have left is a sign: ‘In memory of Jana — Don’t drink and drive’.”
Gallo pointed out that the defendant’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash was estimated to be between 0.26 and 0.28. Both THC and Kratom were found in his system.
“He wasn’t simply drunk but extraordinarily drunk. He wasn’t simply high but extraordinarily high,” she said. “Five hours after the crash he was still twice over the legal limit.”
The judge noted Knutson’s past arrests and substance abuse issues, and his failure to address them.
“This defendant has failed on probation before and has had numerous crimes over a period of years,” Vahle said. “This is a fully grown, mature man fully responsible for his actions.
“It’s ironic that both of these people were drinking that night. One cared about people in society and was walking home. The other barreled down a sidewalk and killed someone. … The appropriate punishment makes a statement to society that we care about people’s lives. It sends a statement that we cannot drink and drive, and if you do, there is a punishment.”
Knutson pleaded guilty March 12, 2021, to vehicular homicide DUI and leaving the scene of an accident involving death, both Class 3 felonies.
Vahle sentenced Knutson to 10 years on the vehicular homicide count consecutive to four years for leaving the scene.
“This defendant has demonstrated that he can’t live in the community safely, despite previous opportunities for rehabilitation,” said District Attorney John Kellner. “Jana’s family and friends are forever deprived of her presence in their lives. We will never know what great things she might have done in the world. She deserved to live, and this defendant deserves to be in prison for the decisions he made. That is the appropriate consequence for his selfish actions.”