Off-duty Jefferson County sheriff's deputy accused of paralyzing girl in crash pleads not guilty

10-year-old Lucy Harris speaks following suspect's arraignment
'Not guilty' plea entered by off-duty sheriff's deputy accused of causing crash that paralyzed girl
Posted at 6:38 PM, Nov 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-01 20:38:13-04

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — The Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy accused of causing a multi-vehicle crash on I-70 near Genesee that left three people injured, including a 10-year-old girl who was paralyzed after the crash, plead not guilty to the crime Wednesday.

Jerold Taylor is accused of not slowing down when approaching stopped traffic on the the westbound lanes of the highway on July 15. The report from the Colorado State Patrol claims Taylor was distracted by something outside of his vehicle.

Lucy Harris, 10, was paralyzed as a result of the crash.

Taylor's defense attorney requested to delay the arraignment in court Wednesday, but Judge Kristan Wheeler decided not to against it and told Taylor she would be taking a "not guilty" plea from him at this time.

The suspect faces three counts of careless driving resulting in injury, which are misdemeanor charges.

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Lucy attended Taylor's arraignment in her purple wheelchair, surrounded by friends and family. There were so many people in the courtroom for Lucy that court staff set up another room where the group could observe the proceeding online.

“It's my first time in the courtroom," Lucy said. “At first, it was kind of scary, but then I got used to it.”

Lucy said all she remembers from July 15 is being inside her mom's car as they traveled through the mountains, and later waking up in the hospital. Her life has changed dramatically since then, but she plans to attend every court appearance that she can.

“Just to show everyone that, like, I'm in a wheelchair and I'm not the same anymore," said Lucy.

She believes the charges facing Taylor should be felonies.

Off-duty Jefferson County sheriff's deputy accused of paralyzing girl in crash pleads not guilty

“He paralyzed me for the rest of my life," Lucy said. "So, I feel like he should have something for the rest of his life that he has to worry about.”

Lucy's father, Peter Harris, addressed the court during Taylor's arraignment. Peter believes the case is indicative of a broader problem on Colorado roads.

“There's a lot of people are choosing not to look where they're going, choosing to put their attention somewhere else and going 70 miles an hour," said Peter. "Lucy was the one left holding the bag here and it could have been anybody. So, I'm just trying to raise public awareness and make sure there's accountability."

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Peter believes the actions that led up to the crash were reckless, and would like to see what he believes is an adequate response from prosecutors.

“We're not vengeful people. We're not looking to be destructive, and to, you know, eye for an eye in some extreme way. We're just looking for the prosecutors to really take a hard look at this and be accountable for the charging decision here," Peter said. “I'm just trying to bring attention to the larger issues that I think are of obvious interest to us and our family and Lucy in particular, considering she's got a lifelong permanent injury.”

Peter said there have been dark times in his daughter's recovery, but the family and their community has rallied around her.

"She smiles all the time," Peter said about Lucy. “She's a really bright person and she's going to make it through, and she's going to be strong and do some amazing things.”

In a statement, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office told Denver7 Taylor is currently employed there and has been since 2005. The statement also states that the "Administrative Investigations Unit, (IA), is conducting an inquiry into the tragic incident that occurred on I-70, which is currently a misdemeanor case. If the charges are upgraded to a felony, Taylor will be placed on leave."

Taylor was not on-duty at the time of the crash, or driving a sheriff's office vehicle.

Brionna Boatright, the director of public affairs with the Colorado First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, sent Denver7 the following statement:

Our hearts break for the Harris family. We will proceed based on the evidence available to us and our ethical duty to pursue only charges that have a reasonable likelihood of success at trial. To protect the integrity of the investigation and to ensure that the defendant can receive a fair trial, additional case facts cannot be released at this time. The defendant is presumed innocent.

Denver7 reached out to Taylor's attorney, but did not hear back by deadline.

Taylor has a pre-trial conference scheduled on Dec. 1.