Westminster Police: 12-year-old girl driving father home after he'd been drinking crashes into tree

Phillip Knutson faces child cruelty charge

WESTMINSTER, Colo. - Westminster police said a 12-year-old girl was driving her father home after he had been drinking Saturday afternoon when she crashed into a tree.

Police arrested Phillip Knutson, 37, on suspicion of child cruelty and permitting an unlicensed minor to drive.

The crash happened at 2:30 p.m., police said, at the intersection of West 110th Avenue and Kendall Drive.

”Mr. Knutson had been at a friend’s house, helping them out. He enjoyed a few alcoholic beverages and decided to let his 12-year-old daughter drive him home,” said Cheri Spottke, a spokeswoman with the Westminster Police Department.

Knutson told 7NEWS his daughter confused the gas with the brake and ran off the road into the tree before he could put on the emergency brake.

“I made a horrible mistake by saying yes to my daughter letting her drive," Knutson told 7NEWS in a telephone interview. “I was not drunk, and I had not been drinking.”

Spottke said officers tried to do a portable breath test at the scene, but the machine malfunctioned, and they were not able to get an accurate reading.

But neighbors who heard the crash and came to see what happened said they could smell alcohol.

"I was standing nearby and heard him tell the officer he'd had a beer," said Dennis Gene, who was mowing the grass around the tree moments before the crash.

 ”A minute earlier, and it would have been me in front of the tree," Gene told 7NEWS reporter Jaclyn Allen. "I hope he learned his lesson. That little girl could have been killed.”

7NEWS found court records showing Knutson pleaded guilty to DUI and careless driving in 2007 in Jefferson County.