JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. – The families of three young people killed in drunken driving crash may never get justice. The case against the likely suspect fell apart and so are the families that are now dealing with a twofold blow.
“I talk to him like he's here, and I feel comfort in that -- I get comfort," said Sonia Barela, whose son, Sean, was among the three killed in the August 2015 crash near Conifer along US 285.
Barela will never forget the day she lost her son, and then the day she and her family learned Sean’s legacy would never fully get its day in court.
“It was hard,” she said. “It was heartbreaking because now you're not going to get the justice that I feel like my son deserves," said Barela.
Sean and his friends, Samantha and Chelsey, died while they were riding in a BMW owned by Alex Granillo-Alvarado. The vehicle left the highway at a high rate of speed late at night and rolled multiple times before coming to a rest at the bottom of an embankment.
Rescuers responded to the crash hours after it occurred. A nearby homeowner had discovered the wreckage the following morning.
According to police records, Granillo-Alvarado told rescue workers on scene that he had been drinking and driving. Alex was the sole survivor.
However tragic the events of that night were, it seemed at first like an open-and-shut case. After all, Alex admitted on scene he was drinking and driving, police records show. But then months later, a bomb was dropped: there was no DNA evidence linking Alex to the driver’s compartment of the car.
"They explained the DNA, and then they said the DNA was not that of Alex,” said Barela of her conversation with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office.
Denver7 Investigates learned the DNA became a sore subject of the investigation between the victims' families, the DA, and the Colorado State Patrol.
The family says the DA's office told them that CSP did not initially do enough to put the pieces of the crash back together.
“They just said that they wish that the state patrol would have done…. [a] more thorough job. And they were sorry for the way it was handled," said Barela.
Denver 7 also learned the DA's own investigators were so desperate to find more DNA that they did another search of the BMW nearly a full year after the crash. The trouble is, the vehicle was, and still is, outside in a tow yard exposed to the weather.
No more DNA evidence was found and the case was dismissed, for now.
"It angers me that they did such a horrible job," she said.
Jefferson County District Attorney Pete Weir says the chance of this case going forward is unlikely.
"You never say never, but given the facts and the data that we have right now, reopening the case would be extraordinarily unlikely," said Weir.
Members of his staff expressed concerns about this case to the commanders at the Colorado State Patrol directly, Denver 7 learned.
Lt. Colonel Matt Packard with the Colorado State Patrol defends their investigation, but admits there were problems.
“I don't think it was sloppy. I think we had deficiencies. I think there's not a question in my mind and that of the investigators that we could have done better," said Lt. Colonel Packard.
Lt. Colonel Packard says because of this case, in large part, the Colorado State Patrol rolled out more training statewide, to make sure investigators collect and maintain the integrity of evidence as best as they possibly can.
"I think any time that we learn that there's holes in our game, then it's incumbent upon us to do a full-blown review to make sure that it's not happening in other places," he said.
As Barela walks around Sean's bedroom, much of it just as he left it, she and her family are grateful that investigators are at least owning up to their mistakes.
"We just want something to be in place for where it doesn't happen to another family," said her husband and Sean’s stepfather, Gary Barela.
But she knows none of it will bring Sean back. She just hopes sharing his story, and that of his friends, can help them overcome and hopefully save a life.
"It's a sad situation. It breaks my heart. But, I have to find peace in making peace," Barela said.
Denver7 attempted to find Granillo-Alvarado at home, but he has so far not returned the station’s calls.