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'She broke this family': Man remembers father killed in hit-and-run at Denver construction site

Jose Ocampo, 56, planned to retire soon to Mexico with his wife
Posted at 4:37 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 20:49:18-04

DENVER – The construction worker killed by a hit-and-run driver in the city’s River North Arts District on Tuesday was a father and grandfather and a hard-working, loving man who was planning to soon retire to Mexico with his wife, his son said Thursday.

Jose Ocampo, 56, was killed in the hit-and-run crash at 29th Street and Arkins Court on Tuesday afternoon. The suspect in the crash, 43-year-old Kathleen Sugaski, was arrested a few blocks away after she left the car she was driving, police said. She is being held for investigation of vehicular homicide. Another construction worker suffered serious injuries.

Ocampo’s son, also named Jose Ocampo, said Thursday he found out about the deadly crash as he was picking his kids up from daycare Tuesday afternoon. He is a sergeant in the U.S. Army who is stationed at Fort Carson and a father of three.

“My brother called me, said my dad had been in an accident and it was really bad – that I needed to come down to Denver,” Ocampo said in an interview. “When I got there, I found out he had passed away.”

Ocampo said he last saw his father on Labor Day, earlier this week.

“I said bye to him when I was leaving the house coming back to the Springs, and I didn’t think that was going to be the last time,” he said, through tears. “I’m stationed here at Fort Carson, but every weekend or every holiday, we would drive down to Denver and he would teach my daughters Spanish.”

Ocampo said his father was killed instantly when he was struck from behind by the vehicle, according to his coworkers. A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money for his memorial and funeral.

Ocampo said several coworkers were hurt when his father’s body landed on them — before the driver hit the other worker. Ocampo said that worker, who has not been identified, had to get multiple staple in his head and suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries.

The elder Ocampo was a laborer who worked for a company installing pipes, digging trenches, installing cables and wiring. He also had plans to retire before long to Mexico, where he and his wife of 33 years had built a house, his son said.

“My dad was very hard working. All the people I talked to yesterday from his job told me how much they appreciated him, how he always did his job. He never complained,” said the younger Ocampo. “He was a hard worker. He loved my mom. They were close to retiring.”

“He loved my kids – they were his only grandkids,” Ocampo added. “He was a happy person. He was loved by a lot of people.”

Ocampo said he attended Sugaski’s court hearing on Wednesday and confronted her.

“I said, ‘You killed my father; you decided to drink. You broke this family and you didn’t care because you obviously didn’t stop to check,’” he said. “I broke down when I looked at her, and I said, ‘The hardest part is telling my little ones that they’ll never see their grandfather again.’”

He said the woman said she thought she hit a piece of equipment but added that he believed she showed no remorse.

“She took a husband, a father, grandfather, friend. She broke this family,” Ocampo said. “…I don’t think there’s any excuse.”

Ocampo said the hardest part of coping with his father’s death so far has been talking to his two daughters, ages 3 and 5.

“My daughters keep asking me, ‘Do we get to see my grandpa tomorrow?’ And that’s the hardest part – me telling them no,” he said. “The little ones, it’s hard to explain to them. They still don’t understand. He loved his grandkids a lot. He always played with them when we would go over there. They’ll never get to see him again; he won’t get to see them grow up.”

Police said that Sugaski appeared to be impaired and smelled of alcohol when she was arrested. Ocampo said he is still urging anyone else who witnessed the crashes to contact police.

“Don’t drink and drive, because you don’t just hurt yourself, you hurt other people,” he said. “I just want justice. If anybody saw anything, come forward. The more statements we have, the more witnesses, the better.”