Driver in student-involved accident sentenced to 30 days jail

Jackson Braitberg

Eleanor “Ellie” Mertz was sentenced Wednesday afternoon for the August 2019 car accident in which she fatally struck Colorado State University freshman Anthony “TJ” Avery while he was crossing a street on campus. 

Mertz was found guilty of a careless driving offense, but found not guilty of a separate charge of careless driving resulting in death.

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Larimer County Judge Katharine Ellison sentenced Mertz to 30 days jail time through the Larimer County Midweeks program and one year of probation and monitored sobriety by her parole officer.

Many of Avery’s family members spoke at the sentencing, including both of his parents and his grandfather. TJ’s mother, Jill Avery, defended his actions on the day of his death.

“These are the hardest cases. There is nothing that I am going to say and nothing that I’m going to impose as a sentence that makes any of this better.” -Katharine Ellison, Larimer County Judge

“In speed tests done by police, Ms. Mertz was found to have been going 24 miles per hour or more at the time of the collision,” Jill Avery said. “TJ did not know it at the time, but in reality, he was only left with a couple seconds to cross the street. TJ did also not know, and could not have known at the time, that Ms. Mertz was not going to stop her car at the stop sign or that she was not even going to slow down.”

The Averys constantly reminded the judge and Mertz throughout the sentencing that they did not wish for Mertz’s life to be turned upside down, they only wanted her to take responsibility. They, as well as Ellison, noted that they felt as if Mertz had not taken responsibility and that she showed little to no remorse for her actions.

“Time progressed over the past year and Ms. Mertz took virtually no responsibility for her actions, which contributed to the accident,” said Robert C. Murphy, TJ’s grandfather. “It has become glaringly apparent through this case that Ms. Mertz has not taken any resemblance of responsibility for her actions. She has continually shifted blame to TJ’s actions while not focusing on her own.”

Mertz strongly disagreed with this statement.  

“Just about every day, I think about Anthony,” Mertz said through tears. “A friend sat with me the night that I learned he passed. Crying with me, she told me that our souls were somehow connected for the rest of my life, and I believe it.”

Speaking directly to the Avery family, she said, “I empathize with you more than you know.”

Murphy, a retired major, recalled how TJ had sent him a picture of his new ROTC haircut in the hours leading up to his death.

“I could see TJ’s excitement as he began his new career, this chapter in his life,” Murphy said. “TJ’s military career was just beginning as mine was coming to an end.”

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Ellison said, “These are the hardest cases. There is nothing that I am going to say and nothing that I’m going to impose as a sentence that makes any of this better.”

Jackson Braitberg can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter at @JBraitberg.