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Suspect In Fatal Crash Fell Asleep, Records Say

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Feb 22 2012 09:41:50 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 23 2012 05:09:24 AM CST
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

Court records show that Michael Benton apologized to the surviving victim in last Monday's deadly crash in Colorado Springs, seconds after he apparently fell asleep at the wheel.

According to Benton's arrest warrant, he asked victim Ken Baker if he was OK and said, "I'm sorry. I only looked down for a second."

The warrant also names Samantha Bowen as Benton's girlfriend who confessed that she lied about being the driver of the Nissan SUV that caused the crash. Bowen said she knew Benton has two children, a revoked driver's license and a designation as an habitual traffic offender, and she wanted to protect him. Her confession came two days after the crash, shortly after confessing to her mother.

Benton picked up Bowen on the morning of the accident, the warrant states, and the two stopped at a nearby Walgreens store. Video from the store's surveillance camera showed Bowen exiting and entering the SUV from the passenger side while the driver remained inside. The crash happened 20 minutes later.

Police said Benton, 32, fled the crash scene, leaving Bowen, 20, to accept blame. Benton walked into the Police Operations Center on Monday night and surrendered. He's being held on a bond of $25,000 and is charged with accident involving death or personal injury -- a felony carrying a maximum penalty of between 12 and 16 years in prison.

In addition to Benton's history of traffic violations, Bowen has her own troubled background. Court records show that in 2010 she pleaded guilty to drug possession, burglary of a building and careless driving. She received two years of probation, a three-year deferred sentence and community service. However, it's unclear whether she'll be charged for lying to police about the crash.

The funeral of Mark Meschelle, who died in the crash, was held Tuesday night. On Wednesday, his family gathered in Ellicott to reflect on his loss and Benton's arrest.

"I felt badly. I judged a book by its cover," said Michael Fraijo, Meschelle's nephew, who said he's surprised that Benton surrendered. "But he did the right thing. I commend him for that. The only way he was going to understand and feel something, is to see that my uncle as a good person."

Meschelle leaves a wife, three children and a grandson, and relatives say his family is struggling to make ends meet.

A fund has been established at Academy Bank to benefit the family.

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