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Pueblo man man who killed Cañon City High School graduate in accident sentenced to 18 years

A gavel.
A gavel.

The Pueblo man who killed 18-year-old Ashton Welch in a motor vehicle crash Nov. 14 was sentenced to 18 years in the Department of Corrections on Friday.

Phillip Laurence Cassares, 28, tendered to the court a guilty plea to vehicular homicide, a Class 3 felony, May 17, with a sentencing range of 16 to 24 years in DOC.

While handing down the sentence, Judge Amiel Markenson noted that no sentence can repair harm the harm Welch’s family is suffering.

“No parent should have to live through the loss of their child,” he said.

He acknowledged the strain placed on Welch’s family by their deep loss, but he also took into account Cassares’ acknowledgment of the outcome and the life he took due to his actions.

Welch’s father, Martin Welch, read a statement to the court, describing the heartbreak and trauma he, his wife and their two sons are enduring.

He described Cassares’ crimes as “despicable, violent and reckless.”

“For these crimes, we expect, and hope, for a maximum allowable sentence, particularly in light of the complete lack of remorse on the part of the defendant,” he said. “My wife and I are painfully aware that we are not the only parents who have lost a child. Yet, we are the only parents who have borne the consequences of this particular crime. I am the only father, my wife, the only mother, who has lost Ashton Lawrence Welch and we are uniquely broken in a world full of broken people.”

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Lindsey asked for the full 24-year sentence, citing Cassares’ “cavalier attitude” toward the crime throughout the duration of the case.

“It was sort of disdain, like why am I bothering with this case,” he said. “That began (in a video shown to the court of Cassares in a Pueblo establishment before the crash) and his behavior continued on the scene, he completely denied driving and blamed it on someone else that he didn’t even know that was driving and had walked away from this crash. From the very beginning, he was trying to deny any sort of liability even though the evidence was abundantly clear that he was the driver.”

Lindsey said Cassares had been driving under revocation because he owed fines for previous speeding cases.

At the time of the crash, Welch had been stopped at a red light and then had barely begun to travel northbound toward the intersection of South Pueblo Boulevard and Red Creek Springs Road in Pueblo when the light turned green and Cassares’ 1994 Chevy K15 pickup collided with his 2013 Subaru Impreza from front to rear.

Law enforcement determined Cassares was driving 69.97 miles per hour right before he crashed into the backend of Welsh’s vehicle, which was traveling 5 mph. Casseras’ blood alcohol content was .128 following the crash, but if that was extrapolated, Lindsey said, it would have been closer to .16 to possibly .210 at the time of the crash. Tetrahydrocannabinol also was noted in Cassares’s blood samples.

“Mr. Cassares is lucky he survived this crash – how he did, no one really knows,” he said. “He will be around, even if he is in prison, he will see his family. Mr. Welsh doesn’t have that ability.”

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During the hearing, Cassares' sisters, mother and grandmother offered statements to the court, as did Cassares.

"To the Welch family, I sincerely and honestly do know that there is nothing I can possibly do or say to bring Ashton back," he said. "Yet, I do need and want you to understand that I am deeply sorry and feel full remorse due to what happened that claimed his life."

He said he is not a monster, but at the time of the incident he was being "a very inconsiderate person by being behind the wheel while being under the influence of alcohol."

On Friday, Cassares was granted 110 days of time served. After his DOC sentence, he will face a three-year period of parole.

Welch was a 2022 graduate of Cañon City High School.

According to his obituary, he was a Capstone project finalist for his clothing company, SickAMok1. For his company, he conceived daring and impactful designs, many of which were meant to convey the mental challenges and emotional trauma his generation had to navigate during the COVID-19 pandemic. He intended a portion of all profits from this company to be donated to suicide prevention programs, because of the struggles he saw in his peers and his desire to help those who were suffering from isolation and depression.

Welch was on the Pueblo Community College Dean’s List for college credit earned during high school and was dedicated to and attended Living Stone Calvary Chapel, where he served faithfully in the Audio/Visual ministry for many years.

He was baptized on Aug. 8, 2020, in the Arkansas River.

"He had a deeply personal faith, most often expressed in his humility, care for others, and willingness to listen, to smile, and put others’ needs and feelings above his own," his obituary states. "He was also studying to obtain his Real Estate Agent Sales License, for the state of Arizona, where he hoped to eventually move. Ashton’s warm heart, sweet spirit, and endearing smile were legend. He was always eager to listen, to talk to those who were lonely, and to help those in need. He cared deeply for his family, friends, and pets, and expressed his love easily."