May 4, 2019 — Albert Granillo was the big brother with the big smile.
The one who could always be counted on to show up to family gatherings with the cherry cheesecake he liked to bake. The Broncos fan.
The one who on Aug. 3, 2017, tried to de-escalate a road rage incident that ultimately cost him his life.
The three years in prison imposed April 30 on the man held responsible in Granillo’s dragging death on U.S. 50 is not enough, his sister, DeAnna Granillo, said Thursday.
“Anything we needed, he always took care of us. We always had his protection. He was big on family. He was always there to protect us. That’s what was happening that night,” she said.
“Three years is nothing compared to a young life taken; the innocence of three kids in that car taken, the grieving father and the loss of his firstborn.”
DeAnna Granillo is left questioning why John Williams of Pueblo West, was so angry when he drove up behind her family’s vehicle near Little Blue Pass on Aug. 3, 2017 and instigated the fatal incident.
“The way Albert was killed was inhumane. To have John Williams on the road with such anger and disregard for human life was an atrocity. Three years is nothing compared to what my family endured since Aug. 3, 2017, and has endured since,” she said.
That night, Albert was a passenger in an Escalade driven by a family member, who hadn’t driven that stretch of U.S. 50 in the dark before.
Williams was driving a truck with a fifth-wheel trailer. He began tailgating the Granillo vehicle after it merged in front of him when a passing lane ended, according to an arrest affidavit.
He followed the Granillos, flashing his high beams and, when the young driver pulled over at about milepost 119, in Gunnison County, stopped, got out of his truck and confronted the occupants with a gun.
During the confrontation, members of the Granillo family said they were calling police. Williams returned the gun to his vehicle, then drove off.
Albert Granillo tried to keep Williams at the scene. He was standing in the space between the truck cab and driver-side door and fell when Williams drove away.
Granillo was dragged more than 300 feet beneath the trailer’s wheels, according to the District Attorney’s Office. He died in the arms of a teenage nephew, who was begging him to hold on, DeAnna Granillo said.
Albert, 46, died just weeks shy of his birthday.
Williams eventually pulled over, miles from the crash site after his wife, Virginia Williams, called dispatch and they were instructed to stop.
He denied having a gun, and Virginia also said there was no gun. However, a bicyclist traveling along U.S. 50 discovered a .380 Ruger a few days later and contacted authorities. The gun’s serial number came back to John Williams, and the firearm was scuffed up in a manner investigators said was consistent with it having been thrown.
Williams ultimately pleaded guilty to careless driving resulting in death, felony menacing, tampering with physical evidence and false reporting. Charges of vehicular homicide-reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and attempting to influence a public servant were dropped under the plea deal.
Virginia Williams previously pleaded to obstruction of a peace officer and false reporting. She was sentenced last year to two years of probation. In an apology letter, she expressed deep regret for failing to do the “morally right thing.”
The Granillo family would have liked a stiffer sentence for her, too, DeAnna Granillo indicated.
John Williams’ sentencing was open to the court, except that whatever time imposed for each count was to run concurrent.
“The District Attorney’s Office worked hard to get a final result in this case, and expresses their deep appreciation to the Granillo family,” District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said in a statement.
“The entire family has suffered a great loss, in a tragic incident that could have easily been avoided. There is no result possible through the criminal justice system that can turn back the clock and restore their family. Their communication with the District Attorney’s Office throughout this case has been invaluable, and it is hoped that the result today will promote continued recovery and healing.”
DeAnna Granillo said the family was not happy with the plea deal — including that Williams can apply for reconsideration of sentence after 126 days — and said as much to the judge.
“We were nowhere near in favor of this plea,” she said.
The Granillo family also is skeptical of Williams’ expressions of sympathy, DeAnna said.
“He had no sympathy for that night where he let his anger take control and kill somebody. He wanted leniency and mercy, yet he had no mercy, no leniency for my family that night,” she said.
Hotsenpiller on Friday acknowledged the family opposed the plea agreement. He said he understood the Granillos wanted a longer sentenced to be imposed.
But, he added, even if Williams — who had no significant criminal history and who was 69 on the date of the offense — had been convicted at trial on the original charge of vehicular homicide, he might not have received any prison time. The offense does not carry a mandatory sentence, Hotsenpiller said.
“Obviously, we have to consider everything and that includes input from the victim’s family, but it also includes everything else,” he said.
“It’s a dynamic we often face; the limits of the system as well as the likelihood of conviction and all the other circumstances we have to consider, and the goal of getting a resolution that is final. That is what we achieved in this case.”
Hotsenpiller added his deputy district attorney Jessica Waggoner had argued for the prison term that was imposed — and, he said, Williams deserved the sentence. Williams did not have to pull over to confront anybody that night, Hotsenpiller said.
“This (crime) did not need to happen. It could have been entirely avoided. He’s the one who produced the weapon. That’s really hard to confront, plus a lot of the family was present when this occurred. Those really are traumatic things,” the DA said.
The family still struggles, DeAnna Granillo said. On top of losing Albert, they also lost their mother just four months after his death — grief was the culprit, DeAnna said.
“My family is broken. My niece and my nephews, they can hardly speak on what happened that night. My nephew held my brother in his arms. … For a 16-year-old to go through something like that, we haven’t been able to process that. We’re processing what we have to deal with, to go through the court system with John Williams and Virginia Williams,” she said.
The victim’s sister also said John Williams had miles in which to calm down, but instead, pulled over and confronted the family.
“I want to know why. Why did he get out with that gun? Why pull over? That was never answered,” DeAnna said.
She said she wants Gunnison County to take road rage more seriously — and that Albert’s death should be a wake-up call in a state that reportedly sees high numbers of road rage fatalities.
“When is it going to stop? Our roads aren’t safe. … They’re not going to be safe with this type of lack of punishment,” DeAnna Granillo said.
If Williams makes a bid for sentencing reconsideration, the Granillo family will be there to oppose it, she also said.
Albert Granillo had planned to celebrate his birthday at Blue Mesa Reservoir in 2017. He’d also begun opening his own body shop in Pueblo. Those plans would never be realized. And his sister will never see his smile again.
“He always had this smile, a great big smile. He gave the best bear hugs. I don’t want to lose who my brother was,” she said.