Judge's gavel on grey table.

Ruben Marquez, 30, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for driving a truck into a crowd of people outside a Golden bar last fall, killing one person and injuring several others.

In August, Marquez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, three counts of vehicular assault, and one count of attempted second-degree assault. The parties previously agreed to a 30-year sentence in the plea agreement, although how much time Marquez served for each charge was subject to the court’s ruling.

Adrian Ponce, 26, was killed in the Oct. 9 incident. Three people were seriously injured, including Rock Rest employees, and other people at the scene sustained minor injuries.

On Sept. 22, Judge Lindsay VanGilder sentenced Marquez to 30 years for the second-degree murder charge, 10 years for the vehicular assault charges, and 12 years for the attempted second-degree assault. The latter two will be served concurrently with the first.

VanGilder also ordered Marquez to pay about $350,000 total in restitution for Ponce’s funeral expenses and related costs, two victims’ medical expenses and other damages at the scene.

Closure and forgiveness

On both Sept. 15 and Sept. 22, Ponce’s family members and friends asked for the heaviest possible sentence against Marquez, saying they’ve been devastated by the loss. In the wake of the Oct. 9 incident, his family members have struggled with anxiety, depression, nightmares, and a constant fear of death, they described.

Ponce’s loved ones described him as a caring, attentive and friendly person who made sure everyone felt included. His mom said he’d always run errands for her and fix things around the house, and had a talent for cooking. He loved his family with all his heart, they said, especially his two young children.

Ponce’s wife, Ashlie Pena, recalled how, the day before Ponce’s death, the family went to the pumpkin patch and had dinner together. While she was thankful for such a memory, she was devastated it was the last day the family spent together.

Now, her 4-year-old son asks regularly about his dad as he can’t fully understand what happened, adding that his behavior has changed dramatically over the last year. His 2-year-old daughter only knows him through photos, she said.

“My husband, my best friend, my children’s father is gone, and he’s never coming back,” Pena continued. “… This is my new reality.”

Ponce’s mom and siblings also described how they’ve struggled to cope with losing their son and brother. His brother said Marquez stole Ponce’s future and the time the family members would’ve had together, and many of his loved ones said they wouldn’t be able to forgive Marquez for what he’d done.

“It shatters my heart,” Ponce’s mom said. “ … My son didn’t deserve any of this.”

In his personal statement, Marquez hoped Ponce’s loved ones and the other victims would be able to forgive him — not for his sake, but for theirs. As his defense attorneys described, Marquez could uniquely identify with their case, as he’s been in the same situation.

Marquez’s older brother, 30-year-old Fausto Marquez, was killed at a Denver birthday party in June 2020. After two years of proceedings, the man charged with the crime was convicted of first-degree murder, and Marquez attended his sentencing last summer.

He told those present Sept. 22 that forgiveness would “help them in the long run,” as it helped him after his brother’s death. He apologized to all the victims for what happened Oct. 9, saying it wasn’t reflective of the type of person he is.

“No one deserves to die,” Marquez continued.

Robert Fulcomer, a Rock Rest employee who was seriously injured, stated in a letter to VanGilder how much his injuries have and still take a toll on his life. However, he was grateful to the hospital staff, the prosecutors and victim advocates, and his loved ones who’ve helped him this past year.

Although their lives are forever connected by the events of Oct. 9, Fulcomer hoped Marquez would become a better person, saying, “His past doesn’t equal his future.”

‘The wrong decision’

Marquez and two of his cousins went to celebrate a birthday at the Rock Rest Oct. 8, 2022. Ernesto Avila, who owns the truck, drove the group to the bar.

Marquez was on parole for previous felony convictions and wasn’t supposed to be drinking. His defense attorneys admitted this was a serious error in judgment, and that Marquez was highly intoxicated when the bar closed Oct. 9.

At that point, Ponce and a friend and Marquez and his cousins had a verbal confrontation that escalated into a fight in the parking lot.

In outlining Marquez’s background, his defense attorneys said he was a victim of child abuse around age 6. At 14, he and his mom were assaulted in their home, during which Marquez was stabbed several times. Then, his older brother was killed in 2020.

Thus, amid the chaos and violence outside the bar, they said Marquez’s instinct was to protect himself and his family.

Additionally, Marquez is virtually blind and typically wears glasses, they described. The glasses were likely knocked off his face in the fight, as they were later found on the truck’s passenger-side floor, his defense attorneys said.

Amid all these conditions, they said Marquez made “the wrong decision” in getting behind the wheel, but believed he didn’t intend to hit anyone.

The truck was pulled over shortly after the incident, and those victims with serious injuries were hospitalized. According to prosecutors, Fulcomer wasn’t cleared to work for months; fellow employee Michael Gause had a traumatic brain injury and 47 staples in his head, and didn’t return to work until March; and patron Ronald Fisher suffered broken bones and a head injury as well.

Four others received minor injuries, including Ponce’s friend. Those who witnessed the event described it as being chaotic and scary, with one telling prosecutors, “I never want to see anything like that again.”

Avila, who was driving the truck when it was pulled over, is scheduled to be sentenced for three misdemeanor counts, including driving under the influence. His sentencing is 2:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

After almost a year of emotional and stressful proceedings, VanGilder hoped Marquez’s sentencing would help bring all those impacted some amount of healing and closure.

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