Help make the punishment fit the crime

By Tom Johnson
Daily Pilot
May 12, 2006

I never knew Bubba Kapko. But from what I’ve heard, I would’ve liked him.

The 19-year-old 2003 Estancia High School graduate left home last August to attend Johnson & Wales University in Denver.

Bubba, or Brian if you called him by his formal name, appeared to have his whole life in front of him. College, a multitude of friends, a tight-knit family, a sense of peace and closeness to God, an outgoing personality, a terrific sense of humor and a great laugh, or so I’ve heard. He was athletic, playing football in high school, and was liked by everyone he met.

Who could ask for anything more?

But in the early morning hours of Aug. 28, 2005, Bubba’s life ended in a car crash, forever changing the lives of his family and friends.

You see, Bubba and four of his friends, including high school pal Kris Hartwell, were traveling back to Denver following a volleyball tournament in Boulder, Colo. It was just a group of guys having fun, doing what college kids should be doing.

So what happened?

According to the police report in Arvada, Colo., the accident occurred as police were chasing a stolen red Honda that, as it merged from one freeway to another, hit two other vehicles, one being the Toyota 4Runner carrying Bubba and his friends.

Bubba was the only person killed.

The death of a child — it’s a thought that every parent has had to fight back against on more than one occasion. Nothing, nothing could be worse. This time for Rick and Nancy Kapko, Bubba’s parents, that bad dream became reality.

So why do I bring up this sad occasion nine months after the fact?

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Kapko family friend Cathi Hartwell.

The e-mail pointed out that one of the two people in the stolen car, Dennis White, has pleaded guilty to charges of second degree murder and criminal attempt-second degree murder.

His sentencing is set for June 16, 2006, in the courtroom of Judge Christopher Munch at the Jefferson County Court in Golden, Colo.

The sentence for this plea is 26 to 80 years. Munch, however, will consider all victim-impact statements prior to his decision.

According to Jean LoSasso, a victim witness specialist in the Jefferson County district attorney’s office, letters from the public, or victim-impact statements as they are called, are encouraged to let Munch understand how this crime has affected other people’s lives and any specific sentencing recommendations people might have.

Imagine for a moment that you were standing in the Kapkos’ shoes. You’ve lost your son, or daughter for that matter. You’re virtually helpless in dealing with the overall situation, while seemingly standing alone on the sidelines.

But then a community, your community, rises up and supports your seemingly lost hope.

That’s what we can do and should do. Consider the few minutes it would take out of your life to write a letter of support for the Kapko family in calling for the right action against the accused in this senseless killing.

Letters, faxes or e-mails should be directed to: Judge Christopher Munch, c/o Jean LoSasso, Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, 500 Jefferson County Parkway, Golden, CO 80401. The fax number there is (303) 271-6785 and the e-mail is

One thing I’m almost certain of is that Rick, Nancy and Bubba’s two brothers, Matt and Adam, will be sitting in that courtroom that mid-June morning. Let’s remind them that despite them being four states away, they are not alone.

It’s what you would want, but more importantly need, if you unfortunately changed places.

The other accused, Matthew Wartena, is scheduled for a jury trial on Aug. 21, 2006. He is being charged with murder in the first degree and 10 other counts.