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Victim Witness: Not just a job, but a passion for serving

Posted on 03/24/2017

Greeley, Colo. -- Nancy Plimpton never expected the call. Truthfully, no one anticipates being on the other end of a phone call that brings such angst and desolation. But on April 15, 2015, Plimpton stepped into a reality that would change her life forever.

Her daughter, Andrea Weiss, was driving home to Fort Collins where she lived with her partner. She never made it.

"That day, my daughter died in a road rage incident on Interstate 25," Plimpton said. "I got a Colorado State Patrol officer to get me to someone who was on site, and at the point, it was confirmed to me that there was a horrendous incident."

The woman who caused the accident, which killed two people and left two others injured, was charged and convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide.

  Woman leans over rotunda in courthouse
"I was trying really hard to be able to comprehend everything that was going to happen and understand what was going to happen," Plimpton said of the court process.

Like thousands of victims every year, Plimpton was thrown into the criminal justice system and wondered how to navigate the confusing nature of the courts. It's at this intersection the Victim Witness Unit steps into place and helps guide a victim through the process.

"We recognize that when they become a victim that they probably do not understand anything about the system, and this is not something they ever wanted to participate in," said Weld County District Attorney Victim Witness Coordinator JoAnn Holden. "It can be very overwhelming and frustrating and sometimes very lengthy."

Holden says crime victims rights in Colorado are all about treating victims with fairness, dignity and respect. Under the Victim's Rights Act, victims have the right to be informed about every step in the case, present at court hearings and heard by the Court at critical hearings throughout the process.

At least one Victim Witness Assistant is assigned to every case and is there to answer any questions a victim may have about upcoming hearings and help prepare for critical stages, such as sentencing.

"When I became involved, everything was made clear to me," Plimpton explained. "There was not one time that I asked a question where they made me feel stupid for asking it."

"We want to be sure that they understood everything that happened during the process and that they did the very best job that they could," Holden said. "We want them to be as whole as possible by the time that they finish the process in the criminal justice system and try to move on with their lives."

When entering the courts system, many victims are often surprised of the rights they have and the services offered to them. Alongside assistance from victim representatives, services like the Crime Victim Compensation Program, restitution assistance and referrals are offered to victims as well.

Woman laughs with woman"They've affected my life personally," Plimpton said. "It's a wonderful program. It does it's job, and that is to make people feel comfortable, to make people feel there's light at the end of the tunnel. It's loving. It's warm. It's really, really important to have that kind of association while you're going through something like that."

Holden said the victim witness staff in the Weld County District Attorney's Office approaches the work with empathy and compassion. "They are not here to do a job. They are here because they love their job. They just want the very best outcome for every victim."

"I want people to know that I hope you never have to meet any of us in our professional capacity," she continued. "But if you are a crime victim in Weld County, you are going to be very well taken care of."

"Throughout my whole experience with Weld County, I've come to have immense respect for them," Plimpton said. "They are just unbelievable people."

If you are a crime victim and would like more information about the Victim Witness Unit, click here.