Tristan Colvin was an outcast for over a year to many people he knew.
“They thought I was the drunk driving freak who killed his girlfriend,” Colvin said.
Colvin, 25, from Springdale, wore this label and avoided crowds because he felt condemned by public opinion and social media sites.
He was charged with being intoxicated and driving the wrong way two years ago on Interstate 49. London Holmbeck – his girlfriend and a passenger in his car – died in a collision with a other vehicle. She was 22 years old.
Colvin woke up a few days later at Mercy Hospital and learned not only of Holmbeck’s death, but also that he was suspected of having been drunk and causing the crash. He couldn’t remember the details of the crash, but, “I knew there was no possible way it could have happened that way,” Colvin said.
Benton County prosecutors charged Colvin with negligent homicide, aggravated assault and drunk driving for a third offense.
Then, on March 15 – about 20 months after the accident – the charges against Colvin were dropped.
Jonathan Nelson, Colvin’s attorney, said his client’s cellphone records showed he was not driving the wrong way. The police arrested the wrong person, he said.
The news has shocked London’s father Michael Holmbeck, who is awaiting justice for his daughter’s death.
“For 20 months we were told Tristan was guilty,” Holmbeck said. “London adored Tristan. He was the love of London. They were going to be engaged.
Colvin’s saga began at 8:53 p.m. on July 27, 2020. He recalled Holmbeck asking him to drive her to visit a friend in Bentonville. The two were on their way back to Springdale in a Chevrolet Cruze when the wreckage occurred near the Pleasant Grove Road exit in Rogers.
Zenda Staab, an Arkansas State Police Trooper, was driving north on the freeway and saw wreckage in the southbound lanes, Benton County District Attorney Nathan Smith said.
Staab, based on his observations, concluded that Colvin drove the wrong way and was responsible for the crash, Smith said.
Off-duty firefighters were trying to help Colvin when Sta-ab arrived on the scene. London Holmbeck was also in the car.
A firefighter asked Colvin how much he must have drunk. Colvin admitted to drinking before leaving his house, according to court documents. Staab said she could smell intoxicants coming from Colvin and her eyes were bloodshot and watery, according to the probable cause affidavit.
Colvin was taken to Mercy Hospital in Rogers. Holmbeck was pronounced dead at the scene, according to court documents.
Colvin woke up a week later in the hospital, his parents standing over him. They told him that his girlfriend was dead. He was later shocked to learn that the police believed he was responsible.
Colvin recalled taking a photo hours before the crash, but maintained he was not intoxicated and not driving the wrong way.
All the statements he made at the scene of the accident were not from intoxication, but from a serious head injury, he said.
He believes that false assumptions led to his arrest. He had two previous DWI convictions and an ignition interlock device installed in his car. The device has a breath alcohol analyzer and prevents the engine from starting if the alcohol content in the driver’s breath exceeds the preset limit.
Colvin believes the soldier saw the device and this reinforced his belief that he was intoxicated.
Staab completed state police training in 2019 at the age of 22 and was assigned to L Troop of the Highway Patrol Division, based in Lowell, according to a July 2019 press release from the Department of Arkansas Public Safety.
Colvin checked himself into the Benton County Jail after being released from the hospital. He spent little time in jail since his lawyer and prosecutors had agreed on his bail.
A test performed at the Arkansas Crime Laboratory found no alcohol in a blood sample from Colvin.
The other driver involved in the collision – Melina Cano-Gonzalez of Rogers, who was 18 at the time – performed a portable breath test, which showed a result of 0.18, according to a report of the crash. The legal limit in the state is 0.08. She was arrested at the scene.
She said in an accident report that the other person was coming the wrong way and caused the accident. Cano-Gonzalez, who was driving a Chevrolet Tahoe, told another soldier she had left Springdale and was heading to a motel in Rogers where she was living, according to a report.
The soldier observed that his eyes were red, bloodshot and watery and Cano-Gonzalez appeared upset and emotional, according to the report. She told the soldier she had consumed a quarter of a bottle of whisky, the report said.
She pleaded guilty in Rogers District Court in December 2020 to driving while intoxicated that night.
The criminal case against Colvin continued.
Nelson said he worked with assistant district attorney Thomas Gean to get cellphone forensics on his client’s phone, which led to the discovery that Colvin was driving in the correct direction on the highway.
“It’s a mix of emotions,” Colvin said. “I’m glad I’m not in jail, but London still isn’t here.” Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police, said the case involving Colvin is not officially closed, as the evidence is being re-examined, and Staab supervisors will soon ask a meeting with Smith.
Sadler said he was told there was an analytical report indicating the direction of Colvin’s travel could not be proven based on insufficient data.
Smith, the Benton County prosecutor, said cellphone location data collected after the crash showed Colvin north of the crash before the sinking.