Collins SR 260 accident case assigned to new judge

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Michael R. Bluff listens to comments from defense attorney Alex Harris Wednesday in the Seth Collins case. With the state withdrawing from a plea agreement, the case will now be assigned to a new judge and more forward for a jury trial. (VVN/Halie Chavez)

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Michael R. Bluff listens to comments from defense attorney Alex Harris Wednesday in the Seth Collins case. With the state withdrawing from a plea agreement, the case will now be assigned to a new judge and more forward for a jury trial. (VVN/Halie Chavez)

CAMP VERDE – Prosecutor Patti Wortman told the court the State feels it’s right back where it was two years ago Wednesday when Seth Collins rejected a plea agreement with a stipulated 15- to 20-year prison term.

Therefore, after speaking with victims, the prosecution did not wish to proceed with sentencing under a subsequent deal Collins pleaded to in October 2016 and requested the three cases against Collins be assigned to a new judge. Judge Michael R. Bluff previously rejected the stipulation of a sentencing range of 21 to 25 years, finding the sentencing range too harsh for the charges against Collins.

“It is unfortunate the State is compelled to drag this out,” said defense counsel Alex Harris. “Mr. Collins was prepared to go forward.”

In addition to a new judge to hear his case, Collins also will be appointed a new lawyer when the case is reassigned. Harris told the court Wednesday that she is being reassigned to the appellate division of the Public Defender’s Office and a new trial lawyer will be assigned to represent Collins.

“Seth’s family is supportive and loves him dearly, and are also disappointed with the State,” Harris said.

Victim representatives were not present in the courtroom.

Judge Michael R. Bluff ordered the cases be assigned to another criminal division. He has been the judge in the cases since they began in 2015.

The order to vacate comes just after the three-year mark since the accident on SR 260, which required five medical helicopters to transport the injured victims to hospitals in Flagstaff and Phoenix.

“Before I leave the case I would like to say this; I feel a responsibility in the case going on for so long. There were a lot of legal maneuverings,” said Bluff. “I feel bad for the victims and I feel bad for Mr. Collins. It was the first time I got to look [at the stipulation] and I decided it was not appropriate.”

There are three separate cases which are moving collectively to a new division. Collins was arrested in 2015 for dangerous drug possession/use and drug paraphernalia charges in Camp Verde. He was indicted while in custody for other drug charges in a separate case.

The Nov. 2014 accident case includes 12 counts of aggravated assault, two counts of endangerment, four counts of aggravated DUI, criminal damage, possession of methamphetamine, possession of diazepam and two counts of paraphernalia, for 23 counts total.

In a previous hearing, it was estimated Collins would face 168 years maximum if found guilty on all charges in a jury trial.

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