Shooting details emerge

Deputy who used deadly force says he had no choice

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MEEKER -- Rio Blanco Sheriff's Sgt. Anthony Mazzola shot Meeker resident Everett Link nine times Friday night-- six times in his side and back.

"There was no doubt in my mind that it was either him or us," Mazzola said Tuesday. "I know in my heart that I did what I had to do. There was no choice."

The shooting ended a short chase in which officers cornered Link in his pickup after deputies responded to an alleged domestic violence incident on Piceance Creek Road.

Link, 39, allegedly had a loaded shotgun raised and was turning toward Mazzola's car and the driver, Deputy Jeremy Lancaster.

Mazzola emptied 15 rounds from his .40-caliber pistol. Some of the bullets hit the truck and surrounding area. Four loaded guns and 675 rounds of ammunition were pulled from Link's 1987 Chevy half-ton pickup, Rio Blanco Sheriff Si Woodruff said.

Residents of Meeker are trying to grapple with the loss of a man considered by some as a nice guy who "wasn't a murderer." A funeral is scheduled for today.

Police took the call at about 8 p.m. Friday that Link had fired a weapon several times and once in the direction of his girlfriend.

Link's ex-girlfriend, Bridget Rondell, said Link was upset Friday night after having a conversation with his girlfriend.

Rondell lives in the main house on a ranch on Piceance Creek Road, and she said Link lived in a trailer on her property. Link had worked for her as a ranch hand for the past 6 1/2 years. Rondell called Link a longtime best friend and an "excellent marksman" with whom she loved to hunt, fish and rope horses.

On Friday night, Rondell said she and her 17-year-old daughter, Kassandra Rieke, and some other friends were playing cards. Link entered the house with his girlfriend and then went outside with her to talk. When he came back in he was "very emotional" and held a gun to his head, saying he wanted to kill himself.

Then he pointed the gun at Rondell.

"He asked me to kill him," Rondell said with her attorney present. "I told him I need to figure out a solution, and then he left."

Rieke reported the incident to police using a cell phone as she and Rondell headed into Meeker to the Sheriff's Office, but Rieke said she wasn't calling because she feared for her life. Neither Rondell nor Rieke knew whether Link had assaulted his girlfriend, they said Tuesday.

But police say they received a report that Link allegedly had shot a weapon twice in his trailer in the direction of his girlfriend and choked and slapped her. They said they had information that Link had been drinking alcohol. Neither the results of a toxicology report or an autopsy were available Tuesday.

Seven Rio Blanco sheriff's deputies and two officers from the Meeker Police Department staked out different areas on the perimeter of the ranch, made a phone call into the house and left a message after no one answered, Rio Blanco Undersheriff Mike Joos said.

"We were just letting time be in our favor," Joos said. "We heard he had been drinking, but we didn't know where he was."

During this time, Joos and Woodruff were returning to the scene with two Tasers the department recently had purchased but never used. The stun guns sat in their original boxes Tuesday at the Sheriff's Office.

At about 11:30 p.m., police said Link drove his pickup down a hill from behind where the police vehicles were stationed.

A chase ensued after police determined Link was behind the wheel.

Three police vehicles followed the truck onto Rio Blanco County Road 71, which soon turned into C.R. 5.

"That's when I told those guys to take him out," Joos said, instructing police by radio to ram Link's truck. After being hit by a police car, Link's truck rolled about 100 yards off the road into a ravine. Link got out of the vehicle and was standing up and turning while raising the gun toward the police cars behind him, police said. Link fell onto a cattle guard on the dirt road after being shot, Woodruff said.

One of Mazzola's rounds went through Link's heart, police said. Link never fired the Remington 10-gauge in his hand, Woodruff said, but a shell was in the chamber and two more were in the magazine. That type of shotgun usually holds three shells, he said.

"Everybody acted very professional," Woodruff said. "It's not the outcome we wanted, but at the end of the day all of our officers were able to go home to their families, and that's the bottom line."

Mazzola, 42, is a Meeker native who has been with the Sheriff's Office since 1991. He said he had no prior experience in law enforcement.

"It's the first time I've taken a shot on duty," he said. "I honestly thought in my career I'd never have to use a weapon. Nobody ever wishes to have to go through this. My heart goes out to the family."

Woodruff said Mazzola probably would be reinstated to the force after the Colorado Bureau of Investigation reviewed the case. He estimated that might take as long as two weeks.

The case will then be forward to the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office to determine whether charges will be filed.

Woodruff said he had no doubt that the investigation would show law enforcement acted prudently.

However, Rondell called the incident a "family tragedy."

She declined to comment whether she would pursue charges against the Sheriff's Office for Link's death until the CBI investigation is complete.

One Meeker resident who did not want to be identified said she didn't think "it was the cop's fault" but she thought Link's actions made it seem as if he wanted to get shot.

Still, she thought police should have tried to wound Link instead of fatally shooting him.

Another Meeker resident who didn't want to be named said Link was a "good guy."

According to court documents, Link had a couple of alcohol- related driving cases in Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.

Jeff Rieke lodged a restraining order against Link in February 2001, but Rieke pulled the order a couple weeks later. It's unclear whether Jeff Rieke is related to Kassandra Rieke.

"I can't think of anybody who didn't like Everett," Rondell said. "We don't want him to be looked at as some sort of villain or psychopath."

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