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District Attorney decides not to file charges in Rangely officer-involved shooting death

RANGELY — No charges will be filed against Rangely Police Lt. Roy Kinney or any of the officers involved in the shooting death of Daniel Pierce, 58, last December. Ninth Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney outlined his reasons for the decision in a 12-page letter released earlier this month following the completion of an investigation conducted by the 9th Judicial Critical Incident Team.

Pierce, who moved to Rangely late last summer, had several altercations with the Rangely Police Department in the week prior to his death, according to the letter.

TIMELINE:

 Dec. 4, 2018: Lt. Kinney and Rangely Police Chief Vince Wilczek responded to reports from Rangely High School students about a man attempting to coax them into a van. Wilczek and Kinney identified Pierce as the owner of the van and spoke to him. Pierce's answers prompted Kinney to contact Pierce's mother in California, who told him her son had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic several years earlier.

– Dec. 8, 2018: The Rangely PD encountered Pierce again when bank personnel reported an incident in which Pierce told a teller "he was coming back Monday and Jesus was coming with him." Kinney contacted Pierce at home. During that interview, Pierce reportedly said he was Jesus Christ in the flesh and asked Kinney to examine scars on his feet and wrists. Kinney asked Pierce "whether Jesus Christ felt like hurting anyone or himself today," to which Pierce responded in the negative. Following that interview, Kinney contacted mental health personnel and was told Pierce was not subject to a mental health hold or commitment because he said he was not harmful to himself or others.

– Dec. 10, 2018: Pierce approached Lt. Kinney outside the Kum & Go store and told him, "the person who is causing all this trouble is in the school and has his girlfriend tied up in the basement." Later that night, a car was reported stolen from the Kum & Go store. Surveillance video indicated Pierce took the vehicle and left the parking lot. The owner of the vehicle told Kinney there was a rifle "that he did not think was loaded" in the front seat and ammunition in the vehicle, as well as a large knife.

– Suspect eludes officers: RBC Deputy Max Becker notified dispatch the stolen vehicle was southbound on Hwy. 139 and he was following the vehicle in a marked patrol vehicle, but would not initiate a traffic stop without back-up. Kinney responded to the request for back-up in his patrol vehicle. Chief Wilczek and Officer Tyrinn Hamblin (now interim chief) also responded, all in patrol vehicles with visible decals, lights and sirens.

Kinney caught up to the vehicle and passed it, at which time Pierce turned around and started heading northbound toward Rangely, ignoring demands via loudspeaker to pull over. Spike strips deployed by Wilczek deflated one front tire, but Pierce continued driving erratically, narrowly avoiding a collision with an oncoming vehicle. When Kinney attempted to pass Pierce, Pierce swerved toward the patrol vehicle. Kinney deployed a second spike strip, deflating the other front tire.

When Pierce attempted to turn left toward Rangely at the intersection of highways 139 and 64, Officer Hamblin was instructed to "bump" Pierce's vehicle, causing the vehicle to spin 360 degrees and stop facing northbound again.

With police vehicles on both sides and with Kinney's patrol vehicle in front of him, Pierce rammed Kinney's vehicle, causing extensive damage. Wilczek and Hamblin exited their vehicles, calling for Pierce to show his hands, which he did not do. As it appeared Pierce was about to ram Kinney's vehicle again, Wilczek said he was going to shoot out the rear tire in an attempt to further disable the vehicle. Still in his patrol vehicle, Kinney did not hear Wilczek's announcement, and when he heard the gunshot, he believed Pierce was shooting at Wilczek and Hamblin. Kinney fired twice through the windshield of the stolen vehicle, striking Pierce in the head. Within seconds, Wilczek fired an additional shot at the rear tires. All four shots were accounted for.

It was determined that Pierce was still breathing, and Kinney began efforts to get Pierce out of the stolen vehicle for the medical attention. Pierce was transported by ambulance to Rangely District Hospital where he later died.

Read more at theheraldtimes.com.

Jury delivers split verdict in trial of attempted murder of police officer

WELD COUNTY — A Weld County jury returned a split verdict Friday in the attempted first-degree murder trial of Eaton resident John Lockhart.

Lockhart was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, illegal discharge of a firearm and vehicular eluding following two separate shooting incidents during the early morning hours of June 11, 2017 in Greeley and Milliken. One of those two victims was an on-duty Milliken police officer.

After almost two full days of deliberations, the jury convicted Lockhart on the vehicular eluding charge, which is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to three years in prison. The jury found Lockhart not guilty of attempted first-degree murder and illegal discharge of a firearm.

As for count 3, attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer, the foreman said the jury was deadlocked. Weld District Court Judge Thomas Quammen declared a mistrial on that charge.

John Lockhart

The Weld District Attorney's Office has the option to retry Lockhart on the attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer charge, which appears to be the plan as Weld Chief Deputy District Attorney Tony Perea requested a status conference to discuss the case's next steps. The hearing takes place at 4:30 p.m. April 8.

Sentencing on the vehicular eluding conviction likely will be delayed until after Lockhart is retried.

Shortly after midnight June 11, 2017, Lockhart was involved in a road rage incident with Faustino Garcia while driving north on 8th Avenue through Greeley. Garcia, who took the stand this week, admitted to having a hazy recollection of the incident, as he had been drinking heavily at the White Horse Bar in Garden City.

Lockhart's version of the event included Garcia barreling down in his Ford SUV on Lockhart and his passenger, Amber Eaton, who were riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Lockhart told police he opened fire on Garcia, shooting seven rounds in total, but only after his Harley had been rear-ended or sideswiped two or three times.

But investigators say Lockhart stopped during the altercation to un-holster his semi-automatic pistol. Police say Lockhart then pulled in behind Garcia and fired on him, breaking out the rear window. Neither Garcia nor Lockhart were injured during the incident.

About an hour later, Milliken officer Katherine Lines encountered Lockhart and Eaton as they sped into town. Lines attempted to pull over Lockhart, but he accelerated to over 100 mph.

During the chase, Lockhart fired three rounds at Lines. One bullet entered her cruiser near the driver's side headlight. She also was uninjured.

Lockhart has been referred to numerous times since his arrest as a member of the Hells Angels. Greeley police Gang Unit Det. Mike Prill clarified on Friday Lockhart was a prospect with ambitions of joining the motorcycle gang at the time of the shootings.

Lockhart had painted his house black and red, the colors of the Hells Angels gang, Prill said. He wore a sleeveless jean jacket, or cut, with a small white patch on the right side, which is a symbol of the Nomads Chapter based in LaSalle, according to court records.

There is no evidence Lockhart was acting on behalf of the gang at the time of the 2017 shootings, Prill said.

Colorado State Patrol trooper’s death highlights concern over first responders’ safety

The death of a Colorado State Patrol trooper killed last week while assisting a stranded driver has fueled concern over the safety of first responders who put their lives in danger along Colorado roadways. (File Photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado State Patrol troopers buried one of their own Thursday.

Corporal Dan Groves, an 11-year member of the patrol based out of the agency's Greeley office, was struck and killed by a car while helping a stranded driver during last week’s historic blizzard.

His death has highlighted a statewide concern over the safety of first responders who risk their lives during traffic stops and other roadside duties. This comes as traffic officials have reported a spike in fatal crashes in recent years, underscoring the need for more responsible driving.

Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Scott Elliott works in and around Routt County, but he knew Corporal Groves and mourned his loss.

“He was a great guy and a great trooper,” he said of Groves.

Elliott understands all too well the risks law enforcement officers take when they conduct traffic stops along increasingly busy roadways.

“It can be downright scary sometimes,” he said.

He vividly remembers an incident from more than 10 years ago when his own patrol car was hit while he was responding to a crash in the Denver metro area. Fortunately, he was unharmed.

That day has been stamped in his memory as a reminder of what can go wrong during seemingly routine incidents. He added that many other law enforcement officials have faced similar, life-threatening situations on the roads.

“It happens a lot,” he said.

A law actually exists to protect law enforcement during traffic stops.  It is called the Move Over Law and requires drivers to, as the name suggests, move over when passing first responders. Those who can’t do so must slow down as they pass.

The law has been around since 2005, but lawmakers have buckled down on enforcement in light of subsequent tragedies.

In 2017, the state passed a bill increasing the fines and maximum jail time for offenders after another trooper, Cody Donahue, was killed during a traffic stop. Drivers now face 12 to 18 months in jail and up to a $100,000 fine if they do not move over or slow down for first responders.

Elliott explained troopers also do their best to stay out of harm's way when walking and standing along busy roads. They go through rigorous training on topics like roadside safety and traffic incident management. Troopers know to watch for dangerous drivers and try to find the safest spots to stop along roadways.

Despite their best efforts, reckless drivers are always a risk factor, especially in inclement weather.

“A lot of drivers on our highway just go way, way, way too fast for the road conditions,” Elliott said.

The issue of first responder safety is two-fold, according to Sam Cole, communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation's traffic safety unit.

First, most Coloradoans do not know about the Move Over Law. To that end, he and others from the department have taken to social media and digital message boards in the last week to inform the public and promote cooperation.

Second, drivers across the state have become more reckless in recent years as roadways get busier and more congested.

Cole explained fatal car crashes in Colorado have increased by 30 percent since 2014. That far outpaces the state’s population growth, which is up 7 percent from 2014.

“There’s just more people driving unsafely on the roadways,” Cole said.

He added that if people adopted safer driving behavior, especially around first responders, hundreds of lives could be saved.

“The best rule of thumb is if you see flashing lights on the side of the road ahead of you, slow down or move over,” Cole said.

Funeral services for Corporal Groves were held Thursday and included a seven-mile procession that started in Mead and ended at his church in Longmont.

An investigation of the accident that led to his death is ongoing.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

Headlight infraction leads to DUI, crystal substance found in vehicle

SILT — On Wednesday, a Silt police officer observed a vehicle leaving the Kum & Go on Main Street just after 2:30 a.m. without its headlights on, according to an arrest affidavit on file with Garfield District Court.

The officer made the traffic stop a few blocks later and requested the driver’s license, insurance and registration.

"While I was speaking to the driver, I observed his eyes were pink, I could smell an odor of burnt marijuana, and there was a small bag filled with marijuana in the door handle on the driver side," the affidavit states.

The driver said the last time he smoked marijuana had been a couple of days ago, the officer reported. The driver also said that he did not have a license on him. When the officer pressed the issue, he admitted his license had been revoked.

After running the driver's name through dispatch the officer found that he was revoked with four additional offenses.

The officer then had the suspect perform voluntary roadside maneuvers to check for impairment.

After completing the test, the officer requested a drug recognition expert and arrested the driver, 30, for further DUI investigation, according to the affidavit.

The expert said he believed the driver was impaired by a central nervous stimulant and he was unsafe to operate a motor vehicle on public roadways.

The driver admitted to using methamphetamine the day before, the affidavit states.

During an inventory of the vehicle, a white crystal was found on the floor of the driver side of vehicle. It tested positive for methamphetamine, the affidavit also stated.

Also on the floorboard there was a small baggie that was ripped open and had minuscule amounts of a white, crystal-like substance, the affidavit states.

The driver was charged with possession of a controlled substance and tampering with evidence, among other charges.

Craig resident gets warning after two pit bulls get loose: On the Record — March 21

Craig Police Department

Thursday, March 21

12:50 a.m. On the 800 block of West First Street, police in Craig assisted another police agency. Officers assisted the Moffat County Sheriff's Office with a juvenile who came to the Public Safety Center to turn themselves in on a warrant.

8:18 a.m. On East 13th Street, police assisted a motorist. Officers said the motorist was stuck on the street but did not need assistance.

10:05 a.m. On the 400 block of Barclay Street, police responded to an animal complaint. Animal control issued a Craig resident a verbal warning after two pit bulls escaped and were later detained.

12:09 p.m. On the 800 block of West First Street, police responded to a report of found property.  

2:45 p.m. In Craig, police executed a warrant and arrested a 22-year-old Craig man on a warrant from an outside agency.

10:30 p.m. At Timberglen Apartments, police checked on the welfare of a resident. A caller from out-of-town requested officers check on a female party after their phone conversation was abruptly interrupted. Officers said they responded to the apartments and found the subject no longer lived there.

According to the Craig Police Department incident log, police responded to at least 51 calls for service Thursday.

February hit-and-run on I-70 in Glenwood Springs officially ruled a suicide

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — After weeks of investigation, Garfield County authorities have ruled the Feb. 14 pedestrian fatality on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs was a suicide.

That night, longtime resident Connie Leckwold, 64, was killed when she was hit by an unknown vehicle on Interstate 70 near the Glenwood Hot Springs.

Since that time, local police have been trying to piece together what happened, interviewing friends, family and co-workers, as well as reviewing other available information, according to a Thursday Garfield County Coroner's Office press release.

Connie Leckwold

It was determined that Leckwold's death, based on the preponderance of medical and investigative evidence, was a suicide.

Post mortem toxicology was negative for alcohol or other drugs, states the press release.

There are no additional leads as to the vehicle or vehicles involved in the incident, but some witnesses in the area observed Leckwold near the interstate and police believe it may have been a semitrailer that was involved.

Leckwold (also known as Connie Meyers to those who knew her in Glenwood Springs), had worked as a valet at Valley View Hospital for several years. One of her co-workers said after the incident that Leckwold was known for her compassion for patients and families and they arrived and left the hospital.

Wallet stolen at City Market found with cash missing: On the Record — March 20

Craig Police Department

Wednesday, March 20

1:19 a.m. At The Popular bar, police in Craig responded to a drunk driver call. Craig police said officers checked the area, but did not find the vehicle.

8:43 a.m. Near the intersection of West Victory Way and Ranney Street, police in Craig responded to a traffic stop. Craig police said a driver was issued a verbal warning for excessive speed. Craig police responded to at least three other traffic stops throughout the day Wednesday.

7:20 p.m. On the 500 block of West Victory Way, police in Craig responded to a theft call. Craig police said upon investigation, they found a wallet had been stolen at the City Market. The wallet was later found in the bathroom with the money missing. Police are checking surveillance to identify a suspect.  

7:47 p.m. On the 700 block of Hospital Loop, police in Craig responded to an animal complaint. Craig police said a dog bit a Moffat County resident who owned the dog.

8:34 p.m. On the 1000 block of West Sixth Street, police in Craig responded to a suspicious person/vehicle/article call. Craig police said a male party was hanging around vehicles and officers responded but did not find the individual or anything suspicious in the area.

According to the Craig Police Department incident log, police responded to at least 44 calls for service on Wednesday.

Officials suspend large-scale search efforts for man missing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Large-scale search efforts have been suspended in Rocky Mountain National Park for a 70-year-old Tennessee man who reportedly went missing in the park at the end of February, according to park officials.

The family of James Pruitt of Etowah, Tennessee, confirmed that the man was in the Glacier Gorge area, located in the middle of the park to the east of the Continental Divide, and hadn’t been heard from since about 10 a.m. Feb. 28.

His vehicle was found March 3 parked at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, at an elevation of 9,240 feet. At that point, rangers contacted his family.

Pruitt arrived to the area on Feb. 22, according to his family, and it was his third winter visit to the park over the past three years.

James Pruitt leaving Safeway in Estes Park on Thursday morning, Feb. 28 at 9:48 a.m.

More than two feet of snow has accumulated in the Glacier Gorge area, making finding clues to Pruitt’s whereabouts even more difficult.

The overall search area encompassed about 15 square miles and included the Glacier Gorge drainage, the Loch Vale drainage and the Glacier Creek drainage. Searchers concentrated efforts in the heavily forested areas near Bear Lake and the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, the Nymph Lake area, Chaos Creek area, the Alberta Falls area, Lake Haiyaha, Mario’s Gully east of Lake Haiyaha and the winter trails to Mills Lake and The Loch. Off snow-packed trails, searchers encountered chest-deep snow in numerous areas.

Approximately 40 people were involved in initial operations, including 29 people in the field.

Assisting Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue team members has been Larimer County Search and Rescue, Rocky Mountain Rescue based in Boulder County, Diamond Peaks Ski Patrol, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team, numerous dog teams from Larimer County Search and Rescue, Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States, and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board.

On March 5, a multi-mission aircraft from the state assisted efforts with fixed-wing aerial reconnaissance over Sky Pond, Lake Haiyaha, Flattop Mountain and Bierstadt Lake.

Almost two feet of snow has accumulated in the Glacier Gorge area since the day Pruitt went missing. According to officials, the recent snowfall in the mountainous terrain make finding clues to the man’s whereabouts even more difficult.

Pruitt may be wearing a blue jacket, red or orange hat and microspikes on his hiking boots.

Park rangers are asking anybody that was in the Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake areas since Feb. 28, or who may have had contact with Pruitt regarding his planned route, call Rocky Mountain National Park at (970) 586-1204.

Patrols will continue to occur in the search area, and further actions may be considered as conditions improve. Reported clues will be investigated as appropriate.

Pruitt’s disappearance marks the first this year in the park, but the third since October 2018.

Twenty-year-old Micah Tice, a U.S. Air Force cadet candidate, was last seen in the park Nov. 24 in the Longs Peak area.And Ryan Albert, a 30-year-old man from New Jersey, was reported missing by a family member Oct. 5, who had last seen him leaving the previous day for Longs Peak.

Vast search efforts for both men have turned up little to no evidence since their disappearance.

Kremmling man pleads guilty to 2018 car burglary spree

GRAND COUNTY — A Kremmling man charged with multiple felonies following a string of car burglaries across Grand County last year pleaded guilty on Thursday and now faces potential prison time.

James Water Russell, 23, pleaded guilty in Grand County District Court to three Class-5 felony counts of first-degree criminal trespassing under the terms of a plea agreement.

Russell now faces up to nine years in prison, according to the court. He is scheduled to be sentenced at 10:30 a.m. May 9 by Grand County District Court Judge Mary Hoak.

Russell, along with Brook Lynn Ewing, 21, of Kremmling, were first identified by authorities in late October to be connected to dozens of car burglaries that had occurred in Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling.

“We had followed up on some leads from some evidence and after following up on those leads it directed us to those two people (Russell and Ewing),” Kremmling Police Chief Jamie Lucas said in November.

Ewing was taken into custody on charges of possession of a Schedule II narcotic and drug paraphernalia on Oct. 29, 2018 and was subsequently released on bond. At that time, Russell already had warrants out for his arrest related to charges of criminal trespassing, criminal possession of a financial transaction device, unauthorized use of a financial transaction device and theft. He was placed into the National Crime Information Computer.

Kremmling Police received around 15 to 20 reports of car burglaries on the west side of Kremmling on Oct. 28 and 29.

Squatter arrested by Craig police: On the Record — March 18, 19

Craig Police Department

Monday, March 18

12:12 a.m. On the 500 block of West Victory Way, officers of the Craig Police Department responded to a woman calling to report a burglary in progress. Upon investigation, it was discovered that her husband was the person banging on her door. When officers arrived, everything was OK.

11:07 a.m. On the 700 block of Stout Street, a dog reportedly jumped the fence and challenged a person, promoting the concern that the dog is vicious and a report was taken.

4:01 p.m. In Craig, officers investigated a report of possible child abuse or neglect.

4:30 p.m. On the 600 block of Colorado Street, officers responded to a call about a trespasser. A person was living in a woman's empty house. When officers arrived they arrested a 49-year-old transient man was arrested for first-degree criminal trespass.

7:21 p.m. On the 400 block of Yampa Avenue, a 27-year-old Craig woman was arrested for violation of a protection order.

9:52 p.m. On the 2000 block of West Victory Way, a man reportedly shoplifted alcohol. The incident is under investigation.  

Tuesday, March 19

9:59 a.m. On the 900 block of Yampa Ave, a cell phone was located and turned over to Craig police.

10:03 a.m. Near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and First Street, officers responded when the driver of a Ford F-150 crashed into a deer. The deer was not killed. There were no injuries to the driver, who was able to drive the vehicle after the crash.

11:21 a.m. On the 800 block of Ranney Street, officers responded to an animal complaint. It was the first of nine such complaints made on Tuesday including one report of an injured deer.

4:49 p.m. On the 400 block of Washington Street, officers responded to a possible restraining order violation. The person under restraint was reportedly calling and texting the protected person. A report was taken.

11:52 p.m. On the 2000 block of West Victory Way, officers responded to a possible shoplifting incident.

According to the Craig Police Department incident log, police responded to at least 27 calls for service on Monday, March 18 and 33 calls for service on Tuesday, March 19.