Violent crime the exception, not new norm
July 19, 2014
Any other time, a double homicide in El Jebel would be the crime news of the year for the region. Instead, it shares the position with Nancy Pfister's murder in Pitkin County, a shoot-out in Glenwood Canyon that left a Montrose man dead and a state trooper wounded, and a man slain in Gypsum and his son charged.
Add in the accidental deaths of Kathryn Kania, Audrey Lowndes, and George Hoskovec and myriad nonfatal cases — the attempted poisoning of two little girls in Carbondale, an assault with a tire iron in a Glenwood parking lot, a stabbing in Marble, an armed bank robbery in West Glenwood, a shooting near New Castle — and locals are left wondering what happened to their peaceful little communities.
These high-profile cases notwithstanding, crime is actually down year over year in Garfield County. The biggest drop in crime rates occurred at the height of the recession, quelling concerns that the economic downturn would drive theft. Although things have leveled out somewhat, they haven't returned to prerecession levels. In 2013, Garfield County Jail saw 91 fewer felony bookings than in 2012 and 272 fewer than in 2003. There have been 293 felony bookings in the first six months of 2014, a pace that is set to surpass last year but will likely still fall short of 2012.
The legalization of marijuana has led to a drop in possession charges, although trafficking, driving under the influence and possession by minors remain problem spots.
As for the string of high-profile incidents, local authorities believe it's a fluke.
"I think it's an anomaly," said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario. "If you look at our crime stats, most of those that occur in the area are lower level crimes."
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Ninth Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia agreed.
"These things come and go in waves," said Caloia, who estimated that felonies account for about 20 percent of her caseload.
Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson acknowledged that "these are all really significant things to our little community, but if you add them all up, it doesn't make a busy weekend in Denver."
Wilson cautioned against viewing a string of unrelated crimes as a trend. Some incidents, such as a pair of suspects arrested for kidnapping, the West Glenwood bank robbery and state patrol shootout, are likely products of proximity to an interstate highway.
Wilson stopped short of blaming visitors and newcomers for the incidents.
"We grow our own and we import them," he said.
Locally, most major incidents are a product of disputes between people who already know each other. For example, Fredy Cabrera remains in custody for the 2013 death of Douglas Menjivar, who was involved with Cabrera's stepdaughter.
"People tend to kill people they know," Wilson observed.
He also noted that statistics in a small community are easily skewed by a few highly active criminals, who can spike incident numbers for something like theft before they're caught. Mass communication and social media can also magnify perceptions, as folks tune into issues they may not have heard about before the Internet.
The reality is, of course, that the area has never been entirely free of violent crime.
The discovery of a skull and other human bones in a Vail construction site this summer dredged up memories of serial killer Ted Bundy, who twice escaped from custody in the 9th Judicial District in 1977. However, authorities have determined that the bones were not those of missing Bundy victim Julie Cunningham, and instead belong to an unidentified male.
Authorities advise avoiding complacency.
"I think concern is good," said Vallario. "Evil exists. We're going to have bad things happen."
Caloia highlighted an increased rate of sexual assault on minors in recent years.
"That's disturbing to me," she said. "Talk to your child. Make sure they feel comfortable to come to you or to someone else" if something bad happens to them.
In the end, Vallario urged residents to be alert and take basic precautions without living in fear.
"You can't leave your keys in the car anymore," he said, "but don't allow an occasional crime to ruin your lifestyle."