Residents of the Wildridge and Wildwood neighborhoods in Avon awoke Saturday morning to news of a manhunt underway in their vicinity after a stolen vehicle led to a search of the area.
The recovered car in Wildridge was one of 13 vehicles that have been stolen in recent weeks in the region, prompting alerts not only in Eagle County but neighboring Garfield and Summit counties, as well. The Colorado Information and Analysis Center is currently working with a group of local agencies to determine just how widespread the recent thefts have been across the state.
According to information from the Avon Police Department, the Colorado State Patrol and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, five vehicles in total were stolen in Eagle County on Saturday, with at least one recovered. After a vehicle with a trailer containing at least one ATV was stolen in EagleVail, the suspects were caught in the act of swapping out vehicles at a trailhead in Minturn, when they jumped into another vehicle and fled.
Trooper Jacob Best with the Colorado State Patrol said a short pursuit ensued in the EagleVail area with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, but that pursuit was discontinued for safety reasons. The vehicle was later found abandoned on Wildwood Road and officers searched for the suspect in the nearby neighborhoods for about two hours, said Avon Police Chief Greg Daly.
“We went door to door, made sure everybody was OK, made sure there was no other stolen vehicles from that area,” Daly said.
Not pursuing in populated areas
While those officers were going door to door in Wildwood on Saturday, another vehicle was stolen in Edwards, Daly said.
That vehicle was later identified in Summit County, and Colorado State Patrol gave chase.
“Our troopers attempted to make a stop on that vehicle that came from Eagle County and reported stolen, and it also picked up at a high rate of speed, exited off recklessly at Silverthorne,” Best said. “Immediately our trooper discontinued the pursuit, because it went into a populated area. A couple minutes later, after they were canvassing around with Summit County deputies, they got a later report indicating that same described vehicle had sideswiped a (commercial motor vehicle) up Eisenhower at a high rate of speed, and that was the last we had observed it.”
Daly said each public safety office has its own procedures on pursuing vehicles, but in general, when having to choose between recovering stolen property and risking human life, officers tend to err on the side of not risking human life.
“In a lot of these pursuits, the officers have disengaged because of the driving actions of the individuals,” Daly said. “It is, at the end of the day, stolen property, so from that perspective, agencies always have to balance that against their driving action — driving 100 miles per hour on the shoulder around cars — agencies will not continue to pursue on that basis.”
Daly describes it as a quick, but critical, decision making process.
“You want to pursue and stop these events from occurring, but you don’t want to put members of the public unnecessarily in danger because of that pursuit,” Daly said.
Some thieves apprehended
Last week, Best said Colorado State Patrol officers received a traffic complaint of two vehicles traveling at a high rate of speed between Copper Mountain and Silverthorne.
“They matched the description of two vehicles that were still outstanding and had been reported stolen from the Avon area,” Best said. “Our troopers located the two vehicles traveling together from Clear Creek into Jefferson County, they attempted to make a stop which engaged a pursuit, which immediately dumped off into the side streets of Highway 6.”
The officers then called off the pursuit, “just because you start going into populated areas, obviously we are going to try to mitigate and manage our risk as much as possible,” Best said.
In Garfield County last week, Colorado State Patrol officers were able to apprehend some car thieves after a chase.
“One of our troopers (used tire-deflation devices) to stop one of the stolen vehicles, and that was also tied to some thefts and attempted vehicle thefts in the Eagle area,” Best said.
In a release issued Saturday, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said some of the activity was from out-of-state thefts which had made their way to Garfield County via the I-70 Corridor, and that there were car thefts occurring in Mesa County, as well.
“Many of these thefts have resulted in subsequent pursuits placing not only law enforcement personnel in danger but also the general public,” Vallario said. “The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, in cooperation with the Colorado State Patrol and local municipal Police Departments have been successful in stopping and apprehending several individuals involved in these thefts. It is unclear yet whether these thefts are a part of an organized effort or simply opportunistic.”
Guns and meth
In addition to their willingness to engage in high-speed evasive action, the thieves have also proven themselves dangerous in the evidence they’ve left behind — namely that related to guns and methamphetamine.
Daly said firearms have been found in at least two of the recovered vehicles, another gun has been stolen from a vehicle, and there’s been evidence of meth use in the recovered vehicles.
“We would not want any of our residents to approach these individuals,” Daly said.
The suspects have used the punch method of stealing cars — where a tool is used to enter the vehicle and start the ignition — and have also opted for the less-invasive frosting method, where the opportunist drives away in an unattended vehicle that has been left running.
Daly said in his 24 years as a cop in the area, he has never seen car thieves as brazen as the people who have hit Eagle County in recent weeks.
“I’ve never seen this level of theft of vehicles, especially in one area and again in the same area,” he said. “It’s highly unusual.”
Daly said the public should not leave cars running and unlocked, do not leave cars unlocked with the keys inside, and do not leave valuables in the car.
“If somebody does try and steal or break into your car, please do not approach them,” Daly said. “Call 911 immediately.”
‘That’s not what we need’
Jacob Best with the Colorado State Patrol said the public can be most helpful by simply understanding that the thieves are working our neighborhoods here in Eagle County, so suspicious behavior should be reported immediately.
“Don’t engage, but call us early,” Best said. “We’ve had people call us 24 hours later, that’s not what we need. We need people to call us immediately when they start seeing things that are suspicious.”
Best said thieves looking for a crime of opportunity of one sort — like stealing a running car — may find other opportunities along the way.
“They’ll do a bunch of other crimes along with it,” Best said.
In one recent example, “They couldn’t steal the car, but they took credit cards and went to the next store and bought a bunch of gift cards on that person’s credit card, and racked up thousands of dollars worth of debt, but now they’ve got these cash cards that are untraceable,” Best said.
Six more attempted thefts have been reported in addition to the 13 cars stolen in recent weeks. It’s also important to note that those cars aren’t necessarily the nicest cars on the street, Best points out.
“Between last week and this week, we’ve had a couple cars that were older model Audis and pickup trucks, but nothing really specific,” Best said. “Some cars that were running and idling were higher end, and that were easy steals, so nothing specific to where it’s older model cars or newer model cars.”
The Colorado Information and Analysis Center has helped local agencies from across the state see the connections between the automobile thefts in their areas.
“That’s how we’ve learned that all this stuff is going on in Summit County, Eagle County, Lakewood and the Denver Metro Area,” Best said.