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Man who stole Sno-Cat from Minturn and hauled it to Grand Junction sentenced

EAGLE — Jason Cuervo has had a year in jail to reflect on some things. One of those is the realization that stealing a Sno-Cat in broad daylight, in a drug-addled state, and driving it along Interstate 70 is a monumentally bad idea.

In fact, it’s such a monumentally bad idea that his mom exercised some serious tough love and told police where to find him and arrest him.

Cuervo admitted that he stole John Brandenburg’s General Lee Sno-Cat from Minturn, hauled it to a neighborhood west of Grand Junction in the high desert — not a Sno-Cat’s natural habitat — then eluded a SWAT team and fled to the Front Range. He also pleaded guilty to criminal offenses in Mesa, Clear Creek and Jefferson counties.

He’ll spend three years in community corrections, a residential program that oversees offenders outside of jail or prison. He also has to pay for $16,000 in repairs to the General Lee. If he messes up any of that, he goes straight to state prison, said Judge Rachel Fresquez, who handed down the sentence Tuesday.

Drugs to blame

Jason Cuervo stole a snowcat from the Turntable Parking Lot in Minturn and hauled it to Grand Juntion behind his tiny Toyota truck.

Cuervo has been an opioid addict and told Judge Fresquez that drugs are at the root of his behavior problems. His year behind bars has given him plenty of time to look at his version of “the ghost of Christmas future,” his attorney J.B. Katz said.

Tuesday’s sentencing was on the one-year anniversary of his sobriety, Katz said.

Cuervo apologized, but he said the time in jail helped him get sober and get his life on track.

“I have no desire to ever use again. I didn’t like the person I was when I was using,” Cuervo said. “I want to turn a new page in my life and leave these choices behind me.”

Deputy District Attorney Johnny Lombardi said Cuervo’s criminal history began as a juvenile in 2003. He asked that Cuervo be sentenced to four years in state prison.

Patty Cuervo, Jason’s mom, said her son is a different person now than the one who committed those offenses.

She said she made the arrangements to have him arrested in a Jefferson County auto dealership where he was having his small truck’s transmission repaired. He ruined it hauling the General Lee from Minturn to Grand Junction.

Some of his Jeffco problems stemmed from trying to swap marijuana to cover some of that repair bill.

Cuervo’s Sno-Cat saga

As you may recall, it was Sunday, March 11, 2018, when Cuervo stole Brandenburg’s orange General Lee Sno-Cat from the Turntable restaurant’s parking lot in Minturn.

Cuervo hauled the big, orange Sno-Cat west on Interstate 70, out of Eagle County’s alpine environment and toward Western Colorado’s high desert.

When it was stolen, Brandenburg called the police, but he first posted the GeneralLee’s picture on Facebook. Brandenburg says the tips poured in, and his Facebook post was shared 3,000 times.

People messaged and called to say they saw the huge trailer being towed by a tiny Toyota pickup truck. One of the General Lee’s co-owners, a pilot, jumped in his plane to search from the air.

The General Lee was spotted by a woman in Mesa County who was curious about why such small truck was pulling such a huge trailer — and straining to do it. In fact, she was so curious that she followed it. The woman called the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, which asked the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office for a little help.

Mesa County deputies showed up to serve a search warrant, which is about the time Cuervo barricaded himself in the house.

Sure enough, The General Lee was in a garage at the same house as Cuervo.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and Grand Junction Police Department SWAT teams executed the search warrant. They found the General Lee, along with weapons, ammunition, drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Cuervo managed to escape until he was arrested in Boulder while his truck was in the shop. His mom told the police where to find him.

Schools lag in hiring teachers to match student demographic

A steady rise in the number of Latino students in area public schools has prompted a push to hire a more representative mix of teachers and support staff to help serve that population.

And, Colorado Mountain College’s recently added new bachelor’s degree program for teacher certification could prove to be an important pipeline to help achieve that goal.

Currently, 126 of the Roaring Fork School District’s approximately 850 regular full- and part-time staff identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, or 14.8 percent. That’s according to district data for the current school year.

That, compared to a student population that is more than 50 percent Hispanic.

Of the approximately 500 district employees who work directly with the 5,600 students, 72 identify as Hispanic or Latino. That’s about the same percentage.

And, breaking it down to just teachers: out of 391, 21 were Latino or Hispanic, according to 2016-17 statistics available on the Colorado Department of Education website.

“The challenge for us is to hire and maintain a staff, especially teachers, that is representative demographically of our own student population,” said Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein.

For Garfield Re-2 and Garfield District 16, the percentage of Hispanic students is lower, at about 44 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Likewise, the number of Hispanic/Latino teachers is somewhat lower — seven out of 288 for Re-2 and just one out of 74 for D16, according to last year’s numbers.

CMC’s teacher education program now has its first group of fourth-year students doing their student teaching. That could help the district hire more teachers locally in general, and specifically more Hispanic teachers, Stein said.

“We have a lot of our own students who grew up here in the valley and want to go into teaching,” he said, adding that students who go off to get their teacher training elsewhere are less likely to come home.

Through CMC, Roaring Fork Schools and other neighboring districts such as Garfield Re-2, Garfield 16 and Eagle County Schools may be more likely to find teachers from this area who already have a familiarity with the local schools.

Of the approximately 200 CMC students majoring in teaching, 64, or 32 percent, identify in their student enrollment information as Hispanic or Latino, according to Barbara Johnson, who directs the college’s teacher education program. A little more than 50 percent are white.

Of the 100 or so students currently enrolled in teaching courses, 29 identify as Latino or Hispanic. And, of the 11 students in year four who are doing their student teaching this school year, five are Latina, Johnson said.

When the program started four years ago, CMC created limited marketing to attract Latino students to enroll, Johnson said. Current students are also asked to identify anyone, regardless of ethnicity, who would be a good teacher, she said.

“Our hope is that the teachers we produce will reflect the population of our communities,” she said. From the perspective of a K-12 student, “having a teacher who looks like ‘me’ is a powerful help to student learning and success.”

Attracting a more representative mix of teaching students by gender has been more challenging, she added. Program-wide, only 10 percent of CMC’s teaching majors are male.