UPDATED: Arrests made after another police chase, manhunt near Parachute; possible auto theft ring

Post Independent crime news graphic

UPDATE, Monday 3:35 p.m. — After another vehicle chase and ensuing manhunt on foot in the hills east of Parachute, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office reports it now has two people in custody.

Sheriff Lou Vallario said the suspects are possibly connected with earlier vehicle thefts and a chase that ended with an abandoned vehicle and reported break-in and theft at a cabin at Sweetwater Lake late last week.

Authorities in Garfield County are looking into a possible auto theft ring operating out of the Parachute area, which led to a second police chase in less than a week Monday morning.

“We had a couple more vehicles reported stolen out of Parachute today, and we think maybe what we’re dealing with is a theft ring,” Sheriff Lou Vallario said Monday afternoon.

The latest chase involved a truck stolen from a fleet yard. That led to a chase in which the suspect ended up driving through fences and fields before authorities ended the pursuit for safety reasons, Vallario said.

In the process, though, some evidence from a reported burglary and theft of firearms and ammunition at an unoccupied cabin at Sweetwater Lake in remote eastern Garfield County late last week was recovered, the sheriff said. Authorities now think the incidences could be related, he said.

One Sweetwater resident, Michael Davis, said residents of the area were on edge all weekend, not knowing if the suspect in that case was still on the loose.

The morning of July 23, a high-speed chase also involving a stolen vehicle that began in the Parachute area reached speeds of 100 mph along eastbound Interstate 70 all the way into Eagle County.

Law enforcement officials in Eagle County moved into position to intercept the white Ford F-350 truck, but backed off when the suspect was weaving in and out of traffic and reversing directions at interchanges.  

The chase eventually ended up on the Colorado River Road, and headed up the Sweetwater Lake Road. Several Sweetwater area residents reported sightings, and the truck was eventually found abandoned at a dead-end road near an unoccupied cabin on the Garfield County side.

Davis said the truck at one point drove through a cattle drive and knocked one of the cowboys off his horse.

Residents of the Sweetwater community were notified of the incident and updated through a reverse 911 system. At some point, the suspect is believed to have broken into a cabin and stole several firearms and ammunition.

“No one was on lockdown, but we did ask people to lock their door and cars to be safe,” Vallario said. “We have no reason to believe anybody involved is still hanging around Sweetwater.”

Police did conduct search efforts in the area using K9 teams on Thursday, and were back over the weekend talking to residents to gather more evidence, he said.

At this time, the suspect remains at large and no identification has been made. Some witnesses who saw the stolen truck described the suspect as possibly a skinny white or Hispanic male, but Vallario said they do not have a solid description.

Davis expressed concerns that not enough was done to locate the suspect that night, and that the area is lacking in the way of police protection.

“Most of the community up there feels very neglected,” he said, noting that the remote location and split jurisdiction between Garfield and Eagle counties poses some challenges. Davis said the neighborhood plans to arrange a meeting with the two sheriff’s offices to discuss protocol for future incidents.

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