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Trooper is ‘part of our family’

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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In the aftermath of the shooting of a state patrol trooper Tuesday, two local police chiefs reflected on how the wounding of one of their own affects their departments. Both Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson and Rifle Chief Daryl Meisner said their first thoughts were for the fallen officer.Meisner, whose staff was mobilized during the manhunt for the suspected shooter, said, “The first thing you hope is it goes well with the officer. … Although Trooper Koch is not of our department, he’s part of our family. Then it’s, ‘OK, what do we need to do to help?’ We’re very action-oriented.”The suspect, Steven Appl, 33, was stopped on Garfield County Road 346, which runs between Rifle and Silt just south of Interstate 70, on Tuesday night. According to police reports, there was an altercation, shots were fired and Colorado State Patrol (CSP) Trooper Brian Koch, 38, was hit twice in the chest and in the forearm. Fortunately he was wearing a bullet-proof vest that prevented the bullets from penetrating his chest. Appl fled in his car and went off the side of the Dry Hollow Road about three miles south of where he was stopped. According to details revealed by police and the District Attorney’s Office Thursday, Appl holed up in a house on Dry Hollow Road during the intense manhunt that ensued after the shooting.Appl committed suicide Wednesday in the back of a truck driven by Cori Elizabeth Graham when she was stopped at a checkpoint at the intersection of the Dry Hollow and County Road 346. When she was asked for identification, she reportedly pushed her way out of the truck. At the same time, officers heard a shot and found a man dead of a gunshot wound to the head in the back seat. Garfield County Coroner Trey Holt has confirmed that Appl died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.Wilson, whose department was not involved in the manhunt, said when he heard about the shooting his reaction was, “You know the guy and you know his family, and you pray he’ll be OK. Then it’s, ‘Let’s get the bad guy caught.'”Meisner said this isn’t the first time a policeman has been shot in Garfield County. In May 1986, Rifle officers were called out to a domestic disturbance in town. “As they approached the suspect ambushed them,” he said. One of the officers was hit with a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. There was a standoff for a few hours, while police spoke to the man, who was inside his home, urging him to give himself up. They finally talked him into surrendering, the man was convicted and served a long prison term, Meisner said.What saved the officer, as it did Trooper Koch, was a bullet-proof vest. Vests became standard issue for law enforcement officers in the ’80s, Meisner said.These days, “anyone who doesn’t (wear one) is not very smart,” he said.Both Meisner and Wilson have turned the incident to positive use. “It serves as a constant reminder that what we do on an everyday basis is risky,” Meisner said. “(Such situations) help raise the level of vigilance.”Wilson said he doesn’t want his less-experienced officers to get paranoid when something like this happens.What keeps that paranoia at bay are the procedures and constant training that keep everyone sharp.”Any time a situation like this happens in the law enforcement community … we try to incorporate what was learned and maybe come up with a safer way or a way to prevent it,” Wilson said.But meeting up with the bad guys is one of the realities of law enforcement. Ironically, it’s not the unusual situations that have the greatest potential for violence. Wilson said most police shootings take place during routine traffic stops “when they’re most exposed, especially the state patrol. They are out there putting themselves into perilous situations.”Over the years, local law enforcement agencies have become better at handling incidents such as the Tuesday shooting and subsequent manhunt.”Agencies recognize their limitations and are quick to ask for help,” Meisner said. “In the last 10 years we’ve had a lot of training.”Agencies now use an incident command system with one or two people in charge and an established chain of command to make decisions quicker and more effective.During Wednesday’s search effort, CSP and the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office were in charge.”From an outside perspective, they did pretty well keeping it moving,” Meisner said. When an officer gets shot, resources tend to be greater and marshaled more quickly. “Because the CSP was involved there was no shortage of troopers (available for the search).”However, when it comes right down to it, avoiding a potentially dangerous situation is a matter of experience.”You have to get where you believe and trust in your gut instinct and trust your skills of observation,” Wilson said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 16605dgray@postindependent.com


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