Vallario defends cave rescue |

Vallario defends cave rescue

Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff
Map courtesy U.S. Forest ServiceThe arrow points out Hubbard Cave, about 5 miles east of Glenwood Springs.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario on Monday defended his office’s actions in the Friday rescue of two Glenwood Springs-area residents from Hubbard Cave.

Vallario also said on Monday that an investigation is under way into the allegation that a Glenwood Springs police detective attacked a rescuer.

Vallario was criticized by the family and friends of Glenwood Springs resident Sherry DeCrow and Garfield County resident John Hadar for blocking friends and family members from getting to the mouth of the cave on Thursday night, delaying the rescue attempt until Friday morning.

DeCrow, 49, and Hadar, whose age wasn’t available, went into Hubbard Cave in Glenwood Canyon on the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 24, with flashlights but no food or water, said DeCrow’s daughter, Ramiah DeCrow.

According to an Associated Press story, Sherry DeCrow had intended only to show Hadar the way to the cave, but they decided to explore, the daughter said.

Their flashlight batteries died and the pair couldn’t find their way out. Family members filed a missing person report Tuesday.

On Thursday, a family friend who is a pilot spotted the car the pair took to the cave, from the air, Ramiah DeCrow said.

Ramiah DeCrow said Garfield County sheriff’s deputies wouldn’t let anyone get close to the cave prior to the rescue on Friday morning because they considered the area a crime scene after the couple was reported missing four days earlier.

Vallario said his office was responsible for the search and rescue attempt, so he had to use standard police procedures to keep everybody at the scene safe and under control.

“The sheriff’s department was the rescue effort,” he said. “What was hindering us was the family’s efforts to rescue them. . They’re just upset because I wouldn’t let them go up there.”

He said it’s somewhat common for the friends or family of a missing person or persons to question the way police investigate an incident.

The area was being considered a crime scene, so it was his responsibility to keep it intact.

“I brought the guys down, but the family wanted to go in,” he said. “I blocked the road to keep the crime scene from being tainted.”

The cave was considered to be a crime scene by Vallario because up to that point, the case was being investigated as a missing persons case. Vallario said his office had been involved in an extensive investigation with the help of the FBI, as well as the Pitkin, Mesa and Eagle sheriff’s offices and Denver-area law enforcement agencies.

“Everything indicated a missing persons case. There were ex-husbands and ex-wives. We thought it could be a double murder or a murder-suicide,” he said. “We never thought of looking for them at the cave because nobody ever told us they do that kind of stuff; in fact, they told us the opposite.”

Vallario said once deputies and Garfield County Search and Rescue personnel arrived, they went to the mouth of the cave, yelled in, and heard no replies.

Vallario then suspended the search around 10 p.m. because it began raining heavily and it was dark outside.

The next day, it took family members seven minutes to find the couple, he said.

Once Hadar and DeCrow were led out of the cave, Vallario said Glenwood Springs Fire Department medical personnel at the scene checked their health and pronounced them to be fine – not dehydrated as some of the friends and family members reported later.

“They want to expound this one version,” Vallario said. “They’re claiming they were dehydrated, but medical personnel said they were fine.”

Responding medical personnel were unavailable for comment.

Vallario also rebuked the couple for getting into the situation in the first place.

“Who put themselves in this predicament and didn’t tell anybody?” he asked. “If they told anybody, we would have found them Sunday night or Monday morning when they didn’t come out.”

Sherry DeCrow did not return a phone call on Monday and John Hadar could not be reached for comment.

Vallario said his office is investigating allegations that a Glenwood Springs Police Department detective attacked and tried to choke one of the civilian rescuers.

“A complaint was filed that a Glenwood Springs Police Department officer assaulted one of the family members,” he said. “I wouldn’t say he’d do that, because he’s a professional, but there was a lot of tension.”

Vallario declined to release the name of the accused detective.

“I can’t believe the trouble that’s been stirred,” he said. “We took a report, we found them, they were safe, end of story,” he said.

He said there were more than just family members at the scene, there were 20 to 30 people at the scene.

“The whole family did nothing but berate us,” he said. “We understand that the family is upset, but that’s also why they need to step aside and let us do our job and be professional. . The only point of confrontation was whether they could go in.”

Vallario said the friends and family of the two lost cavers cussed at sheriff’s department personnel as Hadar and DeCrow were helped from the cave.

“As they drove by, they flipped-off the people in the ambulance,” he said. “Why they were so upset and why they created so much negative energy, I don’t know.”

Vallario also countered a report that Hadar’s wallet, keys and a pile of white pebbles were found near the cave entrance.

“Investigators never saw any white rocks or a wallet,” he said. “We did it the way we do it, and I’d do it again the same way. People in law enforcement say this is one of the most bizarre things they’ve ever come across.”

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

Rescue Timeline

Sunday, 4 p.m.: John Hadar and Sherry DeCrow go to Hubbard Cave

Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.: Family reports two missing persons to Garfield County Sheriff’s Office

Tuesday-Thursday: Garfield County Sheriff’s Office investigates case as a missing persons case

Thursday, 6 p.m.: After an airplane pilot spots Hadar’s vehicle near the cave, the find is reported to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office. Rescue personnel arrive within an hour and begin to investigate the area.

Thursday, 10 p.m.: Search is called off for the night by Vallario because of darkness, heavy rain and improper equipment for search. Family members are angered because sheriff’s deputies bar them from entering the cave to keep the possible crime scene intact.

Friday, 10 a.m.: Friends and family of missing cavers allowed to search cave, couple is found within seven minutes.

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