Wal-Mart worker slain, killer loose
The gunman who killed a Glenwood Springs man remained on the loose Monday after escaping from Wal-Mart, the scene of the shooting, and disappearing into nearby hills.
Glenwood Springs resident Tom Lubchenco, a well-known local artist and employee of Wal-Mart, was shot to death while at work Sunday night.
Glenwood Springs police have no suspects in the killing and released little information to the public.
Another unidentified worker at the store suffered injuries when he was hit in the head with a shovel.
The store was closed all day Monday while authorities investigated the crime.
According to Phil Riley, a witness who was inside Wal-Mart at the time of the shooting, Lubchenco was shot in an upstairs area of Wal-Mart around 11:30 Sunday night. The area is located up a set of stairs from the lay-a-way area on the east side of the store.
“He was pretty much my best friend at work,” Riley said. “He was a great guy to work with.”
Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson said his department was notified of the shooting at 11:28 p.m. He described the suspect as a 5-foot 10-inch tall white male with a thin build, wearing a black baseball cap and a black jacket at the time of the shooting.
Wilson declined to release specific details about the shooting itself.
After their arrival, police conducted a search of the store property and adjacent hillside. They tried to track the suspect using a police dog and infrared night vision devices, but couldn’t find him.
Riley said the suspect may have been wearing a ski mask while the crimes were committed.
“I have a large team of investigators who have been working on the case for the last 20 hours,” Wilson said.
Riley said shelf stockers and cleaning crew personnel were inside the store when the shooting took place.
“I was in the middle of it,” he said. “It was a mess.”
Riley guessed that the suspect could have hidden somewhere in the store while it was still open, coming out of hiding sometime after it closed at 9 p.m.
“It seems like the person who did this was hiding in the attic where we store shelving,” Riley said.
Riley said Lubchenco’s wife, Ruth, confronted the robber. He seized her and took her upstairs.
“His wife confronted the person, I think he grabbed her at that point. Then Tom went upstairs, then he let her go and tied him up,” he said.
After the shooting, as the suspect was leaving the store, he reportedly hit one of the floor workers on the head with a shovel.
“He pointed the gun at him, then he went into the garden center and grabbed a shovel,” Riley said.
Riley couldn’t figure out the suspect’s motive.
“When the store closes, the money goes into a safe. I don’t know what he thought he was going to do, steal a sleeping bag? It’s pretty strange,” he said.
The shooter next ran to the B-side, or north side, of the store.
“Various people were running around,” Riley said.
Police arrived at Wal-Mart just after 11:30 p.m. and ordered everyone to get on the floor, Riley said.
“Then they came in with every kind of weapon you could imagine,” Riley said. “When the EMTs and fire department came, they took (the injured worker) out on a gurney. Because they didn’t bring Tom out, the realization came over everybody that he was deceased.”
The remaining workers were rounded up by police and ordered into the electronics department. They were finally released from the store around 2 a.m.
“This is big-city stuff. This is why I moved here from L.A. – to get away from this kind of stuff,” Riley said.
Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams, who was on his way to Glenwood Springs Monday to help deal with the situation, offered a statement on Lubchenco’s death.
“We are greatly saddened and upset at what happened at our store Sunday. We’ll be sending some support to help our store in Glenwood Springs,” he said.
“There’ll be some executives coming in from Bentonville (Ark.) and Resources for Living to help any associates who want to talk through this. It’s always a shock to lose a fellow worker. There’s a bond that forms when people work together,” Williams said.
He added that Wal-Mart also was working closely with law enforcement authorities “to help in any way, so they can get to the bottom of this.”
On Monday morning, the north and south parking lots of the Wal-Mart store were closed off by police while they and other agencies investigated the slaying.
An officer was assigned to the edge of the south parking lot to turn people back, explaining to each that police were conducting a crime scene investigation, but not releasing specifics. Most of the driveway was barricaded with yellow police crime scene tape.
Sunday’s homicide was the first in Glenwood Springs since Sept. 23, 1998, when 51-year-old Ruth Ann McDowell was shot in the head by her husband, Chuck McDowell, as she counted money in the back office of Rite Aid on Grand Avenue.
Although that murder first appeared to be a robbery gone bad, McDowell’s husband later admitted to killing her because he thought she was having an affair.
Before McDowell, the last murder in Glenwood Springs occurred in April 1996 when Lucille Connor, 90, was hit in the head and killed by her neighbor, Arne Johnson.
Both men are serving life sentences for the crimes.
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