Youngest member of robbery trio sentenced
February 8, 2014
EAGLE – The youngest of the three men who kicked in the front door of a Basalt woman's home and robbed her at gunpoint is headed to prison.
Rafael Vega-Sanchez will spend six years in a youth detention facility because he was 17 when he joined Sergio Sanchez (no relation) and Michael Hawkins in robbing a 76-year-old Basalt woman.
Because of his age, Judge Paul Dunkelman sentenced Vega-Sanchez to the youth facility, but with a big hammer hanging above his head.
If Vega-Sanchez fails in the youth facility, then he goes straight to prison and has to serve an entire 16 years, Dunkelman said.
Vega-Sanchez, of Rifle, pleaded guilty conspiracy to commit burglary, conspiracy to commit theft and theft of $20,000 or more.
What happened that day
The woman, who asked that her name not be used, had returned home the day before from Oregon, where she had been visiting one of her sons for Thanksgiving in 2012. She was in the shower when she heard a loud noise coming from the front of her home.
On Nov. 28, 2012, they kicked in her front door and confronted her. They held her at gunpoint and forced her onto her bed, face down, and then forced her into the kitchen where she was forced to give them $70 from her purse. They forced her into the shower and threatened that they'd kill her if she called the police.
She waited for a few minutes, then got dressed and fled to a neighbor's home where she called police.
Among the items stolen from the woman were a ring worth $24,000, an iPhone and an iPad. The total came to $27,000.
Guilty plea trifecta
Sergio Sanchez was the third of the three to plead guilty in connection with the armed robbery. He entered his guilty plea this past month, on the first day of his scheduled five-day trial.
Vega-Sanchez and Hawkins, had already pleaded guilty and were prepared to testify against Sanchez, said prosecutors Lisa Hunt and John Franks.
Hawkins was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his part in the robbery. When he was being sentenced, District Court Judge Fred Gannett said it could be reduced if he cooperated with prosecutors.
Sanchez's sentencing is set for Feb. 26.
Help from Oregon
The woman's son in Oregon said he was upset because he wasn't with his mother in Basalt.
Then he remembered that he had set up his mother's iPhone the previous day, before his mother flew back to Colorado. He said he realized he could probably locate it using a program designed to help find lost stolen or stolen phones.
He sat down in front of his computer and began tracking the phone, and sure enough the red dot from its tracking system led him straight down I-70 toward Rifle. He didn't know who else to contact in Colorado, so he called his brother, who turned the information in to the police.
He took several screen shots of the images, which turned out to be the only physical evidence of the phone's movement.
Police found the phone in Rifle's Shawnee Court area. In fact, it was on a window ledge in Hawkins' bedroom, in a home where he was staying. Police also found a cloth Crown Royal bag containing four stolen rings. One of those rings was later identified as belonging to the victim.
Hawkins had offered to sell the friend the iPhone, but the friend said that wouldn't be smart because the phone could be tracked, said Rick Wallingford, a criminal investigator for the district attorney's office.
Hawkins told the friend that he and Sanchez had broken into a home that they thought would be unoccupied, but wasn't, Wallingford testified.
Sanchez and Hawkins reportedly told the friend they had not expected anyone to be in the home when they decided to rob it.
When Basalt Police officer Brian Lemke searched a shed at Sanchez's mother's home, he found a small black backpack. The backpack was clean, but everything else in the shed was dusty and dirty, Lemke said.
He said it was heavy when he picked it up. He opened it to find two handguns, a Taurus .38 caliber revolver and a Glock 19, a 9-mm semi-automatic. The Taurus was listed as stolen by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The Glock was listed among items stolen during a burglary in Garfield County, Lemke said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.