Carjacking suspect dies in collision
And the boy probably saved his 4-year-old cousin’s life by not moving quickly enough before the man sped off with the toddler in the back seat, Vail police say.
A few minutes later, the alleged carjacker, who the coroner identified as 24-year-old Jose Clara of Avon, was killed instantly when the Dodge Neon he was driving slammed into the back of a big rig at Dowd Junction about 9:30 p.m., authorities said.
But the 4-year-old Minturn girl, Shania Barela, buckled securely in a child-safety seat, survived, spending only a few hours in the hospital before she was released about midnight, authorities said.
“It’s just a miracle,” said Fernando Barela, the girl’s father. “You never expect this to happen but you need to be aware and watch other people. “Thank God she’s alive,” Barela added.
Had the girl been unbuckled but still in the safety seat, she would likely have been more seriously injured in the wreck, said Vail Detective Sgt. Mike Warren, and had the boy still been in the car, he would likely have been seriously injured, as well.
“The kid got out of the front seat and went into the back seat and tried to unbuckle the child,” Warren said. “Thank goodness he did not get the child unbuckled. It’s just amazing the child’s alive.”
The car was parked and left running in the West Vail shopping center while the toddler’s mother, Marisa Pena of Minturn, picked up a meal from a fast food restaurant, Warren said.
Berala said 15-year-old boy was left in the car to watch the toddler.
News of the apparent carjacking shocked locals at the West Vail shopping center Friday.
“It’s seems so out of context,” said Eagle-Vail resident Carol Matthews. “But we’re not immune to this here, though we would like to be.”
“This isn’t a small town anymore,” added her husband, Mart.
Clara, who apparently worked at Wal-Mart in Avon, allegedly told the boy he had a weapon and got into the driver’s seat of the car. The boy jumped out, and while he was struggling to free his young cousin, Clara slammed on the gas and backed quickly out of the parking spot, colliding with several parked cars, Warren said.
“He told a passenger in the vehicle to get out and indicated he had a weapon. The passenger was in the process of getting out and getting the toddler out when the subject hopped into the driver’s seat,” Warren said. “Then he tore off backwards, hit a few parked cars, headed east and a few minutes later, Vail Dispatch got word there was accident in Dowd Junction.”
Clara collided with a slow moving big-rig in the westbound lanes of I-70 on the outskirts of West Vail, Warren said. Witnesses said the stolen vehicle was traveling between 80 to 90 miles per hour when it plowed into the back of the slow-moving semi-truck. The driver of the semi-truck was unharmed.
Investigators are not even sure if Clara slowed down before smashing into the truck because they couldn’t find any skid marks on the pavement, Warren said.
A Vail police officer who was at home about half a mile away in Intermountain said the collision was so loud he thought it occurred in the street right outside his house.
Investigators did not find any weapons in the wreckage, Warren said.
“I would say it’s unusual to have a carjacking up here,” Warren said. “The guy indicated that he had a weapon, but we never found one.”
An autopsy will be performed on Clara in the next few days. Toxicology tests are pending as police continue the investigation.
According to records from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Clara has been arrested numerous times since 2000 by multiple agencies in Eagle and Lake counties for offenses includine domestic violence, theft, driving under the influence and drug use.
Co-workers at Wal-Mart declined to comment and no details of Clara’s motives were released Friday.
“I think it’s a sad state of affairs when this can happen up here,” said Jim Service, manager at the West Vail Domino’s Pizza. “I’m just glad the kid’s alright. That’s most the important thing from where I sit.”
Bagali’s chef, Adam Hand, was working in the West Vail restaurant when the apparent carjacking took place.
“One of our guests said they heard someone screaming “Somebody stole my car,'” Hand said.
Hand, like other locals interviewed Friday, feared the intrusion of big-city crimes into the valley.
“You watch the news and there are children getting snatched right out of their driveways,” Hand said. “It’s just a matter of time before this stuff starts reaching small towns.”
Vail Daily photographer Quentin Hunstad contributed to this report.