Cops: Fatal crash suspect hit sheriff
GRAND JUNCTION – Patrick Strawmatt allegedly slammed his Toyota SUV into a Park County Sheriff’s vehicle, then punched the sheriff in a drunk-driving arrest that required three officers to handcuff him.That was Feb. 15.The next day, he walked free on $15,000 bail.Now, Strawmatt, a 42-year-old ex-cop, is in jail again on $1 million bail, suspected of killing two Mesa State College students here last week in another drunk-driving incident. Police allege Strawmatt rammed into a car that held Jake Brock of Eagle and Jennifer Kois of Brighton, both 19, on Interstate 70.Park County authorities say Strawmatt was drunk in the incident there as well. There, Strawmatt got behind the wheel of a Toyota SUV the afternoon of Feb. 15. He sped away from a traffic light after a sheriff’s deputy activated his overhead lights, according to the Park County arrest affidavit. The vehicles were northbound on Highway 285 near Bailey.Strawmatt slowed, “turned on his right blinker” and pulled toward the shoulder after the deputy turned on his patrol car sirens. Strawmatt’s car then continued northbound another two miles before a patrol car driven by Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener pulled around his deputy, alongside Strawmatt.
The sheriff motioned to Strawmatt to pull over.”I could see the driver turn his head and look in the direction of the sheriff and continue driving,” the deputy wrote.Wegener pulled in front of Strawmatt, nearly forcing the SUV to a stop on the shoulder.”The suspect accelerated and hit the sheriff’s vehicle in the rear, causing damage to the tailgate and significant damage to the front of the suspect vehicle,” the affidavit read.Strawmatt allegedly ignored commands to get out of his SUV. Deputies ended up shattering the driver-side window. When the door was finally opened, the two officers tried to yank Strawmatt out as he gripped the steering wheel.”Sheriff Wegener reached into the suspect’s vehicle in an attempt to free his right hand from the steering wheel when the suspect punched the sheriff, causing him to step back from the vehicle in pain and grab the suspect’s leg,” the affidavit read.When a third officer arrived, Strawmatt was eventually handcuffed. The affidavit described officers delivering multiple strikes, at one point using pepper spray, in trying to get Strawmatt in custody.A search of Strawmatt’s SUV yielded a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey, “numerous medications,” and his expired Colorado driver’s license.He was treated for injuries at Swedish Medical Center, where, the affidavit said, he received a general health evaluation because Strawmatt claimed to have been “fresh out of heart surgery in the prior days.”
The next afternoon, Feb. 16, Strawmatt walked out of jail after Park County Magistrate Larry Allen set bond at $15,000 – consistent with the county’s bond schedule but lower than what prosecutors had argued for, according to court records and Park County Deputy District Attorney Cheyenne Ross.As a bond condition, the judge said Strawmatt couldn’t possess or consume alcohol – there was no restriction on driving.Already on felony probation at the time of his Feb. 15 arrest, Strawmatt had been arrested eight times since May 2004, according to the court record. On Wednesday, Allen said he couldn’t talk about Stawmatt’s Feb. 16 bond hearing because of the still-pending Park County case.”I realize it’s not the answer you want, but it’s the answer I have to give,” the magistrate said.Eleventh Judicial District Chief Judge Charles Barton said bond schedules are merely suggestions.
“If there are obvious mitigating or aggravating factors, there’s the ability to deviate (from the schedule),” Barton said.Under Mesa County’s schedule, second-degree assault on a peace officer calls for bond of $25,000, said District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.”It’s really up to each (judicial) district,” Hautzinger said of drawing up bond schedules. “There’s not a lot of uniformity.”Strawmatt was formally charged in Park County March 7 with felony counts of second-degree assault on a peace officer, vehicular eluding, misdemeanor DUI, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment and driving without a license.The Westminster law firm of Paulsen & Wanebo, which had represented Strawmatt in the Park County action, filed a formal motion to withdraw on Monday.The motion pointed to Strawmatt’s anticipated charges in Mesa County. Jack Tanksley, a Fairplay bail bondsman who signed off on Strawmatt’s bond, said he didn’t research Strawmatt’s past. “We didn’t get anything from the police, and we knew he was an ex-cop,” said Tanksley, who said he’s a Grand Junction native. “He looked like anybody else. I can’t say how sorry I am that this happened.”