Carbondale robbery suspects on run taken into custody late Wednesday in Basalt
SUSPECTS STILL AT LARGE
Two fugitives remained on the run Wednesday after an intense manhunt failed to track them down most of Tuesday and into the wee hours Wednesday.
Police continue to seek Nicholas Ameral and Benjamin Weeks, both 19 years of age (see related story).
The search transferred from the sheriff’s office of Pitkin County to Eagle County Tuesday night after cell phone data indicated the suspects were moving by foot toward the Fryingpan Valley, according to Eagle County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Jessie Porter.
The men fled into the hills east of Basalt after Pitkin County deputies and other law officers stopped the bus they were riding in. The men jumped out an emergency exit on the bus, ran through the Roaring Fork Club golf course and into the high ground.
Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office headed a search that was aided by multiple agencies. The sheriff’s office called the search off in the field at about 6 p.m. but it was soon resumed by Eagle County in the Fryingpan drainage.
Multiple agencies scoured the roadside and searched buildings in the Lower Fryingpan Valley, Porter said. Steep terrain leading to the Fryingpan River made the search challenging. Multiple agencies contributed to the effort, including the Eagle County Special Operations Unit, which is similar to a SWAT team, she said.
“We searched a wide area and didn’t have contact with them,” Porter said.
Eagle County’s search was called off at about 3:30 a.m., according to Porter. A reverse 911 call was placed to approximately 14 households at 8 p.m. Tuesday that advised occupants to stay inside and lock their doors, according to a spokesman for Vail Communications Center. Another reverse 911 call was made to the same households at 4:12 a.m. Wednesday saying it was “all clear,” the spokesman said.
Law enforcement officials said it was unknown if Ameral and Weeks spent the night outdoors.
Porter said there were regular patrols but not an enhanced effort undertaken in the Fryingpan Valley by the sheriff’s office Wednesday.
The men are suspected of robbing a convenience store in Carbondale at gunpoint on Feb. 16.
“The suspects should be considered armed and dangerous,” the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “If you see the suspects do not attempt to contact them. Please call 911. Community safety and the safe apprehension of the suspects in this crime are at the forefront of these ongoing efforts.”
Two fugitives wanted in connection with an armed robbery in Carbondale on Feb. 16 were taken into custody in Basalt late Wednesday night without incident, authorities said.
Nicholas Ameral and Benjamin Weeks, both 19, were arrested at the intersection of Cottonwood Lane and Riverside Drive, a short distance from Midland Avenue, after a traffic stop at 10:19 p.m., according to Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan.
“They were not armed,” he said.
One of the suspects was taken to a downvalley hospital for treatment of exposure. The men will be held in Garfield County Jail, Ryan said.
A vehicle driven by a party associated with the suspects was spotted driving up the Fryingpan Valley about 20 minutes prior to the arrests, Ryan said. Law officers from Basalt and Pitkin and Eagle counties monitored the actions of the vehicle and stopped it when it re-entered Basalt, Ryan said.
He didn’t name the third party or the person’s affiliation with the suspects. The person wasn’t arrested at the scene, Ryan said, but may face charges in the future. The vehicle was taken into custody and will be turned over to Carbondale police for their investigation.
Ryan said police utilized technology to track the cell phone whereabouts of one of the suspects. It is believed the men stayed in the hillside that separates the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan valleys, northeast of Basalt on Tuesday night, he said.
Law enforcement officers were monitoring the Holland Hills area and the Fryingpan area throughout Wednesday to see if the suspects emerged, according to Ryan. They were also aware of the possibility of the associate trying to connect with the suspects.
Temperatures dropped into the 40s Tuesday night and snow showers were forecast for Wednesday night. Ryan said authorities were concerned about the men’s welfare because they didn’t have clothing for the elements.
“They were not prepared to be up there,” he said. “It was clear in their arrest that had worn them down.”
The two men eluded capture Tuesday at about 9:30 a.m. when they jumped out of an emergency window of a bus that stopped on Highway 82 at Holland Hills. The men fled across the Roaring Fork Club golf course and into the hills east of Basalt.
Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office conducted a manhunt in the area around the Arbaney Kittle Trail throughout Tuesday. Eagle County Sheriff’s Office launched a second search effort Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning after cell phone signals indicated the men were making their way toward the Fryingpan Valley.
Ryan said it hasn’t been determined yet if Ameral and Weeks will face charges for eluding police officers.
Weeks and Ameral have extensive histories of brushes with the law, according to authorities.
Ameral was recognized by a Basalt police officer after Carbondale police issued a description of the suspects immediately after the convenience store robbery, according to an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for Ameral. The Basalt officer told Carbondale officers that Ameral formerly lived in Basalt and had moved to Carbondale.
A different Basalt officer, Sgt. Aaron Munch, confirmed Wednesday that Ameral used to live with family members on Elk Lane in Basalt. Police had frequent contact with Ameral when he was a minor, Munch said. Therefore, he said, he couldn’t discuss the nature of the contacts.
“All dealings we had with him were when he was under 18,” Munch said.
Carbondale police confirmed through a law enforcement database that Ameral’s most recent address was in Carbondale, and they went to that residence Feb. 17, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. They contacted Ameral’s mother and learned from her that Nicholas had been “hanging out” with his cousin Weeks, who had arrived from Tulare, California, approximately two weeks before.
The woman said the men had stayed at her house the prior night but she “made it clear that Benjamin and Nicholas did not live at the residence but stayed there occasionally.” They had slept on the floor in the living room the night of the robbery, according to the arrest affidavit.
Carbondale police were given permission to search the residence and they allegedly found shoes, gloves and a hoodie that matched the description of clothing used in the robbery, the affidavit said. They also found a Glock 9mm magazine that was loaded, but they didn’t find the handgun.
Carbondale officers contacted police in Tulare and spoke to an officer who said he had personally arrested Weeks in the past. Tulare police said Weeks had been arrested for simple battery in 2012, knife on a school campus in 2013, marijuana at school in 2013, residential burglary in 2014, marijuana at school in 2014 and on juvenile warrants in 2015 and 2016.
According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records, Ameral was arrested by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office in April 2016 on a felony menacing case out of Pitkin County as well as contributing to the delinquency of a minor, liquor possession by an under age person and marijuana possession for a person under 21 years of age.
Carbondale police released pictures and descriptions of Ameral and Weeks on Sunday and valley newspapers published stories Monday that described them as suspects in the robbery.
Once their pictures were out, Snowmass Village Police received reports that the men were possibly spotted in the village over the weekend, according to Police Chief Brian Olson.
The men allegedly bought rolling papers in a Snowmass Village liquor store Saturday, Olson said. They also were spotted Saturday rolling a joint in the day room of a lodge, he said. They were asked to leave since they weren’t staying there, according to Olson.
It’s unknown where the men were Sunday and Monday. Olson said it remains unknown if the men had a friend or acquaintance with whom they stayed in Snowmass Village. On Tuesday, Ameral and Weeks boarded a bus in Snowmass Village at around 9 a.m. and were reported to authorities.
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