Eagle PD Chief Staufer honored for helping pull drowning criminal from icy Eagle River
EAGLE — Justin Griffin is in prison and not a grave because some local law enforcement commanders pulled him from the icy Eagle River late last winter.
Eagle Police Chief Joey Staufer was among those who pulled Griffin from the river following a high-speed chase, and for that Staufer was presented a Lifesaver Award. Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek was among those who helped rescue Griffin, and presented Staufer’s award during an Eagle Town Board meeting.
“Chief’s actions along with those others who responded to this incident did so with life safety and community safety at the forefront,” van Beek said. “Without his actions and assistance, the suspect, who originally was fleeing law enforcement and capture, was no longer able to function and was succumbing to hypothermia and medical issues and was moments from death.”
“Because of the actions taken by the chief and others, regardless of who the suspect was and had allegedly done, a life was saved and the suspect now has another chance at life,” van Beek said.
Dive into the icy drink
Griffin was sentenced to three years in state prison after he led law enforcement officials on an eastbound chase through Garfield and Eagle counties. Griffin ended the chase when he abandoned a Ford Taurus he had stolen and wrecked, and jumped into the Eagle River between Gypsum and Dotsero in an escape attempt.
It all started early one cold 2018 late winter morning when a Front Range man spotted Griffin sitting on the shoulder beside the eastbound lane of Interstate 70 and stopped to help. First, Griffin told the man he had wrecked the Taurus, but when the man spotted no apparent dents, Griffin told him he was out of gas.
The man drove Griffin to a gas station and then back to his car and got him on his way. Griffin asked for more gas, so the man led the way to a gas station, police reports said.
Griffin was very grateful, telling the man he would do anything to help him and that he had stolen the white Ford Taurus from a woman he said was “a hater.”
Griffin convoyed with the man, forcing other motorists off the road and waving a pellet gun at other drivers. The Front Range man called the police.
Griffin got off the highway in Gypsum and headed south up Valley Road, where he drove more than 100 mph through a 20 mph school zone. Griffin quickly turned around and headed west on U.S. Highway 6 between Gypsum and Dotsero, police reports said.
By that time, Griffin had attracted attention from several law enforcement agencies, who rolled spike strips across the road to blow out his tires and stop him. He hit a guardrail after rolling over the spike strips, police reports said.
Griffin then jumped out of his car and into the icy Eagle River.
The police kept trying to help him, but Griffin refused — refusing while crying for help, police reports said.
Finally, after floating downriver for a mile and a half, Griffin grabbed one of the lifelines police had thrown to him.
Staufer, van Beek, and a Colorado State Patrol trooper scrambled along the bank and pulled Griffin from the river, which was running high and cold with early runoff.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.