Drugs and alcohol a constant in crimes | VailDaily.com

Drugs and alcohol a constant in crimes

Veronica Whitney

EAGLE COUNTY – Last May, a drug deal went bad in Edwards and police ended up involved in a shooting incident.”The two suspects were wrestling for a gun and ended shooting at each other,” said Eagle County Detective Mike McWilliam, supervisor of the Eagle County Drug Task Force. “In another case, police responded to a domestic violence call in Edwards and as they we were taking the suspect into custody, he had a heart attack and dropped dead. He had taken drugs,” McWilliam added.According to Capt. Bill Kaufman, the Eagle County jail administrator, the majority of suspects who are in the detention facility were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they committed their crimes. People are more likely to commit crimes when they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, McWilliam said. “It lowers their inhibitions and reduces their knowledge of what’s right and wrong,” he said. Avon Police Chief Jeff Layman said drug-related crimes impact the community in two major ways. “A lot of the smaller crimes that we see like small vandalism and many people we come in contact with in bar fights are under the influence of some type of substance, alcohol or drugs,” he said. “The second aspect is that a lot of the more substantial crimes are committed by people who are fueling their drug habits. They commit fraud, burglaries, thefts and embezzlement. “The (drug) task force has done a great job in identifying criminal targets,” Layman added. The alcohol-drug factorIn Vail, most of the crimes are alcohol related, said Vail Police Cmdr. Steve Wright.”Alcohol drives a lot of our bar fights, a lot of our domestic disturbances and DUIs,” Wright said. “To a lesser extent, they are related to drugs. The narcotic violations go more into the realm of possession of controlled substances or distribution of controlled substances.”Sexual assaults also are related to alcohol, Wright said.”In a resort community, in a party atmosphere, people are more inclined to drink or use drugs to excess. It’s a less inhibited environment. Therefore, it keeps us busier,” he added. “In a perfect world, if drugs and alcohol weren’t present, we would see a dramatic drop in our (crime) statistics.”McWilliam agreed. There are plenty of examples in his 14-year-long career as an investigator that point a finger to drugs or alcohol as the culprit behind most crimes or accidents, he said.In June in Gypsum, another drug deal went bad when the drug dealer had his throat cut with a knife, McWilliam said. The drug dealer survived, McWilliam said.Alcohol had an impact with several homicides in the county, McWilliam added.”Russell Thompson and the victim were drunk when (Thompson) allegedly beat him to death,” he said. Thompson faces a manslaughter trial in May for the beating death of a man in El Jebel almost four years ago.When local fur store owner Kathy Denson shot her former boyfriend at her ranch near Eagle in 2002, alcohol was involved, too, McWilliam said.”Then, there was a domestic violence case in 1994, where Bob Mach fatally shot his wife in Eagle-Vail. The wife was drinking and they got into an argument,” he said. “He got life in prison.”Fatal impactSince he became an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office 14 years ago, the vast majority of teenage deaths happened from accidents, committing suicides, or skiing under the influence, McWilliam said.”When we did an autopsy on the victims, almost everyone had an illegal drug in their system,” he said. “These crimes would have been less likely to happen without drugs or alcohol.”Prosecutors agree with police.”The vast majority of crimes we see are drug or alcohol related,” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said. “People make poor decisions when under the influence. You see that with addicts who will commit crimes to buy drugs.”Even if the crimes aren’t drug-related, (drugs) are behind them,” Hurlbert added. “We see burglaries, property crimes and theft to feed a drug habit.”While drugs can entice people to commit violent crimes, alcohol provokes a lack of judgment, Hurlbert said. “You get people who will smash property or steal things just for the thrill,” he said.When dealing or consuming drugs, people should know the potential consequences, said Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy.”Most people don’t know what can happen if they are caught,” Hoy said. “Some people and kids think they might get a slap on the hand. They don’t understand the ramifications of what can happen, not only now, but in the future if they get caught.”Although the use of alcohol isn’t a crime for those 21 and older, the use of drugs is against the law no matter how old you are, Hurlbert said. “And that could certainly add more charges,” he added.Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado

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