Thieves still at large after Vail area car chase closes Interstate 70 on Sunday morning
The driver of a stolen vehicle led officers on a chase across Eagle County on Sunday morning, reaching speeds of 120 miles per hour and traveling the wrong way down the interstate, according to police.
The interstate was closed in various places between Vail and Glenwood Canyon as the vehicle exited the highway and got back on it again, causing officers to change tactics between active pursuit on the interstate and passive monitoring on town streets.
Officers directed bystanders off the interstate out of safety concerns and in an attempt to deploy tire deflating devices to stop the vehicle. The vehicle, an older model Mercedes SUV, had been affixed with stolen license plates in an effort to conceal that it was stolen, said Trooper Jacob Best with the Colorado State Patrol.
A critical moment in the chase occurred when the driver of the Mercedes started traveling westbound on Interstate 70 in the eastbound lanes, between the Post Boulevard and Avon Road exits in Avon.
“(The driver) gets on, goes the wrong way, and starts going about 100, 110 miles an hour,” Best said. “One of our troopers narrowly missed getting struck by this vehicle as it continued the wrong direction at a high rate of speed, so the troopers implemented a plan to close down the interstate in multiple locations to prevent a head-on collision.”
911 calls began coming in “from Avon to Edwards to Wolcott,” Best said, “saying that this vehicle was still traveling in the wrong direction at a high rate of speed.”
A bystander told the Vail Daily their vehicle was directed off the interstate in an urgent manner at the Eagle exit while the lone officer yelled “Get out of here, it’s dangerous.”
Best said communication with other agencies helped state troopers, police from multiple departments and sheriff’s officers from multiple counties avert a potential disaster.
“They actually closed it as far as the Hanging Lake tunnel,” Best said of the various I-70 interruptions.
Signs by CDOT said: “Wrong way driver, exit immediately.”
Abandoned in Wolcott
Amid the chaos, the driver of the stolen Mercedes was able to abandon the vehicle on Bellyache Ridge Road in Wolcott and flee the area.
“Officers canvased the area and checked as much as they could, but I think we were a little bit too preoccupied with closing the interstate and ensuring the safety of the motorists,” Best said. “It would be a horrific head-on crash if that were to happen.”
The scene played out for about an hour; officers were set up at both sides of the interstate in Eagle, but the vehicle never showed.
“Then they started doing a methodical check of the area, and about 30 minutes later they ended up locating the vehicle about 2 and a half miles up Bellyache Ridge Road,” Best said. “We believe there was probably another tail vehicle that was in the area because those officers canvased, they set up a perimeter, they checked multiple houses and properties throughout the area, and there was no sign of them. So we would presume there was another vehicle involved or staged in the area, very consistent with what we’ve seen over the past couple months.”
The abandoning of a stolen vehicle up a hill on a residential street is the same conclusion other Eagle County vehicle-theft incidents saw in 2020.
In November, Wildridge and Wildwood residents in Avon awoke to news of a manhunt underway in their neighborhoods when a stolen vehicle was recovered in the area. While officer were going door to door, another vehicle was stolen in Edwards.
At that time in November, 13 cars had been stolen in recent weeks. Avon Police Chief Greg Daly said he had never seen such a high level of theft of vehicles in Eagle County in his 24 years as a cop. There was not much consistency among the vehicles — several were older model cars — only in the methods. Many were stolen in early morning hours, vehicles which had been left running outside of residences with the keys in the ignition.
And the rash of car thefts continued. In January, at approximately 6:30 a.m., police reported suspects stole a 2002 Volkswagen in Silverthorne and traveled through Eagle County where officers identified the vehicle. The suspects continued into Garfield County where police say they attempted to hit an officer, fleeing into Rio Blanco County. They were apprehended on the border of Rio Blanco and Moffat County.
A driver fitting the profile of the driver apprehended in January was described by witnesses in other car theft incidents in the area, and the early-morning time of the incident was also consistent with the other car thefts.
On April 1, surveillance footage outside of Vail Mountain School identified a suspect in the theft of catalytic converters off vehicles in the school’s parking lot. The suspect was using a blue Ford truck, which had been stolen in Fraser earlier this year. In a Facebook post, a man identifying himself as the vehicle’s owner said the truck was locked at the time it was stolen. It was recovered April 1 after being abandoned in Dillon.
Best said in prior investigations, the Mercedes from Sunday morning’s chase had been seen with the stolen blue Ford truck.
“It’s still an active investigation between Vail Police and the Colorado State Patrol, they’re working with multiple agencies in the metro region, as well as up here in the mountains, as well, to try and do as much as they can to located these individuals involved in this,” Best said. “We’ll catch them, and we will make sure that justice is served. Our priority is the safety of everyone else, and they have shown that they don’t have any regard for the public’s safety.”