Trust your gut: Man at center of I-70 stabbing incident warns public
CRAIG — The only warning was the sudden rock of the slow-moving truck as the man launched forward, knife in hand, to attack the driver.
The first cut was long, but shallow, hampered by the fabric of the driver’s hoodie.
Ron Wilson instinctively raised his hand to his neck and grabbed his attacker’s arm to push the knife away. It was one of many split-second decisions that would ultimately save his life and see his attacker — Justin Madrid — in jail, facing a list of crimes including criminal attempted first-degree murder.
Wilson, a loader operator from Rifle, had completed a project at work when his boss asked if he’d be willing to give a couple of guys a hand.
Two men, including Madrid, walked into the yard asking if someone could give them a ride or a jump for their vehicle, which had slid off the side of the nearby highway.
The men looked cold and appeared as though they worked in the surrounding oil fields, Wilson thought.
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Having been on the receiving end of help for car trouble, Wilson didn’t hesitate when his boss asked if he’d lend a hand. Besides, he knew his four-wheel-drive Toyota Four-Runner was more suited to the task than his boss’s two-wheel drive truck.
Before he left the yard, Wilson’s boss suggested that 20-year-old yard hand Hunter Steinbach ride along. Wilson agreed. It was another decision that helped him survive what was about to unfold.
The four men — Wilson at the wheel, Steinbach in the front passenger seat, Madrid in the back passenger seat, and the other man in the back driver’s-side passenger seat — traveled west onto U.S. Interstate I-70 a couple miles past exit 87.
There, they found a small passenger vehicle off the road and near the barrier fence that runs alongside the highway. It was too far for Wilson to tow.
Undeterred, Wilson suggested they attempt to reach the vehicle from a gravel road used to access the oilfield.
As they circled back around to exit 87 and the oil field road, the men traded small talk.
“We talked about buying trucks. We were talking really well, and there was nothing suspicious,” Wilson recalled.
He was slowing down at a dead end, unable to see the disabled vehicle, when a feeling caused Wilson to reach into the storage compartment on the driver’s side door, where he kept a hunting knife.
“I felt like something was going to happen. I’m not sure why I felt that. It was just a gut feeling or something,” Wilson said.
He thought to himself, “What do you do? Ask them, ‘Guys, are you going to try to do something to me?’ Ask them to get out and walk?”
Instead, he slipped his knife into the front pocket of his hoodie.
“I slowed down and felt my vehicle shake. He was coming after me. I felt him cut me,” Wilson said.
Madrid slashed at Wilson’s neck again and again, struggling to cut through the hoodie material to the soft flesh beneath.
Then, Madrid felt his own stabbing pain as Steinbach used his hunting knife, given to him by his uncle, to launch a counter-attack to defend his friend.
Struggling to land his blows and under attack himself, Madrid and the man with him exited from the rear driver’s side door.
“They bailed out of my truck,” Wilson said.
The men ran in front of the truck.
Madrid was holding his arm, and the other man was yelling at him.
“Hunter looked at me and said, ‘Oh shit Ron, you’re bleeding.’”
“I know, I know. It’s alright,” Wilson replied. He added that he figured if blood wasn’t spurting out of his throat, he was OK.
Grabbing his hunting knife from his hoodie and a folding shovel from his truck, Wilson and Steinbach prepared to defend themselves from further attack.
“I told them you better stop or I’m going to kill you. The one guy was arguing with the other. Then, they took off,” Wilson said.
Wilson used his cellphone to call 911 and a two-way radio to call work to ask for help in notifying law enforcement. It took a little convincing by Steinbach before the men were believed and coworkers helped guide officers to the scene.
A standoff occurred between the four men during this time.
“They looked really scared,” Wilson said.
As his boss and coworkers approached the end of the road where Wilson had stopped, Madrid threw his knife “and something else off the road, then took off up the hill. The other guy just stayed put,” Wilson said.
Now in contact with officers, Wilson and his coworkers were asked to stay away from the two suspects.
When emergency responders arrived, officers began questioning the unnamed man who was with Madrid, but has not been charged with a crime. Other officers took statements from Wilson, Steinbach, and the other witnesses, while more went in search of Madrid.
Emergency Medical Services checked Wilson’s neck.
According to a news release issued Tuesday, Dec. 4, “Garfield County Deputies and Colorado State Patrol responded to a call of a possible stabbing incident in the vicinity of the West Rifle exit along U.S. Interstate 70. Further investigation at the scene resulted in the discovery that one individual had fled to the nearby hillside and had positioned himself in a rocky area approximately 200 yards from the interstate and paralleling U.S. Highway 6.
It was unclear whether he had a firearm. Due to the proximity of the suspect to the interstate and the potential for a catastrophic event should there be an exchange of gunfire, it was decided early on; the closure of I-70, as well as U.S. 6, was in the best interest of public safety.
Wilson and his coworkers were asked to leave the area.
Unable to return to work because of the closure, Wilson went to Rifle for lunch.
He returned to the scene prior to Madrid’s capture, at which time sheriff’s deputies — overcoming Wilson’s lack of concern for his injuries — finally convinced him to go to the hospital.
“They took pictures, measured the cut, and told me that, if it had been a little deeper, it would have cut my jugular veins. I didn’t want stitches, so they glued the cut on my neck closed,” he said.
As Wilson was leaving the hospital, Madrid, who had been injured by Steinbach, was being brought in.
“I was told that they gassed him, flash-bang bombed him, and he fought with the officers before they were able to get him under control,” Wilson said.
He also learned the knife Madrid had used appeared to have been a box cutter. It, along with Steinbach’s knife, a family heirloom, was taken into evidence.
“I told officers, he’s a friend of mine and saved my ass. He should get his knife back. I also told them that I appreciated everything they had done and for being supportive,” Wilson said.
Madrid’s motive eludes Wilson.
“To jump two rednecks in a camouflaged vehicle is pretty crazy,” Wilson, said. “I think they had a plan. I think they knew they were going to try to rob us or take the vehicle. The other guy said he didn’t know anything, and I don’t know. In hindsight, I think the guy had a plan the whole time.”
In the aftermath, Wilson, while he doesn’t find the attention comfortable, decided to share his story to remind other Good Samaritans to be cautious.
Close friend Brandon Shipman, a Craig resident, suggested Wilson speak with the Craig Press.
“I was shocked when I first heard it happened. Ron is a standup guy. He’d give the shirt off of his back to help you out,” Shipman said.
And Wilson wants people to consider: “Never judge a book by its cover. Go with your gut,” when helping others. “I’ve had vehicles that have broken down. People have picked me up and helped me out. It’s the kind of the thing that you do. I’ve helped hundreds of people out, and nothing has ever happened. If you’re playing the odds, one time is not that bad.”
He’ll carry a scar on his neck, but would he change anything he did that day?
“I’ve played it over in my head quite a bit. I don’t think there is anything that I could have done. They were normal. They just seemed like people who needed a hand. By the time I had my bad feeling, it was already too late,” Wilson said.
He believes he’s alive today because Steinbach was there.
“It was the best move that anyone did all day … my boss telling me to take Hunter with me,” Wilson said.
And, he also trusted his instincts.
“When I pulled the knife out of the door and into the pocket of my hoodie, I’ve never done that before. I followed my gut,” Wilson said. “I think I was aware that, when I felt my vehicle move, I knew I didn’t hit a bump. I knew someone was moving on me.”
He sensed something and put his hand up to my throat.
“I got there a split second before it got too bad,” he said.
Wilson believes everything happens for a reason and he points to the good that happened as a result of the incident: Steinbach was hired full-time; the men approached Wilson’s employer rather than a neighboring business, where two young children were at work with their mother; and Madrid is off the streets.
“You can’t focus on the bad. I was really lucky enough to find out the good that was in it. I’m not traumatized. I’ve got a cut on my neck. It’ll heal,” Wilson said.
As for his attacker, Wilson said, “I want justice to be served. Hopefully, that’s a lengthy, unhappy stay in prison.”
Following a 3 1/2-hour closure, Justin Lopez Madrid, 38, was arrested and transported to the Garfield County Jail.
He has been charged with felony assault in the second degree and criminal attempt first degree, as well as tampering with physical evidence. He was also charged with misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest, obstructing a peace officer, firefighter, emergency medical services, reckless endangerment, and violation of a restraining order.
While Wilson’s story is a cautionary tale, he said he hopes it won’t prevent him or others to act when people need help.
“We are all in this together,” Wilson said. “Try to help your fellow human.”
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.