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Violent crime on the rise

Matt Zalaznick

While crime overall has dropped slightly, more serious and violent crimes – such as carjacking and murder – increased during the first six months of 2002 compared to 2001 and previous years, District Attorney Mike Goodbee says.

“My guess is that we’re just becoming more and more urbanized up here,” Goodbee says. “There’s more and more people, and with that rise in population there’s a rise in crime.”

Among the most stunning crimes in Eagle County so far this year is a carjacking that occurred in West Vail July 18. The suspect – 24-year-old Jose Clara, of Avon –died after he allegedly stole a woman’s Dodge Neon. He crashing the car a few minutes later into the back of a truck while fleeing through Dowd Junction.



The woman’s 4-year-old daughter, who was riding in a child-safety seat in the back, was not seriously hurt.

“I don’t remember seeing a crime like that since I’ve been in office,” says Goodbee, district attorney since 1997.



Local and state investigators are still looking for suspects in the grisly, May 20 murder of 57-year-old Keystone resident Melba Ginther, a baker for Keystone Resort. She was found shot to death behind a green pickup truck 150 yards down a dirt road off of U.S. Highway 24 in an area called Pando Junction, near Camp Hale.

Police in Clear Creek County – which, along with Eagle, Summit and Lake counties, comprises Goodbee’s Fifth Judicial District – are also investigating an unsolved murder, Goodbee says. A little more than a month after Ginther’s slaying, on June 27, Eagle County sheriff’s deputies arrested rancher Kathy Denson, 44, of Eagle, for investigation of second-degree murder. She allegedly shot and killed an ex-boyfriend, Gerald “Cody” Boyd, 45, at her ranch in Eagle.

“With the murders and different activity, the numbers probably show a slight increase,” Eagle County Sheriff A.J. Johnson says. “But I don’t know if I’m seeing a pattern yet.”



Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger says violent crime has not increased within the town of Vail.

“The only thing of statistical significance we’ve seen is we’ve had four arsons when we usually have only one,” Henninger says.

Violent crimes like kidnapping and sexual assault have decreased slightly in Vail, Henninger says.

Statistics provided by the District Attorney’s Office for the first half of 2002 do not show actual crimes but rather cases in which charges have been filed by prosecutors and have gone to court.

Overall, the District Attorney’s Office’s caseload dropped slightly – by just under 7 percent – the first six months of 2002 compared to last year, Goodbee says.

“That’s good news. Any time crime rates are down, it’s good news,” Goodbee says. “Given the economic downturn, I would have guessed crime would be up, but I’m wrong.”

The only increase during the first half of 2002 was in misdemeanor cases, which rose by about 3 percent, to 538 from 520.

During the same period, domestic violence prosecutions fell 12 percent – down to 86 from 98 – while felony cases dropped by about 5 percent, to 215 from 226, Goodbee says.

Drunk driving also dropped by just under 7 percent to 331 from 355, he says.

“But the incidence of serious of violent and crime seems to be increasing,” Goodbee says.

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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