West Vail carjacking not "premeditated,’ police say
Jose Clara, 24, died instantly around 9:30 p.m. July 18 when, at speeds topping 80 mph he slammed the car he allegedly stole into the back of a slow-moving truck traveling through Dowd Junction, Vail police Detective Sgt. Mike Warren says.
Though the Dodge Neon resembled a crumpled piece of tin foil after the crash, the 4-year-old girl who was strapped into a child-safety seat in the back was not seriously injured in the wreck.
“We just learned that he might have been a little despondent about an ex-girlfriend,” Warren says. “That might possibly have had something to do with it.”
Clara was born in California and had worked at the Wal-Mart in Avon, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records.
Warren says it does not appear that he planned the crime.
“We don’t think this was pre-meditated,” Warren says.
An autopsy shows Clara had a trace of cocaine in his body, Warren says.
Clara’s blood alcohol level was 0.161, which is over the 0.10 legal limit for driving drunk, Eagle County Coroner Donna Barnes says.
Clara had a history of arrests in Eagle County and surrounding towns. Eagle County sheriff’s deputy Kim Andree says Clara was arrested nine times between March 2000 and his death last month.
Clara had been investigated for domestic violence and contributing to the delinquency of minor, among other charges, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
“He never served any time here,” Andree says. “But a few of his cases appear to be pending.”
On the evening of the carjacking, Clara had not been spotted in any bars in West Vail, Warren says.
He tried to buy liquor at a West Vail liquor store, but was refused, Warren says.
The 4-year-old girl, Shania Barela, of Minturn, was in the back seat of her father’s Dodge Neon while her mother was picking up a meal inside a West Vail fast food restaurant.
Pena’s 15-year-old nephew was in the front seat watching the toddler when Clara allegedly hopped into the running car, shouting that he had a weapon, Warren says.
The 15-year-old jumped out of the car and rushed to the back seat to try and free Shania Barela, but Clara apparently slammed on the gas and tore off backwards, crashing into a few parked cars, Warren says.
A few minutes later, police were notified of a wreck in the westbound lanes of Dowd Junction, less than a mile away near the West Vail interchange, Warren says.
“The kid got out of the front seat and went into the back seat and tried to unbuckle the child,” Warren says. “Thank goodness he did not get the child unbuckled. It’s just amazing the child’s alive.”
It is unclear whether Clara just didn’t stop or didn’t see the truck, Warren says.
“There were no skid marks,” Warren says. “Either he didn’t try to stop or he wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the truck.”
Had the 15-year-old not jumped out of the car he would likely have been more seriously injured. Had he unbuckled his 4-year-old cousin without getting her out of the safety seat, she also would have been more seriously injured, authorities say.
Shania Barela was taken to the hospital after the accident but released around midnight, authorities say.
“It’s just a miracle,” says Fernando Barela, the girl’s father and owner of the car. “You never expect this to happen but you need to be aware and watch other people.
“Thank God she’s alive,” Barela adds.
The Vail Daily has been unable to reach family members of Clara who authorities have said live in the area. But Clara’s string of run-ins with police in the past three years include arrests on suspicion of harassment, drunk-driving and larceny, according to records provided by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
“It was nothing serious, but he does a have criminal history,” Warren says.
According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records, Clara was arrested for investigation of harassment in Glenwood Springs in February, 2000.
He was arrested on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor less than a month later by the Eagle Police Department.
He was arrested again by Vail police that August for investigation of larceny.
In March 2001, Clara was arrested by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office for investigation of driving under the influence and other traffic offenses.
Then in September of that year, sheriff’s deputies arrested him for investigation of assault and domestic violence.
He was arrested again on suspicion of domestic violence by police in neighboring Lake County in January, 2002.
The carjacking stunned residents throughout the Vail Valley.
“We’re not immune to this here, though we would like to be,” Eagle-Vail Mart Matthews said the day after the carjacking. “This isn’t a small town anymore.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.