Aspen native with dark past charged with armed robbery
A 38-year-old man who participated in an armed robbery at Clark’s Market in Aspen 20 years ago was arrested late Thursday night for robbing the Theatre Aspen concession stand at knifepoint Tuesday, police said Friday.
Yuri Ognacevic, of Snowmass Village, also was charged with two recent purse snatchings in Aspen’s downtown core. He faces one count of felony armed robbery, two counts of felony theft and a misdemeanor charge of theft, according to a Friday statement from the Aspen Police Department.
“Officers were able to contact Ognacevic Thursday evening and he agreed to come to the police department, where he was taken into custody,” the statement said. Ognacevic’s father posted a $15,000 cash bond Friday and he was released from the Pitkin County Jail.
Ognacevic was identified after Aspen police released still photos and a video clip of him taken Tuesday night at Rubey Park just before one of the purse snatchings, the release states. The video, in particular, was valuable because the high quality footage allowed officers to see that the man had a shaved head and was wearing a watch on his left wrist “with a Fitbit style tracker on his right wrist,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Pitkin County District Court.
The two purse snatchings occurred July 3 and Tuesday at outdoor restaurant seating areas when a man on a bicycle rode past and grabbed the purses hanging from the back of chairs.
After the pictures and video were released, several people called police to identify Ognacevic, including one person who saw him riding his bicycle in Aspen on July 3.
“(The person) found it odd that he was riding a bike in Aspen because (the person) believed he lived in Snowmass and that he was typically ‘anti-social’ and didn’t like to be in town on a busy night with a lot of people in town,” the warrant states.
An Aspen police officer who knows Ognacevic personally also recognized him from the photos and video, according to the warrant. In addition, a photo on Ognacevic’s Facebook page shows him wearing the Fitbit fitness tracker on his right wrist.
Finally, the three Theatre Aspen concession stand workers identified Ognacevic as the armed robber after viewing the photos and video, the warrant states.
The warrant provided more details of the concession stand robbery, which occurred about 9 p.m. Tuesday, just before intermission of Theatre Aspen’s production of “Guys and Dolls.”
One of the employees, a 22-year-old woman, said she saw the man enter from the east side of the theater tent with his face and hands covered, though she could see him holding a knife with a 2- to 3-inch blade.
A 19-year-old woman, at the stand said the robber was “holding a small blade in her face, demanding the money,” according to the warrant.
“(The woman) held up the cash drawer and he took the cash,” the warrant states.
The third person — a 20-year-old man — told police the robber was “possibly brandishing a screwdriver,” according to the warrant.
The identification of Ognacevic — described as a white male, 6-feet-2-inches tall, 185 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes — will likely strike a chord with Aspen residents who lived in town in 1999 and the early 2000s.
Ognacevic was one of 12 local teens — sometimes known as “Aspen’s Dirty Dozen” — eventually implicated in an eight-month-long string of armed robberies and burglaries in Aspen and Snomwass Village in 1999. The crimes included two armed robberies at Stage 3 Theatres, using guns to steal cash from Clark’s Market in Aspen, pistol-whipping a store clerk at a market in Snowmass Village and several burglaries of businesses and private homes, according to media reports.
Many of the dozen teens were well-known members of longtime local families.
Ognacevic’s parents, Jim and Merrilee Auster, had a long-running land dispute in the 1980s and ’90s with Pitkin County over development of a piece of property in the Hunter Creek Valley that overlooks the valley floor at the entrance to Van Horn Park. The couple also played a central role in a bitter legal battle with private landowners over access to national forest lands in the Hunter Creek Valley.
The Austers, who both began living in the Aspen area in the late ’60s and early ’70s, eventually sold their Hunter Creek property to the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program for half its value. They now own a ranch on the western side of McClure Pass.
Ognacevic graduated from Aspen High School, where he was active in hockey and cross-country, according to a 2003 Aspen Times story. He was in his first year at the University of Colorado when he was arrested.
He was 18 when he pleaded guilty to felony robbery for taking part in the armed robbery at Clark’s Market. He also admitted to being involved in the burglary of a video store and supplying an unloaded .22-caliber rifle for one of the robberies, according to media reports.
Ognacevic served less than a year at a minimum security prison in Canon City, then finished his sentence in a halfway house, according to a 2003 Aspen Times story. At the time he reflected on his recent criminal past and said he wanted to join the military.
“It was a temporary lapse of pro-social thinking,” he told The Times in 2003. “We were doing bad stuff that we thought was just mischief, but it crossed the line and we realized that afterwards.”
Ognacevic is due back in court Aug. 5.
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The alleged attack Tuesday on a woman walking alone in Aspen’s East End by a man she didn’t know is rare in this small mountain town, and police are acting accordingly.