Carbondale robbery suspects elude capture outside of Basalt
Two suspects in a Feb. 16 armed robbery in Carbondale eluded dozens of Aspen-area law enforcement officers Tuesday when they jumped out of an emergency window on a public bus and ran into the hills east of Basalt.
Police gave chase to the suspects at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday after their bus was stopped on Highway 82 at Holland Hills, about 2 miles east of Basalt. The pursuers lost them later in the morning. The hillside manhunt was called off at around 5 p.m. after numerous officers and a K-9 unit scoured the area adjacent to the popular Arbaney Kittle Trail. Authorities suspended backcountry operations at approximately 6 p.m.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement issued at 9:34 p.m. that increased patrols would take place throughout the night “in areas most likely to be used by the duo as routes back into the Roaring Fork Valley.”
That included the neighborhoods between Basalt and Old Snowmass as well as Fryingpan Valley. Pitkin County issued an alert via email and text at 5:40 p.m. advising midvalley and Fryingpan residents to “follow basic personal security practices” and lock the doors of their homes and vehicles. The notice said the suspects may still be armed.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Tuesday morning it was believed the two men are Nicholas Alexander Ameral and Benjamin Weeks, both 19. Carbondale police obtained arrest warrants earlier in the week for both men. They are suspected of using a handgun to rob two employees of the Valero Cowen Center Convenience Store in Carbondale at 11 p.m. Thursday. They made off with an undisclosed amount of money.
Ameral is described as a black male, about 5-foot-11 to 6 foot and 140 to 165 pounds. Weeks is described as a black male, from 5-foot-6 to 5-9 and 138 pounds to 165 pounds. Both have short black hair and brown eyes.
Bus driver recognized men
The driver of a bus traveling from Snowmass Village to Highway 82 thought he recognized the two men as the robbery suspects, according to Kent Blackmer of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The men exited a bus at the Intercept Lot at Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road and boarded a bus headed downvalley, Blackmer said.
Law officers contacted the second driver via cellphone and prepared him to make a stop downvalley. By that time, law enforcement vehicles from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and town of Snowmass Village were in pursuit and Basalt police were prepared to intercept the bus in the midvalley.
Blackmer said the bus driver told his passengers he must have crossed a traffic line and was going to get a ticket so that he wouldn’t alarm the suspects.
“He was trying to do a little rope-a-dope,” Blackmer said.
Another passenger on the bus requested a stop at Holland Hills. When the bus stopped, the two suspects opened a window that also serves as an emergency exit.
The bus driver posted on Facebook that the two men hightailed it out of the area before police could capture them.
“They jumped out an emergency window and ran off chased by oodles of police with shotguns,” the driver wrote. “That’s a first.”
Officers pursued on foot
Officers on foot and in vehicles chased the suspects through the Roaring Fork Club golf course. The two men then headed up a steep hillside covered with pinyon and juniper trees.
The suspects were initially between the Basalt Cemetery and the Arbaney Kittle Trailhead. Officers from various agencies pursued them on foot after a short time and reported seeing them heading east or toward Aspen.
No law enforcement officials guarded the Arbaney Kittle Trailhead at about 10 a.m., but there were six vehicles indicating people were hiking the trail. Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan declined to comment on whether hikers were evacuated off the trail. He said he couldn’t discuss details of the operation.
A Holland Hills homeowner said at mid-afternoon on Tuesday that she was never notified about the search for the armed suspects.
Officers reported to the command center Tuesday at about 12:30 p.m. that it appeared the suspects crossed the Arbaney Kittle Trail and the focus of the search shifted to that area. The parking area and trailhead were closed to the public.
Officers kept checking drainages to the east of the trail but were unable to find the men. Officers also were patrolling the Rio Grande Trail from Basalt to a location along Lower River Road.
A burial was allowed to proceed as scheduled at the Basalt Cemetery at about 11:15 a.m. The Basalt public schools were on a “lockout” for part of the day, which meant the doors were locked and outdoor activities were prohibited. Indoors it was business as usual.
The search included law enforcement officers from Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Eagle County, Garfield County and the Colorado State Patrol.
An aircraft from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control also was used to try to locate the fugitives and increase the safety of officers in the field.
The Tuesday overnight forecast for the Basalt area was a low of 36 degrees, mostly cloudy with a chance of rain or snow.
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A man who was arrested Jan. 4 for allegedly firing a handgun during a dogfight near Crown Mountain Park is facing an additional charge for allegedly tampering with evidence. The suspect allegedly threw his handgun into the Roaring Fork River after the confrontation.