Police find gun they suspect was used in Carbondale store robbery
Carbondale police recovered a handgun Thursday suspected of being used in the armed robbery of a convenience store Feb. 16, according to authorities.
Lt. Chris Wurtsmith found a Glock 9MM pistol with a high-capacity magazine and an extra magazine in the crawl space under the house rented by the mom of one of the suspects, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Officers were executing a different search warrant at the time of the discovery. They were looking for a cellphone owned by Nickolas Ameral, who is suspected along with his cousin, Benjamin Weeks, for the robbery.
The men, both 19, were the fugitives sought in a massive, two-day manhunt in the hills outside of Basalt. They were arrested in Basalt the night of Feb. 22.
Wurtsmith said in his affidavit that while looking for the cellphone at the home of Alicia Jackson, Ameral’s mom, he found a small wooden door providing access to the crawl space. He used a bolt cutter to remove a padlock and entered the crawl space of the home, which is located just outside the Carbondale town limits.
The handgun was propped up against a cinder block in the open, he wrote. “Next to the weapon I saw a black coat with a gray hoodie inside of it,” the affidavit continued. “These items match perfectly what was described by witnesses during the robbery at the Cowen Center and match images shown in the recording from the robbery.”
Wurtsmith wrote that he stopped the search at about 5 p.m. to get the scope of the search warrant expanded. Another officer stayed at the house to supervise the scene.
A judge signed the expanded search warrant Thursday night, allowing officers to recover the handgun and clothing as well as the cellphone, Wurtsmith said. He declined further comment because the case remains under investigation.
Details on the capture
The original search warrant authorized police to search Jackson’s house, vehicle and herself for two cellphones, one of which was allegedly in use by her son during and after the robbery. It also gave police permission to search the text messages, emails, phone call records and social media of the phones as well as the location data contained on the device.
The affidavit provided new details on how police captured the fugitives. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office obtained a warrant to get the cell-service carrier for Ameral’s phone to provide “pings” to show where he was located while he was on the run.
A ping was picked up Feb. 21 at about 7 p.m. up the Fryingpan Valley, about 3 miles outside of Basalt, according to the affidavit. Authorities scrambled to the site but couldn’t locate the men. Ameral and Weeks stayed out that night in frigid conditions.
The next evening, a Wednesday, Jackson was meeting with Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan at the 7-Eleven in Basalt, according to the affidavit.
“They were discussing Nicholas turning himself in,” the document said. “While they were at 7-Eleven, Ms. Jackson received a phone call from Nicholas. At the same time she received the phone call, a detective from Pitkin County received a ping from Nicholas’ cellphone approximately 4 miles up the Frying Pan Road, in the Toner Creek area.”
Jackson ended her conversation with the undersheriff shortly before 10 p.m. and drove away from the Basalt gas station. Officers observed her drive up the Fryingpan Valley, then return to Basalt 15 to 20 minutes later. Jackson’s car was pulled over by Basalt Police Sgt. Aaron Munch on Cottonwood Lane.
“The driver of the vehicle was verbally challenged by officers to exit,” the affidavit said. “Ms. Jackson exited the vehicle with keys to the vehicle in her hands.”
Jackson confirmed to authorities that the two men were in the car, but they weren’t visible. “The officers verbally challenged the passengers; this is when the two suspects sat up,” the affidavit said.
The men exited the car and were taken into custody without incident.
Jackson wouldn’t consent to a search of the car, so it was towed to Carbondale Police Department. A later search produced a 22-caliber rifle as well as two magazines for the Glock. Jackson told police she used the rifle for target practice.
Ameral’s cellphone wasn’t found in the search. Jackson later told police she located it. She initially said she would turn it in, but later changed her mind. That’s why police got the warrant to search Jackson’s house. She was warned that it was in her best interests not to tamper with it, the affidavit said. Jackson hasn’t been charged with any crime related to aiding her son and nephew.
Ameral and Weeks are being held in Garfield County Jail on $100,000 bond.
Jeff Cheney, the 9th Judicial District attorney, confirmed Friday that investigators from a jurisdiction outside of the Roaring Fork Valley are looking into the possible involvement of Ameral and Weeks in a different crime. He said he couldn’t disclose further information at this time.
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