Duo ignored fear, helped trooper
October 26, 2006
For Armando Bencomo and Cruz Figueroa Alvarez, stopping to aid a wounded Colorado State Patrol trooper Tuesday night was the right thing to do.It also was the frightening thing to do.When the two happened by the scene on the Rifle-Silt Road where a bullet had wounded Trooper Brian Koch, they realized the shooter still might be nearby.”When he said ‘I’ve been shot,’ the first thing we did is look around and look for somebody,” Bencomo said. “But it was completely dark, there was no way we could see somebody.”We thought for a few seconds what we should do. We thought we can help, maybe we can help, but it was risky.””I think we were lucky to be there at the right moment to help a little,” Bencomo said.Koch was lucky, too. Bencomo said he and Figueroa Alvarez applied a tourniquet to Koch’s wounded left arm, first using Figueroa Alvarez’s shoelace, and then Bencomo’s belt. Koch had been bleeding heavily when they arrived, but the tourniquet soon stanched the flow, Bencomo said.”I can’t say we saved his life, but we tried to do the right thing,” he said.Capt. Rich Duran of the CSP’s Glenwood post, where Koch works, applauds what the two men did in coming to his fallen officer’s aid, considering the potential danger.”I think it’s a very heroic action,” he said.So does Silvia Vargas of New Castle. Bencomo is her brother, and his actions Tuesday were in keeping with his character, she said.”When somebody needs him he’s always ready to serve people, ready to help,” she said.”She’s my sister,” Bencomo said in trying to chalk up her praise to sibling pride. He thinks what he did is just what people do when others need help.”I did it because I had to do it,” Bencomo said.Figueroa Alvarez said he hopes that in return, someone else will help him if he’s ever in need.”And that’s the way it should be,” Bencomo agreed.Bencomo, 41, lives near Dry Hollow Road south of Silt. Figueroa Alvarez, 20, works for Bencomo, who owns a company that does sheet metal work for heating and cooling systems. Both are from Mexico. Bencomo moved to the area in 1987, and Cruz, who lives outside Glenwood Springs, came here a year ago.The two had gone to Grand Junction on Tuesday evening to tow back the vehicle of another of Bencomo’s sisters. They were heading to Bencomo’s house when they saw Koch’s patrol car and realized something looked wrong.”We noticed that something was going on inside of the car. It seemed like he was trying to open the door but he was having a hard time,” Bencomo said.The two men thought for a moment that the officer had been fighting with someone in the car. They then realized his left arm was injured and he was trying to open the door with his right hand.They called 911, helped him out of the car, and began to treat him. Figueroa Alvarez kept pressure on the belt while Bencomo tried to describe their location to dispatchers.Just then someone appeared on the road, causing them to worry that it might be the shooter. Bencomo said he eyed Koch’s pistol, which Koch had dropped as he got out of the car, and thought he might have to grab it to defend them.The man identified himself as a neighbor – Paul Limbach – who was then able to give Bencomo a road address to relay to dispatchers.Bencomo said Koch was in such pain that he couldn’t say much, but did mention a blue Toyota Celica. Police say Koch’s assailant, Steven Appl, abandoned a purple Chevy Cobalt up Dry Hollow Road. On Wednesday he shot and killed himself at a checkpoint at the bottom of the road.Bencomo continued to be affected by the shooting after leaving the scene. He wasn’t able to drive home the normal route that night because of a roadblock and the discovery of the car Appl was driving. Bencomo worried because for some reason the phone line at his home wasn’t working and his wife and young daughter were there all alone, with the shooting suspect possibly nearby.It turned out that Appl wasn’t far away, having hidden in a home up Dry Hollow Road, police say.The next evening Bencomo drove down Dry Hollow Road to Silt. Had he left perhaps a half hour later, he would have arrived at the checkpoint at the bottom about the same time that Appl did.He found that close call a bit eerie and was glad Appl was tracked down.”I felt better; my family, they didn’t have to worry anymore,” he said.