Meth links to state trooper’s shooter grow
October 27, 2006
Evidence is increasing that the man presumed to have shot a Colorado state trooper this week used methamphetamine and associated with others involved in meth culture.That evidence includes the possible discovery of meth where Steven Appl lived, the statement of a former boss that Appl had been using the drug and recent meth-related arrests of a woman being investigated in connection with Appl’s attempts to escape the area after the shooting.Police say Appl, 33, shot and seriously wounded trooper Brian Koch late Tuesday night south of Silt. They say Appl then killed himself the next evening after the vehicle he was in was stopped at a checkpoint at the bottom of Dry Hollow Road. An autopsy confirmed that Appl died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Garfield County Coroner Trey Holt said Friday. He said he hasn’t yet received results of blood alcohol and drug toxicology tests on Appl.Deputy coroner Steve Pollard told the Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction this week that preliminary tests show Appl had meth in his system. However, Holt declined to confirm that, saying he didn’t want to comment until he receives toxicology results.A search warrant affidavit for the truck in which Appl died said that officers searching the cabin he was living in on County Road 301 near Battlement Mesa found glass pipes with a white residue suspected of being meth.Joe Feeley said Appl had worked for him for about 10 years when he owned Parachute-based Firetrucks Northwest, which builds and reconditions fire trucks. He said Appl had been a good employee “until he got into the crowd doing the meth, and that was it. We had a good falling out.”Feeley said Appl changed drastically when he started using meth.”I was mad at what he was doing to himself,” he said.A woman being investigated for possibly harboring or aiding a fugitive in the Appl case had pleaded guilty to local meth-related charges in Rifle in September, and faces new meth charges in Mesa County this month. Nichole Brownell, 37, of Silt is scheduled to be sentenced on the Garfield County charges in November. Pete Hautzinger, district attorney in Mesa County, said Brownell was arrested and charged in mid-October for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, which is a felony.Brownell was arrested during a traffic stop in Grand Junction, Hautzinger said. Also arrested was Justin Kuhn, 28, who faces drug charges and a special offender count for having a weapon while in possession of drugs, Hautzinger said. He said Kuhn is accused of having had a gun in his waistband.Brownell is free on $10,000 bond in the Mesa County case. Investigators have not decided whether to charge her in the Appl case.DeBeque resident Cori Graham, who police say was driving the vehicle in which Appl shot himself, also has had past drug arrests. She was arrested this week on suspicion of being an accessory to a crime and tampering with evidence, both felonies, and obstructing a peace officer. Prosecutors are still deciding whether to file formal charges against her.Authorities have blamed meth for a spate of violent crimes in Garfield and Mesa counties and elsewhere in western Colorado in recent years. Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson and his assistant DA, Jeff Cheney, have said they plan to create an interagency task force to address the meth problem.As for the Appl case, said Cheney, “This investigation will go in as many directions as the facts take it, and if that means investigating a meth ring it will go that way.”Feeley said Appl, who was from California, began working for him not long after graduating from high school in Parachute.”As far as being a productive worker, ambitious and intelligent, he had it going for him,” Feeley said. Feeley said Appl wasn’t the friendliest person, but didn’t show signs of violence before doing drugs. He said when Appl was mad, or even saw others arguing, he’d simply walk away to avoid conflict.He believes it was meth that put him in the mind set to shoot a policeman.”When you look at the severity of his reaction, that shows you he wasn’t in the realm of reality. … The same person that I knew never would have considered as drastic an option,” Feeley said.Appl had been a quick learner, a perfectionist and ambitious, and Feeley thinks he had mistakenly thought he was stronger than meth. But this week’s events disproved that, Feeley believes.”If anything comes out of it, I guess maybe some of these younger kids will learn that that’s not the drug to be playing around with,” he said.Feeley is friends with Appl’s mother, who lives in the Parachute area and has declined requests to be interviewed. He said he made some copies of photos of Appl this week to give her to remember him by.”Think about it. Your life is normal one day and then the next day your son has shot a cop and then he shot himself,” Feeley said.Feeley said while Appl’s mother was shocked over his shooting of Koch, she wasn’t entirely surprised by the terrible turn her son’s life took this week. In fact, his downturn had been some time coming.”She’s a realist. She could see. She raised him, pretty much a single mom. She could see the last few years that things weren’t going good for him,” Feeley said.