Neighbor questions sheriff pursuit |

Neighbor questions sheriff pursuit

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

A woman who lives on a street that was used by a driver fleeing from law enforcement Wednesday is questioning whether sheriff’s deputies endangered the community by pursuing the vehicle into a residential neighborhood.

“I do think it could have been handled differently with the same outcome of apprehending this person,” said Lara Whitley, who lives on Bus Barn Lane with her husband and two children. “It really feels like a miracle that no one was put in danger.”

The driver of a Nissan Pathfinder — law enforcement officials aren’t sure if the man or woman inside was driving because the windows were blacked out — led deputies on a high-speed chase eastbound on Highway 82 on Wednesday evening. The vehicle was first spotted going 95 mph near Twining Flats Road and continued upvalley at equally high speeds until the roundabout west of town.

From there, the Pathfinder sped south up Maroon Creek Road, into the Aspen schools campus and turned onto Bus Barn Lane, a dead-end street, according to court documents. From the dead end, the vehicle went off the road across a yard, over a rocky open space area and across a softball field before crashing on several rocks.

Whitley said she arrived home just after the incident occurred, so she didn’t see the cars speed down her street. Neighbors told her the Pathfinder drove down the street at a high rate of speed, followed by a sheriff’s patrol car, she said.

Bus Barn Lane is a narrow street where 13 children and an equal number of dogs live, Whitley said, and normally, many of them would have been playing outside at that time.

“The only reason kids were not out that day was the cold snap,” Whitley said. “(My neighbors) were concerned about it. We all felt like we just dodged a bullet.”

Deputy Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said he empathizes with Whitley and also feels lucky that everyone walked away safely from a volatile situation.

“I think we all dodged a bullet,” he said.

And while he didn’t witness the pursuit down Bus Barn Lane, he believes Deputy Ryan Turner, who was in pursuit of the Pathfinder, behaved appropriately.

“I can say with the utmost confidence that any deputy who turned onto a road filled with children — no one would drive down the street at a high rate of speed,” Burchetta said.

The driver of the Pathfinder was clearly not concerned with his own safety or anyone else’s, and the deputies were, in fact, trying not to push the driver and make the situation worse, he said

Still, the Sheriff’s Office will conduct an internal review of the incident to make sure it was handled safely, Burchetta said.