Police delve into suspect’s motives
Glenwood Springs correspondent
The man police say shot a Colorado State Patrol trooper Tuesday had been wanted by Utah authorities on felony drug charges.
District Attorney Martin Beeson said Thursday that Stephen Appl, a western Garfield County resident, had a $25,000 warrant out of Utah. He didn’t immediately know where in Utah the warrant had been issued.
Appl also had a $500 warrant out on him in Mesa County for resisting arrest.
The outstanding warrants could help explain Appl’s actions Tuesday night. Police say he fired on trooper Brian Koch after Koch made what authorities are describing as a routine traffic stop on the Rifle-Silt Road Tuesday night. Authorities didn’t identify the specific reason Appl was pulled over.
In June, DeBeque police say, Appl tried to escape on foot when they pulled him over on his motorcycle and learned about the Utah warrant.
Beeson was still reluctant Thursday to release some details related to this week’s shooting, after what started out as one investigation had expanded into four, he said.
Besides the shooting, they include investigations into Appl’s death by an apparent suicide at a roadblock the next day, the role Cori Graham of DeBeque is accused of playing in trying to drive him through a roadblock, and the involvement of a woman described in a police affidavit as Nikki Brownel, in the case. Graham has been arrested in the case; Brownel has not (see related story). Beeson said investigators have talked with Brownel and are looking into the possibility that she harbored a fugitive.
Graham told police she took Brownel to Brownel’s home on Dry Hollow Road south of Silt, and Appl was hiding there. But Beeson said it wasn’t clear if Brownel lived there.
Authorities believe Appl died of a self-inflicted gunshot while he hid in the back of a vehicle as Graham was stopped at a checkpoint south of Silt Wednesday evening. An autopsy was conducted in Grand Junction Thursday, but the Garfield County Coroner’s Office did not expect to have the findings available until today.
Deputy coroner Steven Pollard said authorities are “99.9 percent” sure that the body found in the vehicle Wednesday is Appl, based on photographs of him, and they expected to confirm his identification through fingerprints during the autopsy. The autopsy also should determine whether Appl in fact killed himself.
Pollard said blood alcohol content information may become available this week, but it will take longer to receive the results of toxicology testing.
Beeson said he was reserving comment on any possible role drugs played in this week’s events.
Graham has had past drug arrests. In 2005, a woman named Nichole Denise Brownell, 39, of Rifle was arrested on meth-related felony drug charges. She pleaded guilty in September and is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 17. Beeson could not be reached for comment later Thursday on whether Nichole Brownell and Nikki Brownel might be the same person.
However, he spoke more generally earlier in the day about the growing “scourge” of meth use locally.
“It’s just a bad, bad problem that takes good people and makes them bad, bad people,” he said.
He said authorities have an indication of what relationship might have existed between Graham, Brownel and Appl, but he wouldn’t elaborate because it’s part of the ongoing investigation.
Beeson also declined to explain why Appl was driving a vehicle with Arizona plates when he was pulled over, saying the answer also is part of the investigation.
He said he knows it’s strange to talk about an ongoing investigation in a case when the suspect is dead.
“But we’ve got to wrap it up and it’s not been concluded yet,” he said.
An arrest warrant for Appl and one or more search warrants remained sealed Thursday, but Beeson expected to ask the court to make them public soon.
Had Appl been captured alive, he probably would have been arrested for attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer, Beeson said. Authorities say he fired on Koch several times with a semi-automatic handgun, but a bullet-proof vest stopped two bullets.
Another bullet shattered Koch’s left arm. He is being treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.
Beeson said attempted murder of a policeman is not punishable by the death penalty in Colorado. In fact, prosecutors can’t ask that a suspect facing the charge be held without bond, and so Beeson was asking in Appl’s arrest warrant that he be held in lieu of a “seven-figure” bond, he said.
Capt. Rich Duran of the CSP’s Glenwood post visited Koch at the hospital Thursday.
“He’s in good condition, good spirits,” Duran said.
He said they didn’t talk much about what occurred the night of the shooting. Duran said he mostly was trying to support Koch, “making sure things are being taken care of for him and his family.”
He said Koch is married and has a family.
Beeson praised the work of area law enforcement agencies in responding to the shooting and tracking down Appl.
“Although the result is tragic for Mr. Appl, the threat has been removed, the threat to officers, the threat to the community at large, so we’re pleased about that,” he said.
He took Tuesday’s shooting personally, saying it could happen to anyone working in law enforcement. While Beeson appreciates the efforts of late District Judge Peter Craven to install security at the county courthouse, “I feel vulnerable when I’m walking in to work and walking out to my car,” he said. “When something like this happens it does kind of hit home.”
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