Monday, February 28, 2011

Man takes plea in motel slaying

Robert Lee Harper

AURORA | One of three men charged with killing a man at a south Aurora motel last fall accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors last week. 

Robert Harper, 18, pleaded guilty to burglary and robbery on Feb. 24, prosecutors said. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped several other charges against Harper, including first-degree murder and kidnapping. 

Harper was charged along with Maliek Bailey, 36, and Steven Wayne Bassett, 27, in connection with the Oct. 15 slaying of Michael Pinkus at the Crestwood Suites motel. 

The three defendants have been held without bond at the Arapahoe County Jail since their arrests last fall.

Harper is scheduled for sentencing April 15. It wasn’t clear Monday what sentence he may face or if he is expected to testify against Bailey and Bassett. 

Charges filed in Aurora man's slaying

Benjamin Lucero
AURORA | Prosecutors have charged a 22-year-old man with murder in connection with the Feb. 8 slaying of an Aurora man outside a west Denver strip club, Denver prosecutors announced late last week. 

Benjamin Ray Lucero faces one court of first-degree murder, according to a statement from prosecutors. 

Lucero is accused of killing George Valenzuela-Lopez, 34, around 11:15 p.m. Feb. 8 in the parking lot of Dandy Dan’s Gentleman’s Club, 214 S. Federal Blvd. 

Denver police said Valenzuela-Lopez was in a fight with another man in the bar’s parking lot seconds before he was shot. 

Police named Lucero a suspect in the killing a few days after Valenzuela-Lopez’s death and arrested him in Thornton on Feb. 17. 

Lucero is being held in the Denver Detention Center without bond and is set to appear in court March 1 to be formally advised of the charge against him, prosecutors said. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fire destroys Aurora duplex

AURORA | A fire destroyed an Aurora duplex early Saturday morning, causing $300,000 in damage. 

Nobody was hurt in the blaze at 18934 and 18924 East 16th Place. According to a statement from Aurora fire, the residents of the home were able to flee without being injured.

The fire was first reported around 6:40 a.m. Saturday.

When firefighters arrived, there was heavy smoke and flames pouring from the roof of the home.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation, the statement said.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Godfrey trial delayed

Riley Godfrey
AURORA | The trial of a man who police say gunned down a 25-year-old man hiding in a bathroom in an East Colfax Avenue motel room has been delayed.

Riley Godfrey, 28, was scheduled to go on trial Monday morning in Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, but according to court records, the trial was delayed Thursday after Godfrey’s lawyer withdrew from the case. 

It wasn’t clear from court records why the lawyer withdrew. 

Godfrey is snow scheduled to appear in court March 4, when a new lawyer is expected to make an appearance. A new trial date has not yet been set. 

Godfrey faces multiple charges, including first-degree murder and kidnapping stemming from the Dec. 29, 2009, slaying of Kendrick Williams, 25.

One of Riley’s co-defendants, Darrius Turner, 20, is set to go on trial next month.

A third co-defendant, Marquesa Johnson, 22, pleaded guilty last month to being an accessory to a crime, a Class 4 felony, in exchange for prosecutors dropping 12 other charges against her. As part of the plea, Johnson is required to testify truthfully against Godfrey and Turner.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

CSP: Aurora man drove 'mobile meth lab'

AURORA | The Colorado State Patrol arrested an Aurora man early Thursday morning near Blackhawk driving what troopers called a “mobile meth lab.”

Chad Buchanan, 36, was arrested around 6:20 a.m. on Colorado Highway 119 after troopers pulled him over for speeding through a construction zone. 

Troopers said Buchanan faces several charges, including intent to manufacture a controlled substance, driving while license was suspended, and speeding in an active construction zone.

Click below to read the release from CSP. 

Asst. principal facing felony charge

Horizon Community Middle School. Photo by Heather L. Smith

AURORA | An assistant principal at Horizon Community Middle School is facing a felony charge amid allegations he asked three students to erase cell phone video of a fight between two girls.

The charges have exposed a rift between law enforcement agencies that investigated the case, and Cherry Creek Public School District, where a spokeswoman said district officials found no wrongdoing by the administrator.

Anthony Ray Campos, 41, was charged Feb. 11 with solicitation to commit tampering with physical evidence, a Class 6 felony that could carry an 18-month prison term.

Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers said the case is part of an ongoing problem investigators have with the district reporting crime and turning over evidence.

“This is an issue that we have talked to Cherry Creek Schools about before, both the Aurora Police Department and us. And I think it’s an ongoing issue,” Chambers said Wednesday.

Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for Cherry Creek schools, said the district has schools in five different law enforcement districts and works with police regularly.

“We interact with them on a daily basis and cooperate,” said Superintendent Mary Chesley.

“The Aurora Police Department and the Cherry Creek School District have an exceptional relationship and partnership,” said Aurora police Chief Dan Oates.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Memorial fund for crash victim set up

Grier Laughlin
AURORA | The family of a local water polo coach killed Sunday in a head on crash on E-470 has set up a memorial fund for the man. 

Grier Laughlin, 37, died after a wrong-way driver slammed into his SUV on E-470 near East Quincy Avenue. The driver of the other car, Odean Wheetley, 89, also died in the crash. Laughlin’s three children, ages 4 and 6, were in the SUV with him at the time of the crash but were not seriously injured. 

Mark Isenburg, a close friend and Laughlin's fellow coach at the Colorado Water Polo Club, said proceeds from the Grier Laughlin Memorial Fund will go to help Laughlin children’s with their education and  other needs.  

Organizers also hope to use the money for a possible Grier Laughlin Memorial Swimming and Water Polo Complex, Isenburg said. 

“It was a dream of Grier’s to bring a top swimming and water polo facility to the area, one capable of hosting swim meets and water polo tournaments.  This would be a tremendous undertaking, but one his family and friends think would be a perfect way of honoring his memory and his dream, while providing lasting support for his two favorite sports here in Colorado,” Isenburg said in an email Tuesday. 

Laughlin’s funeral is set for 2 p.m. Friday at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church and will be open to the public. 

The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Ellis Family Services, P.O. Box 270334, Littleton, 80127.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two boys struck by SUV

AURORA | Two boys were struck by an SUV Tuesday evening when one of them rode the bike they were sharing into traffic at a busy Aurora intersection, police said. 

The crash happened around 5:30 p.m. at East Sixth Avenue and Dayton Street. 

Police said a 12-year-old boy was riding a bike with a 9-year-old boy standing on the back when he crossed Sixth against the traffic signal. 

A Dodge Durango heading west on Sixth slammed into the boys, police said. 

The boys sustained serious injuries but are expected to survive, police said. 

The driver of the Durango stayed on scene and is cooperating with investigators, police said. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Arrest made in Colfax motel slaying

Scott Damon Bell

AURORA | Police last month charged a 38-year-old man with murder in connection with an early May slaying at a motel on East Colfax Avenue.

Scott Damon Bell was charged Jan. 21 with killing David Jeffrey Carpenter, 41, at the Carriage Motor Inn Motel, 9201 E. Colfax Ave.

According to jail records, Bell had been in the jail since December on a DUI charge when he was charged with Carpenter’s murder.

He is set to appear in court in April for a preliminary hearing.

In the hours after Carpenter’s death, witnesses told police that a group of five men, including Carpernter and the gunman, were smoking crack in a motel room prior to the shooting, according to an arrest affidavit filed against Bell.

One of the witnesses told police he met the gunman that afternoon at a bus stop and brought him to the room to smoke crack. Beyond that, nobody in the room knew the gunman.

Teen hit by truck on Chambers

AURORA | A 16-year-old boy was hit by a truck this afternoon South Chambers Road near East Hampden Avenue. 

The boy, whose name was not released, was taken to an area hospital where he is in critical condition, police said. 

The crash happened around 12:20 p.m. on Chambers a few blocks of south of Hampden. 

Police said the boy was trying to cross Chambers and stepped into the street, causing to cars in the southbound lane closest to the curb to stop. 

After the cars stopped, the boy again ran into the street.

The driver of a southbound truck in one of the middle lanes did not see the boy and collided with him. The truck’s driver, whose name was not released, waited at the scene for police and likely won’t face charges, police said. 

Man killed in E-470 crash was local water polo coach

AURORA | A man killed in a head-on crash with a wrong-way driver on E-470 Sunday night was an Aurora water polo coach who helped found a local water polo club. 

Grier Laughlin, 37, died Sunday after a Ford Taurus driving southbound in the northbound lanes of the tollway slammed into the Chevrolet Yukon he was driving. The driver of the Taurus, Odean Wheetley, 89, also died at the scene. Three children in the Yukon were taken to Children’s Hospital with minor injuries, the Colorado State Patrol said. 

According to the Colorado Water Polo club’s website, Grier was an All-American swimmer at Cherry Creek High School and later went ton to swim at Dartmouth College, where he was introduced to water polo.

He founded Colorado Water Polo in May 2003 and in recent years coached the team at competitions around the region. 

State Patrol said Monday it wasn’t yet clear why Wheetley drove the wrong way on the toll road Sunday night. 

A few minutes before the crash near E-470 and Quincy, CSP said they received a report of the Taurus driving the wrong way, but troopers weren’t able to reach the car before the crash. 

CSP said in a statement that a medical condition and fog could have been factors in the crash.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Man dies in early Saturday crash

AURORA | A 38-year-old Aurora man died after crashing into an Xcel Energy truck early Saturday morning, Aurora police said.
The crash happened around 2:15 a.m. Saturday at South Chambers Road and East Mexico Drive.

Police said the Xcel truck was making a left turn onto eastbound Mexico from northbound Chambers when a silver Mitsubishi Lancer headed north on Chambers slammed into the truck.

The driver and lone person in the Lancer, Benjamin Rutledge, wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and was seriously injured in the crash. He later died at an area hospital.

Police said the driver of the Xcel truck, Greg Adams, 51, was not injured in the crash. Adams had a green turn arrow when he turned and likely won’t face charges, police said.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Couple court updates

AURORA | Here are some links to two court stories that ran in this weekend's Sentinel
First, here is an update on the Trevor Stewart case. He is due in court next week. 
Second, here is an update on the Cristina Sears case. A judge scheduled her trial for this summer. 
Otherwise it's been a fairly quiet Friday here in Aurora. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

**UPDATE** Hinkley, East Middle, lockdowns lifted

AURORA | Hinkley High School and nearby East Middle School were briefly locked down Thursday afternoon after a report of an man with a gun in the high school’s parking lot. 

Police said they received a report around 1:30 p.m. of a man inside a vehicle in the parking lot who may have been holding a gun. 

About two dozen officers responded to the school to search for the man. 

Police said around 2:15 p.m. that they had not found the man reported to have a gun and the lockdown had been lifted. 

A spokeswoman from Aurora Public Schools said the district was working with police to investigate the incident. 

Police say woman tried to commit suicide on railroad tracks

AURORA | A 27-year-old woman tried to commit suicide by stepping in front of a slow-moving train in north Aurora early Thursday morning, police said. 

The woman, whose name was not released, was taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries. She will also undergo a mental health evaluation, police said.

The incident happened around 2:30 a.m. near Chambers Road and Smith Road.

Police said that when they arrived, the woman told them she tried to commit suicide by stepping in front of the train, which police said wasn’t moving very fast.

North and southbound Chambers were closed this morning at Smith while police investigated. Police said in an email around 4:30 a.m. that it wasn’t clear when the road would re-open.

The railroad company, which wasn’t identified, took the train out of service while they brought on a new crew, police said.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Feds announce indictment against international gang

AURORA | Federal prosecutors today announced indictments against more than 100 people connected to Armenian Power, a gang with operations in several eastern European countries and around the United States. 

The indictments were announced in Denver, Los Angeles and Miami and have led to more than 80 arrests, prosecutors said. 

“Today’s indictments allege literally hundreds of criminal acts in three states – from extortion and kidnapping to firearms trafficking and health care fraud,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division said in a statement. 

The Colorado  indictment focuses on Nadezda Nikitina, 24, of Denver. 

The Russian immigrant was charged with conspiring with others to make false statements to the United States on credit and loan applications.  Nikitina, acting under the control of a transnational criminal group, established a shell company and then used that shell company to apply for business and personal credit cards, car loans and leases, consumer loans and a home equity loan, prosecutors said. 

Nikitina  wouldn’t use the credit  card accounts for long stretches before going on a spending splurge, or “bust out” the lines of credit up to and over the credit limits on her various accounts, prosecutors said. 

The indictment accuses of Nikitina of withdrawing almost $15,000 from the accounts at an Aurora bank during a three-day stretch in May 2008. Beyond that, there didn’t appear to be an additional Aurora connection.

The indictment also charges Nikitina with 10 counts of false statements on credit and loan applications, bank fraud and wire fraud.

Here is a link to all of the indictments.

Click below for the statement from federal prosecutors.

New photos from 225 crash

AURORA | A passerby sent some photos this morning from yesterday's bizarre crash near Interstate 225 and Interstate 70. 

The pictures were taken from a parking lot at  13750 Smith Rd. and show emergency crews responding to the accident. 

For orientation's sake, the ambulance in the picture to the right is parked on northbound I 225, just south of the I 70 interchange. The car is in a grassy area just east of the highway. 

Click below for five more pictures. Click the images to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cops make arrest in Mitta slaying **UPDATE**

Isias Mitta, left, holds a picture of his son, Trison,
during a press conference early this month at Aurora
Police headquarters. Click to enlarge.
AURORA | Police have arrested a 27-year-old man in connection with a slaying last month outside an Aurora bar. 

Donnell Littleton, 27, turned himself in at the Arapahoe County Jail yesterday after a judge signed an arrest warrant against him for the murder of Trison Mitta, police said. 

Littleton is charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond, police said. 
Mitta, 26, was gunned down Jan. 28 outside the Sport Station Bar near East Eighth Avenue and Dayton Street. 

A few days after the slaying, police said surveillance cameras recorded the shooting and showed several witnesses that saw what happened. 

Police said there were five people in particular — three black males in their late teens or early 20s and two black women — who investigators wanted to talk to. 

Family files suit in girl's go-kart death

AURORA | The family of a 9-year-old  Aurora girl killed last summer at a Grand Junction go kart track filed a lawsuit this week against the track and several people connected to that day’s event. 

The lawsuit, filed by Taybor Duncan’s parents Monday in Douglas County District Court, accuses the Grand Junction Motor Speedway, its employees and several others of wrongful death, lying about the dangers of karting and several other charges.

Duncan died after cashing her go kart into another vehicle Aug. 15 at the track in western Colorado. 

According to the lawsuit, Duncan was one of several carts on the track going about 50 mph when she slammed into a maintenance truck driven by Richard Talley, an employee at the track. 

ICE fingerprint program arrives in ArapCo, other Colorado jails

DENVER (AP) — A rapidly expanding federal program that identifies illegal immigrants when they’re arrested and fingerprinted is now operational in Denver and in El Paso and Arapahoe counties.

Colorado Department of Public Safety spokesman Lance Clem says Secure Communities was launched Tuesday in the three jurisdictions. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which operates the program, said last week Secure Communities is active in more than 1,000 jurisdictions in 38 states.

Secure Communities was launched in 2007. ICE says it hopes to have it in every jail in the country by 2013.

The program checks arrestee’s fingerprints against federal databases to determine the person’s legal status and arrest record.

Critics argue it creates an incentive for racial profiling. Denver Mayor Bill Vidal calls it “worrisome” and says it should be monitored closely.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said he has been working to implement the program in Arapahoe County for “a long time.” 

“I am confident that it will be a significant tool for us to use to remove criminal aliens from the streets and help keep our communities safe,” Robinson said in a statement ICE announcing the program. 

Click below for the releases from ICE and the Arapahoe County sheriff's office. 

Cops point to possible Aurora link to Lakewood rape suspect

AURORA | A Lakewood man arrested in connection with two separate sex assaults in metro Denver may also be connected to an Aurora sex assault, Aurora police said Tuesday.

Mark Patrick O’Leary, 32, was arrested Sunday and is being held on a $5 million bond. 

O’Leary is a suspect in a sexual assault in August in Westminster and another last month in Golden. Police say the attacks were both committed by strangers and had many similarities. As the investigation expanded, authorities say they discovered a similar attempted sexual assault in Lakewood in July.

Aurora police spokeswoman Sgt. Cassidee Carlson said investigators from Aurora believe O’Leary could be connected to an October 2009 sex assault on a woman in southeast Aurora. 

In the Aurora case and the others O’Leary is accused of, the attacker was a stranger to the victim and attacked them in their home, Carlson said. 

Aurora police have been sharing information with the other investigators for months because stranger attacks like these three are so rare, Carlson said. 

Investigators in Aurora are waiting for more evidence to come in, including some evidence seized from O’Leary’s home Sunday, before they make a decision about whether to charge him, Carlson said. 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

Bizarre mid-morning crash on I-225 **UPDATE** police say charges aren't likely

AURORA | A man whose car started on fire after he drove off Interstate 225 and into a fence Tuesday may have had a seizure before the crash and likely won’t face charges, police said.

The man, whose name was not released, was taken to an area hospital with minor injuries after the 10 a.m. crash on northbound I-225 near Interstate 70. 

Police said the driver lost control and drove along the noise barrier wall on the east side of the highway before slamming into a fence near businesses on Smith Road. 

The crash apparently didn’t disable the car and the driver put the car in reverse and tried to drive off of the fence. In the process, the driver spun his tires, which over heated and caught fire.

An employee at a nearby business quickly put the fire out, police said. 

Initial reports that the vehicle rolled over or that the driver was forced from the road by another vehicle were inaccurate, police said. 

Aurora police Lt. Chuck DeShazer said the driver has a history of seizures and doesn’t remember anything between driving on the highway and waking up in a hospital. 

Because the driver likely suffers from a medical condition, DeShazer said he probably won’t be charged. 

Car theft prevention program launched

AURORA | Officials today launched a new effort to crackdown on auto theft and Gov. John Hickenlooper named this week “Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Week.”

A group called Coloradans Against Auto Theft launched a program called “Lockdown” on Tuesday which they said is aimed at educating the public about ways to decrease auto theft. 

“Lockdown demonstrates that Colorado is unified in its efforts against auto theft,” Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association and CAAT co-chair said in a statement Tuesday. “It empowers citizens to protect themselves by taking even the simplest of actions: locking their car.” 

In Aurora, auto theft has been dropping steadily in recent years. Here is a link to a story we did last month on the subject. 

Click below for the full release from CAAT. 

Possible Aurora connection to Lakewood sex assault arrest

AURORA | A Lakewood man arrested in connection with two separate sex assaults in metro Denver may also be connected to an Aurora sex assault, 9 News is reporting

Mark Patrick O’Leary, 32, was arrested Sunday and is being held on a $5 million bond. 

O’Leary is a suspect in a sexual assault in August in Westminster and another last month in Golden. Police say the attacks were both committed by strangers and had many similarities. As the investigation expanded, authorities say they discovered a similar attempted sexual assault in Lakewood in July.

The television station reported that Aurora police also have a case that could be linked to O’Leary. An Aurora woman was sexually assaulted in October 2009 in the southeast part of the city, the station reported. 

We have a call in to APD about this and will update when we hear back. 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Police: Man shot by cops sold meth to kids

AURORA | An armed man shot by an undercover Aurora police officer Thursday night had been selling methamphetamine to middle school children, police said Friday. 
Richard Arreola, 25, was shot to death around 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the 1400 block of Macon Street, police said.

The investigation started when two students at an Aurora middle school had to be hospitalized after using meth, police said.

Detectives focused their investigation on Arreola, who police said had been selling drugs from his wireless store in the 1400 block of Peoria Street, Neviah Wireless.

Third arrest in 'fencing' case

Perla Alverdo
Vanessa Alverado
Lawrence Nelson
AURORA | A third person is in custody in connection with an Aurora electronics store that police say bought and sold thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise. 

Police said Lawrence Nelson, 50, was arrested Friday after media reports about the investigation at an Aurora Wireless Works store.
Two other women, Perla Alverado, 30, and her sister Vanessa Alverado, 28, were arrested Thursday.

Police have said the trio will face charges including theft by receiving, felony theft and conspiracy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Suspect ID'd in strip club shooting

Benjamin Lucero
AURORA | Denver police today released the name of a suspect in the Tuesday night slaying of an Aurora man outside a west Denver strip club. 
Benjamin Ray Lucero, 22,  is wanted on a murder charge in connection with the death of George Valenzuela-Lopez, 34.

Valenzuela-Lopez was gunned down around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of Dandy Dan’s Gentleman’s Club, 214 S. Federal Blvd.

Denver police said Valenzuela-Lopez was in a fight with another man in the bar’s parking lot seconds before he was shot.

Police are asking anyone with information about Lucero to contact Denver police at 720-913-2000 or Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP (7867).

Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and receive a cash award up to $2,000.

Some details released in kidnap case

BRIGHTON | Three teenagers kidnapped two men last fall, wrapped duct tape around their mouths and eyes and left them bound in a locked storage shed for more than a day, prosecutors said Friday.  

Chief Deputy District Attorney Justin Moore said the three defendants then demanded a $50,000 ransom and four automobiles for the victims' release. 

“It does not get much more extraordinary than this,” Moore said. 

Moore’s comments during a court hearing Friday morning marked the first time police or prosecutors have publicly discussed details of the case since the November arrests of Jaime Baca, 20, Edgar Alonso Montelongo, 19, and Mariano Rosales, 17. 

A judge sealed much of the evidence against the three defendants shortly after their arrests, including arrest affidavits and police reports.  Police and prosecutors have declined to discuss the case.