The incident caused significant delays for traffic on Interstate 70 throughout the day Wednesday, as well as on nearby roads used as alternate routes to bypass I-70.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation website, the road closure affected all of westbound I-70 between the Mack exit at mile marker 11 and mile marker 1, just east of the Utah border. The closure began just before 8 a.m. and was still in effect as late as 3 p.m., with multiple reports of backed-up traffic and clogged side roads.
The man, who wasn’t immediately identified, was shot to death by law enforcement officers after a short standoff, officials said.
Police believe the suspect, whose name was not immediately released, is the same man who confronted and tried to force a woman into her own vehicle at a Lakewood parking lot at about 9 p.m. Tuesday. Spokesman Steve Davis of the Lakewood Police Department said the woman’s screams attracted the attention of bystanders and apparently distracted the suspect. The woman managed to get out of the vehicle, a Ford pickup, and run away, but the man then reportedly drove off in her truck.
Davis said that a description of the suspect, who was believed to be armed, and a vehicle description went out to agencies statewide via an ATL (attempt to locate) bulletin.
“He was wanted for investigation of attempted sexual assault, kidnapping and robbery,” Davis said.
Several hours later, around 7 a.m., Mesa County Sheriff’s deputies spotted the vehicle, still apparently being driven by the suspect, near the West Gate Inn in Grand Junction.
According to Grand Junction police spokeswoman Kate Porras, when the deputies attempted to pull the vehicle over, the suspect drove away and a chase ensued.
After avoiding multiple attempts by police to stop the truck using spiked “stop sticks” designed to puncture tires, the suspect reportedly was eventually forced off the road by a Colorado State Trooper on I-70 near mile marker 1, Porras said in a news release issued by the 21st Judicial District Critical Response Team, which is investigating the incident.
The suspect then sat in the driver’s seat of the truck for some time after crashing about 7:45 a.m., and was in verbal contact with officers as late as 8:30 a.m., reports indicated.
“Officers tried to negotiate with the suspect to get him to come out of the pickup,” Porras stated in the news release, noting that tactical SWAT officers from multiple agencies were at the scene. “When he eventually came out, he pointed what is believed to be a gun at officers and deputies. The officers and deputies fired multiple shots at the suspect, who died at the scene.”
During the road closure, all westbound freeway traffic was being rerouted, with some vehicles being diverted onto the old Highway 6 & 50, which runs adjacent to the interstate but is unpaved or in poor condition in certain places. The primary suggested alternate route, including for semi-trucks and large vehicles, was to detour north on Colorado Highway 139 over Douglas Pass, which has unpaved portions, and then through eastern Utah and Vernal on U.S. 40/191 into Price before returning to I-70 at Green River. Such a detour would require at least six or seven hours of additional driving time even in ideal traffic conditions, officials said.
There was no word on when the lanes would be reopened.
Lt. Kim Neal of the Grand County Sheriff’s office said deputies from the office assisted at the scene with the closing of the interstate, but are not involved in the investigation of the incident. Utah Highway Patrol troopers also provided assistance with traffic control.
Moab resident Kyler Bernal said traffic was slowed but moving in I-70’s eastbound lanes when he passed the scene of the incident on his way to Grand Junction at about 9:30 a.m.
“They pretty much had it wrapped up when I went through,” Bernal said, adding that he saw numerous officers from multiple agencies at the scene.
Another Moab resident, Colleen Tibbetts, reported a similar scene as she passed the incident on her way to Fruita on Wednesday morning.
“There were cops everywhere, and the traffic was backing up to Rabbit Valley,” Tibbetts reported.