Music History

Twenty fabled moments in Denver music: #14: Marc Cohn gets shot in downtown Denver, 2005

Over the course of the next few weeks, Backbeat will be counting down the twenty most fabled moments in Denver music history. Today, a look back at when Grammy winner Marc Cohn got shot in the head in downtown Denver during a car-jacking attempt gone awry.

Marc Cohn might be a superhero. At least that's what you might gather from an incident he survived in Denver in 2005 in which he was shot in in the head and managed to walk out of the hospital just a day later. While winning a Grammy in 1991 as Best New Artist is a testament to his songwriting, this traumatic experience and the fact that he survived it and returned to making touring and making music is a testament to his tenacity as an individual.

See Also: #20: Beatlemania at Red Rocks#19: Michael Jackson's secretive stay in Denver#18: Black Flag openers Nig-Heist get arrested for nudity 1984#17: Einsturzende Neubauten play '86 junkyard show#16: Radiohead's gear gets jacked in 1995#15: Grateful Dead's first time at Red Rocks in 1978

In the summer of 2005, Marc Cohn was on tour with Suzanne Vega, the singer-songwriter best known for her 1987 album Solitude Standing (featuring hits "Luka" and "Tom's Diner"). Cohn had his own hit at the time, "Walking in Memphis," which was as damn near inescapable on FM radio in late 1991. The tour was going as you might expect: One top-selling Adult Contemporary artist joined by another, playing to docile crowds from Seattle to New York and all points between. On August 7, Vega and Cohn were slated to play the Denver Botanic Gardens.

While the two acts were preparing to play the gig, a soon-to-be related event was going on downtown. A 26-year-old kid with a lengthy rap sheet had just used a stolen credit card to pay for a room at the Magnolia Hotel. Staff had called the cops to report it, but RTD security officers were already looking for Joseph Yacteen for another reason entirely: He had left a Cadillac parked on the light rail tracks near Stout.

The officers approached Yacteen. He said he had no identification on him, and, after handing over keys to the car, he fled the scene, headed towards Tarantula Billiards & Bar. A weird, almost-deadly chase ensued. The security officers caught up with him at the bar, and had a bouncer bring him out. Yacteen emerged, and the RTD cops informed him that the Denver police were on their way.

That's when things went from bad to worse. Yacteen reportedly brandished a handgun, shouted that he wasn't going back to jail, and ran again. This time, he made a couple unsuccessful attempts at carjacking. Yacteen held a woman at gunpoint in an alley near the Bradshaw Hotel, attempting to steal her Chevrolet Impala. When she said she didn't have keys to it, Yacteen ran down the street and confronted a Ford van. Inside said van was Marc Cohn and his tour manager.

Yacteen tried opening the van door. No luck. So he shot at the driver and passenger, hitting manager Thomas Dube in the chin and Cohn in the temple. Then he ran again, finally succeeding in carjacking an '05 Subaru Forester near the convention center, leaving its four passengers stranded.

The next day, police received an anonymous tip that Yacteen was hiding out at his girlfriend's father's house. They followed up, preparing for a shootout. The cops used reverse 911 to call residents living near the intersection of Josephine Street and 27th Avenue. They also shot out the street lights and surrounded the area.

When Yacteen's girlfriend drove away from her dad's house soon after, Yacteen was in the car, crouched down and out of sight. Cops stopped her anyway, and Yacteen escaped on foot into a nearby abandoned house. After holding police at bay for five hours, the DPD decided it was time to move in. First they teargassed the place. When Yacteen didn't give up, they fired rubber bullets at him, which brought him down and ended his two-day rampage.

Cohn, meanwhile, was being released from the hospital. His wife, ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas, flew to Denver to see him. He cancelled the rest of his tour, leaving Vega to play a string of gigs in the Midwest without him.

Yacteen got 36 years for attempted murder. According to the Colorado Department of Corrections website, his next parole hearing is in 2021. As for Cohn, he returned to Colorado less than two years later, beginning his 2007 US tour in Boulder. He told the Boulder Daily Camera that he was still a little scared to play Colorado, though he knew the chances of a repeat carjacking were nil. He's since released a best-of collection and two more studio albums, the latter of which, Listening Booth: 1970 found the songwriter in familiar territory -- back on the Billboard charts.

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Mark Sanders
Contact: Mark Sanders