Last week, when Colorado Springs Police Department spokeswoman Barbara Miller told us that Waldo Canyon fire evacuees had been victimized by 22 burglaries and sixteen car break-ins, she stressed that the numbers could go up as authorities got more access to the blaze zone. And have they ever. The CSPD has now confirmed 37 burglaries and 28 thefts to motor vehicles.
The car crimes didn't all take place in the evacuated neighborhoods. As Miller told us, many of the vehicles were parked at hotels to which the fire victims had fled when ordered from their homes. As such, they may have been loaded with individuals' most treasured possessions -- the stuff they'd earmarked as a first priority to save.
Which only makes these crimes that much more disgusting.
Sharing contempt for these actions is an anonymous donor, who's given $50,000 to a Crimestoppers fund set aside for rewarding those who lead to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for these offenses. The CSPD notes that this pot o' cash is separate from moolah that might go to folks with information about who started the fire itself.
If you know one of the scumbags in question, you're encouraged to phone 719-385-2222. For more details, see our earlier coverage below.
Original post, 10:34 a.m. July 3: The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs has brought out the best in many people -- but not all of them.
The Colorado Springs Police Department is currently dealing with a mini-crime wave aimed at evacuees. At least 22 homes in the fire zone have been burglarized, and that number could well rise. And that's not to mention burglaries of victims' cars at hotels.
According to CSPD spokeswoman Barbara Miller, the 22 home burglaries that have been confirmed to date could rise in short order. "That number is from Saturday," she says, "and we understand that more people will be able to go back to their homes at six o'clock tonight. So we don't expect to have a total number until everyone's back in their home."
At this point, though, it's clear the Kissing Camels neighborhood (named for the iconic rock display in Garden of the Gods Park) was particularly hard hit. Miller says five "completed" burglaries took place there, as well as two attempts.
At this point, all of the burglaries are under investigation, and with more reports possible, CSPD detectives don't yet know how many suspects they're seeking.
However, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, working in conjunction with the Monument Police Department and the El Paso Sheriff's Office, has made a pair of burglary-related arrests. Belinda Yates, 38, and Shane Garrett, 36, were busted last week in an evacuated Springs subdivision on suspicion of second-degree burglary, theft, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, theft by receiving and possession of a controlled substance -- meth, which they allegedly had on their person when they were fitted for cuffs in Monument.
The CSPD understood that such crimes of opportunity could take place after the evacuation. But given the scope of the order -- more than 30,000 people were told to temporarily relocate -- the officers couldn't blanket every area. "We stationed a patrol officer in all of the neighborhoods," she notes. But at Kissing Camels, for example, "there's a front entrance and a back entrance off Centennial, and anyone could park anywhere and walk through," she goes on. "Especially if you're a criminal and you want to get in, you're going to get in. Even if we'd been able to station four officers there, it would have been hard to protect."
Page down to continue reading about crimes in the Waldo Canyon fire evacuation zone. Nonetheless, such a patrol did reel in Kip Andy Petersen, who's been charged with impersonating a firefighter -- the second such person to fight such an accusation of late, following Michael Maher, thought to have played dress-up at both the High Park and North Fork fires.
Andersen, clad in firefighting gear, was taken into custody in the Rockrimmon neighborhood. "The officer was just questioning him in that area," Miller points out, "and he pulls out his ID. Which was fake."
Homes weren't the only targets, of course. Many evacuees piled as many of their belongings as they could into their cars and then headed for hotels -- where, for some, their difficult situation was made worse. According to Miller, there have been 66 reports of burglarized motor vehicles since the Waldo Canyon fire began burning, including 25 at hotels. She adds that of the latter 25, "sixteen have been confirmed to be evacuees."
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For the CSPD, the search for these scofflaws has a very personal dimension. "We've seen the victims out there," Miller says, "and we've been the victims; we've had police officers who've lost their homes. So it's a very heart-wrenching time to have to take a report from someone who was evacuated and now they've been robbed.
"It's just sad," she adds, "that during times like these, you're going to have people who prey on innocent victims and revictimize them."
More from our News archive: "Waldo Canyon fire update: 70 percent contained, only 100 acres growth."