Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies detained five people at gunpoint Monday on Independence Pass, part of a mutual aid effort after Lake County authorities said the suspects had just committed a robbery.
Michael Buglione, a Pitkin patrol director, said the report, which involved a description of the suspects and their black Suburban, was made just after 3 p.m. He, two other deputies and an Aspen police officer responded up the pass and officers closed Highway 82 to upvalley-bound traffic at Difficult Campground.
A few minutes later, Buglione spotted the SUV with two people in front matching the description from Lake County. The vehicle was pulled over about a mile below the winter closure gate for a so-called felony traffic stop, conducted because of the seriousness of the alleged crime and the fact that police did not know whether the people inside were armed.
“A high-risk stop is pretty intense because [law enforcement] has guns in their hands,” Buglione said. One deputy was armed with an AR-15 rifle, which is the protocol for such encounters.
The SUV’s occupants were ordered out one at a time, told to keep their hands in the air and turn in a circle as they approached deputies. They were ordered onto their knees, handcuffed and searched. No weapons were found on them, he said.
Messages left with Lake County about the alleged crime, which Buglione later found out was theft and felony trespassing of a vehicle, and the suspects were not returned. Buglione said the crime involved the theft of a Louis Vuitton purse from a convertible.
One of the occupants was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital after complaining of asthma, then transported to the top of the pass and transferred to a Lake County deputy.
Lake County’s undersheriff asked for Pitkin County’s help again on Tuesday morning to find the purse, which Buglione said was tossed from the SUV just before the traffic stop.
“It was on a kind of blind, right-hand turn,” he said. “They got far enough ahead and probably looked in the rear-view mirror and said, ‘[Toss it] now.’”
The purse was recovered. Buglione said the felony traffic stop, which was witnessed by numerous motorists, was as “text-book” as possible.