Local officials and residents weigh in on whether Durango’s current spate of violence is a blip on the screen or a sign of things to come

Photo by Eric ArtilleroIn a town where people pride themselves on unlocked homes and cars,
headlines of late have been telling a totally different story. While crime statistics appear to be on par with past years, the intensity and violence of local crimes seem to be on the rise for the Durango

Pete Woods, a six-year Durango resident, had no idea what was about to hit him on Feb. 3 of this year. His childhood friends Mario de la Vega and Eric Meyers had come to Durango for their annual visit, and all three were on their way home following a Snowdown event at Lady Falconburgh’s, a local bar/restaurant.

“We left Falconburgh’s, turned left, and there was a group of six guys walking the other way,” he said. “They rubbed shoulders with Eric when they walked by, and we exchanged words. At that point Mario said ‘Why don’t we go our separate ways,’ and we started walking. That’s when they came from behind and took all of us down.”

Woods and Meyers were knocked out almost immediately.

“The next thing I remember was sitting on the curb and then getting into the ambulance,” Woods said, noting he sustained a concussion and Meyers’ cheekbone
and the bones surrounding his left eye were broken.

De la Vega was not so lucky, taking a knife across the face, sustaining substantial loss of blood and having to endure a double row of stitches for which he had no insurance. Woods noted that in many ways he was fortunate, and that de la Vega, a Los Angeles resident, remains angry. “Thinking back, it’s sort of a relief that I got knocked out,” he said. “Mario really has a lot of the anger that I may have had if I wasn’t knocked out.”

Woods recently traded in his director of sales position at Durango Mountain Resort for the same position in Telluride. While he said the incident had nothing to do with his move, it remains a sore spot.

“Just imagine having two of your really good friends, who you grew up with, come here for an annual celebration and this happens in a town you pride yourself on,” he said.

Some of the cold, hard facts

Unfortunately, Woods’ mishap was not isolated in terms of violent crime in Durango this year. On March 26, a local man tried to fend off an attacker before having an 8-inch blade stuck in his scalp. On May 5, a girlfriend got mad at her boyfriend in a local bar, broke a bottle over his head and then cut him with the broken glass. On May 13, a man was stabbed in the stomach after a brawl outside a downtown bar. On June 13, two
men were arrested in Hesperus for assault on the elderly after beating a 68-year-old
man with a board. And perhaps most sobering of all, three Durango Police officers
were assaulted in two separate incidents on the weekend of Aug. 17. One of the officers sustained a broken jaw and concussion.

Local officers with "after dark" on the brain respond to a routine fender bender near the Durango high school this week.  Photo by Jamie MorehartBoth the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, which handles crime in the unincorporated county, and the Durango Police Department, which polices within city limits, agreed that while the number of assaults has grown only slightly
over the past years, the intensity of the assaults has grown dramatically.

“It’s not unusual for this time of year to have these kinds of problems,” said Jim Ezzell, chief investigator for the Sheriff’s Office. “We’ve always seen lots of fights. But it’s progressively gotten to the point where people are really hurting each other.”

Ezzell added, however, that the change has been more gradual, not simply taking place in the first half of 2002. “In the past 10 years, we’ve had more stabbings and shootings than in the previous 10 years.”

Durango Police Captain Dale Smith concurred that the overall level of violence has grown. “Although the number of assaults appears to be down this year, I think the intensity is greater,” he said.

Smith also noted that the recent assault of police officers is relatively unprecedented. “We’ve had officers assaulted, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had three
assaulted over one weekend,” he said.

Of the incidents, Ezzell added that it is not unusual for people to resist law enforcement, “but it’s certainly not common to have injuries inflicted like we did last week.”

Assaults don’t always make headlines, Smith noted, saying that many of Durango’s violent crimes happen behind closed doors in domestic-abuse situations. “Some of these assault numbers aren’t just street brawls,” he said. “They’re fights within homes.”

Alternative Horizons, a private, nonprofit, Durango organization provided confidential support to 646 victims of domestic violence in 2001. While Carol Simmons, the organization’s director, was unsure of current statistics, she commented, “It’s happening, and domestic violence can go from a push and a shove to murder and suicide.”

On a similar front, the Rape Intervention Team, which maintains a 24-hour hotline and undertakes an active prevention program, has seen a dramatic rise in calls over the
last few months and a disturbing trend toward younger callers. Sandy Rumore, the team’s CAP program director, said the organization has seen a more than 20 percent
increase in calls to date and anticipates a 30 to 40 percent hike for the year. She added that 33 percent of callers last year were between the ages of 12 and 18, a pattern that has continued this year.





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