2016 Year in Review: A look back at crime, cops and courts in Summit County
December 26, 2016
Some of the biggest Summit County law enforcement news of 2016 came at the end of the year, when Breckenridge police announced the conclusion of a two-month undercover drug operation that rounded up 21 people who were allegedly selling drugs — mostly cocaine — out of local bars and restaurants.
The operation, which involved more than 40 law enforcement officers from Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne and the Summit County Sheriff's Office, led to the closure of The Mine in Breckenridge, a bar where the owner allegedly sold an undercover officer a half-ounce of cocaine.
Breckenridge police chief Dennis McLaughlin said the investigation was prompted by the August overdose death of a man who bought cocaine laced with methamphetamine. It was one of three 2016 deaths ruled as an overdose by the Summit County coroner.
Earlier in the year, on Feb. 2, two men were indicted in connection to a 2015 fentanyl overdose death of a Breckenridge man. William Walker, 27, and Brandon Johnson, 24, both face charges of recklessly causing death for allegedly selling the drug, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Another big story came in late in the year when late at night on Christmas Day police said an alleged car thief charged officers with a knife after being pulled over in Frisco. Police shot at the man several times, striking him in the hand.
He was admitted to the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, and the deputy who fired his weapon has been placed on paid administrative leave until an internal review is completed, per standard procedure.
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Summit County courts reported an uptick in cases mid-way through the year, but filings flattened out toward the end of the year, according to the latest data from the District Attorney's Office.
One of the county's most high-profile cases in recent years concluded in January, when Tyrus Vanmatre was sentenced to life without parole for attempted murder, among other charges, after he attacked a friend with a machete in a wooded area near Swan Mountain Road in 2014.
Two high-profile hit-and-run cases were also wrapped up. In March, James Gravatt, 55, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide. In August of 2015, he hit and killed 25-year-old Breckenridge resident Christina Martinez Hernandez on Airport Road and then fled the scene.
Hallie Schmitt, 25, also pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run on Airport Road in April that left Breckenridge resident Laura Hamilton seriously injured with a fractured vertebra, fractured femur, a large gash on her leg and a major concussion. Schmitt was sentenced to six years of probation.
In early October, District Judge Mark Thompson dropped felony charges against Robert Polich, who was accused of embezzling more than $550,000 from the Hamilton Creek Metropolitan District where he served for years as a financial manager.
Polich had previously pleaded guilty to stealing $160,000 from the Enclave Homeowner's Association in Keystone but his defense successfully argued that since the Hamilton Creek allegations were part of the same scheme, the District Attorney's Office should have joined the two cases rather than try them separately. The DA's office filed a motion to appeal that is currently pending.
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