‘Drivers need to check their egos’: Gun fired during road rage incident near Breckenridge renews road-safety reminders

When it comes to road rage on Interstate 70, Colorado Highway 9 or a steep and twisty pass through the Rocky Mountains, public safety officials agree: Cooler heads prevail

Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News
Traffic travels between Frisco and Breckenridge on Colorado Highway 9 on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News

A Breckenridge man is facing criminal charges after allegedly firing a handgun during a road rage incident that started on Colorado Highway 9 on Sept. 6, according to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

This is at least the third incident of road rage involving a gun in Summit County in the past year. In April, sheriff’s deputies arrested a man who allegedly pointed a gun at another driver on Interstate 70 near Exit 205 to Silverthorne. Last December, Breckenridge police arrested a Dillon man after he allegedly pulled a gun on another driver.

Colorado State Patrol Master Trooper Gary Cutler said Colorado State Patrol does not keep statistics on how many road rage incidents involve guns but added that he believes people would be surprised how many drivers have access to firearms in their vehicle. Even when road rage doesn’t involve guns, Cutler said, it can still be deadly — especially on steep and twisty mountain roads.

“Even those 30-40 mph collisions can have devastating consequences on some of these roads,” Cutler said. “They can be pushed into oncoming traffic, or can be pushed off the road and flip.”

Nearly everyone who has driven in the Colorado mountains or along the Interstate 70 corridor has seen someone speeding, tailgating or otherwise not being a good driver, Cutler said. Many people are guilty of this type of behavior themselves to varying degrees, especially when they are stressed or in a rush, he added.

In his time as a state trooper, Cutler said he’s seen the consequences of reckless driving in countless wrecks involving serious injuries and deaths. Ultimately, the urgency to get somewhere on time is never worth risking life or limb, he said.

“None of this is that important,” Cutler said. “When I would pull people over, I ask ‘Are you doing something that is life-altering right now?’ No one has ever said that. It’s always ‘I’m late,’ or whatever. They don’t really look at the consequences.”

In 2022, state patrol received 31,760 calls reporting incidents of road rage to its *277 line, which can be anything from an aggressive driver who is tailgating to someone pointing a gun or making rude gestures, Cutler said. That is up from 30,347 calls reporting road rage incidents in 2021.

At least in Summit County, Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said the number of road rage incidents seem to have increased in recent years as the county’s roads have grown more crowded with traffic, especially on holiday weekends.

“These incidents are becoming more frequent,” FitzSimons said. “Sometimes we are able to stop people, sometimes we’re not. By the time someone calls 911 and we try to catch up to the vehicles, the vehicles are gone.”

‘Heat of the moment’

Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News
A pickup truck with a trailer whizzes by as traffic heads in both directions on Colorado Highway 9 on a gloomy afternoon Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. At least two instances of road rage that involved firearms developed on this Summit County road somewhere between Frisco and Breckenridge in the past year.
Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News

Just before 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 6 the Summit County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of shots fired stemming from a road rage incident that started on Colorado Highway 9, according to a warrantless arrest probable cause statement.

Responding deputies arrested Tucker Harness, 28, on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, a Class 6 felony; felony menacing, a Class 5 felony; prohibited and reckless use of a gun, a Class 1 misdemeanor; criminal mischief between $1,000 and $2,000, a Class 1 misdemeanor; and reckless endangerment, a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Harness, who was driving a tan GMC Canyon, told law enforcement officers he was angered by a Subaru Outback, which he said had been driving erratically, tailgating and brake-checking drivers, according to the probable cause statement.

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This caused Harness to deviate from his initially planned route toward Breckenridge. He instead followed the Subaru Outback down Coyne Valley Road, the sheriff’s office wrote. As the two vehicles entered the Peak 7 neighborhood, an individual in the Subaru Outback called dispatch to report that their vehicle was being followed by “an aggressive driver,” according to the probable cause statement.

The driver of the Subaru Outback intentionally passed his house on Ski Hill Road because he didn’t want the driver following him to know where he lived, the sheriff’s office wrote. At one point, Harness lost track of the Subaru Outback but later caught up and laid on his horn for several seconds, according to the probable cause statement.

When the Subaru Outback attempted to turn around, Harness told law enforcement officials he thought the driver was trying to back into his vehicle. Harness said the Outback was about 6 feet from his vehicle, moving about 5 mph toward him, when he took his 9 mm handgun and fired it once at the ground, according to the probable cause statement.

The two drivers proceeded to argue about the road rage incident before both drove away and calling dispatch, the sheriff’s office wrote. When a dispatcher asked Harness whether he had shot at the Outback, he replied “yes,” adding it happened in the “heat of the moment,” according to the probable cause statement.

A bullet hole was discovered in the driver’s side door of the Subaru Outback, about 6 inches from the bottom of the door, the sheriff’s office wrote. The bullet hole appeared to have entered the door horizontally, exited the other side and reentered the frame of the vehicle, according to the probable cause statement. No one was hit by the bullet.

The initial story Harness told law enforcement officers about how the vehicles aligned during the firing of his handgun is inconsistent with physical evidence, according to the probable cause statement.

It would have been “impossible” for the bullet to strike the Subaru’s driver’s side door at a horizontal angle from 6 feet away, the sheriff’s office wrote. The probable cause statement asserts that Harness intended to fire at the Subaru Outback, intentionally followed the other driver “out of rage,” escalated the confrontation by honking and likely prepared his gun prior to the Subaru Outback turning around.

The Dillon Public Defender’s Office, which is representing Harness, did not return a request for comment.

‘Don’t become part of the problem’

In 2022, Colorado State Patrol received 31,760 reports of road rage, up from 30,347 the year before. The Colorado State Patrol Troop 4C outpost in Frisco is picture Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. In the past year, there have been at least three road rage incidents in Summit County involving firearms.
Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News

Road rage can often escalate when drivers become angry and retaliate against another driver who provokes them by driving poorly, but civilians can’t do anything about someone else’s bad driving and retaliating will do nothing to solve it, Cutler said. 

Having a weapon in a vehicle is legal, Culter said, “but when tempers get to that level of anger, the last thing you want is someone who has access to that (firearm) and they take it a step further.”

“The best thing for these types of situations is to say, ‘drivers need to check their egos before they get behind the wheel,'” he said. “I know that is hard sometimes. We want to prove our point, let them know they angered us.”

Between day-trippers from the Front Range, out-of-state visitors and commuters driving in and out the county daily, Summit County’s roads are busy, FitzSimons said. People need to take a deep breath, practice mindfulness and perhaps even meditate for a moment before they hit the road, he said.

Planning a few extra minutes to get where you’re going can relieve a lot of stress from driving, FitzSimons noted. He added carrying a firearm in a vehicle only presents the opportunity to use it, so it is better to leave it secured at home.

“People are losing their patience,” FitzSimons said. “Driving while armed is not a good idea, just like driving while intoxicated isn’t a good idea.”

Summit County is no longer the rural community it used to be, FitzSimons said, and many of these mountain passes and highways were not necessarily constructed for the amount of traffic the county sees today.

Therefore, the locals who know these roads need to be the ones to set a good example for the tourists and visitors by driving safely and exhibiting grace and calmness toward their fellow drivers, FitzSimons said.

“Summit County is no longer dirt roads, wooden sidewalks and a single stoplight,” FitzSimons said. “When I moved here 19 years ago, I thought I was moving my family to the middle of nowhere. Now we’re just another suburb of Denver.”

With the influx of visitors in recent years, Summit County’s shoulder seasons have largely disappeared as tourism is now a year-round industry, FitzSimons said. Residents need to maintain a sense of calmness on the road, especially as winter approaches and roads grow slicker, he said.

“This is how road rage starts, people start getting amped up,” FitzSimons said. “You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your own. With that in mind, if it’s safe to do so, even if it’s inconvenient, let that person pass and get some space between you and them. Don’t add to the problem. Don’t become part of the problem.”

Cutler noted that when drivers slow down and budget plenty of time to get where they’re going, these Colorado’s mountain roads can make for a beautiful and leisurely drive. With views like this, there is no reason not to be in a rush, he said.

“Enjoy the drive. You don’t have to be speeding or trying to get around someone,” Cutler said. “Get there with a few minutes to spare — and enjoy the views.”

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