One small clue led to arrest: A Summit County officer is credited with finding the vital link in the investigation of a fatal crash
SUMMIT COUNTY – Three numbers found at the scene of Oct. 15’s fatal Interstate 70 hit-and-run accident led Colorado officials to an arrest Nov. 1.
A Dodge truck that collided with the trailer during the accident hit it with such force that it left an impression of three numbers on the pick-up’s hood. That small clue was one of the few authorities had to go on. It turned out to be enough.
California trucker Gabriel Martinez was extradited Thursday from a California jail to the Summit County Jail.
A Summit County state patrol trooper’s sharp eye is credited for cracking the case, which began with precious little evidence.
The trucker was making an illegal U-turn from eastbound to westbound I-70 near the Eisenhower Tunnel about 9:30 p.m. Oct. 15 when a Dodge truck slammed into the back of the trailer. The impact killed the driver of the pickup, 30-year-old Brian Neveln, and injured 41-year-old Jeffrey Sanders. Sanders’ son, 15-year-old Joshua, seriously injured at the scene, was discharged from Denver’s St. Anthony’s Central Wednesday.
The trucker fled the scene, stopping about a mile west of the crash site to remove pieces of the Dodge truck and the trailer’s damaged rear from his vehicle.
Authorities found the numbers in the truck’s hood at a Silverthorne tow yard the day after the crash.
“They were not license plate numbers,” said Lt. Gini England, coordinator for the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) area accident reconstruction team. “They were just impressions. We were having trouble figuring out what they were to.”
Five days later, (Summit County) Cpl. Brett Williams was patrolling Highway 9 when he found an abandoned semi that roughly matched the description of the hit-and-run truck.
“There was no damage to the truck, but he noticed a graphics company logo on the back of this truck that displayed a phone number,” England said. “That phone number included the last three digits of the phone number found on the impression on the hood.”
The numbers were also the same size and font as the three found on the pick-up’s hood.
While it was not the truck driven during the accident, the sequence of numbers set off an alarm in Williams. CSP investigators got to work, calling the trucking company tied to the abandoned Frisco vehicle as well as the graphics company that had printed the logo on it “to determine how many trucking companies use this graphic on their trucks,” England said.
The graphics company makes decals for two truck lines, one of which sold its trailers to JC Trucking of Bakersfield, Calif.
“We found out this particular trucking company had a truck pass through the port at Loma at about 6:25 p.m. the night of the crash, which would have put him in the (Summit County) area at approximately the time the accident occurred,” England said. Loma is near the Utah border and is a trucking port of entry.
“We were able to determine a (JC Trucking) load was delivered in Aurora (the day of the accident). We checked with the place where the load was to be delivered and found that when the load – large screen TVs – was delivered, there was at least one TV damaged and two cartons that were damaged.”
Additionally, she said, a load stabilization bar inside the trailer was snapped in half.
“Interviews with the docking folks led us to believe Mr. Martinez was the driver,” England said. “That allowed us to obtain probable cause for search warrants for businesses in California as well as Mr. Martinez’s residence in Techapi, Calif.”
Colorado officials issued a warrant for Martinez’s arrest, then asked the California Highway Patrol to keep an eye on Martinez’s home.
“We had to time everything just right because we felt Mr. Martinez would flee for Mexico,” she said.
Last Friday, Martinez’s wife left the couple’s home with some personal belongings and drove to a Kmart parking lot where she met her husband. Police followed her.
“At that time, California Highway Patrol identified themselves, and Mr. Martinez fled on foot,” England said.
Police caught him after a short chase, she said.
“He did have $7,500 in cash on him at the time and an airline ticket in his possession from Tijuana to Guadalajara, Mexico,” England said.
Martinez hasn’t admitted any involvement in the accident, she said, nor has JC Trucking been cooperative with authorities. Martinez is being held on a warrant for criminally negligent homicide, two counts of hit and run involving serious bodily injury and tampering with evidence – all felonies.
Williams said he can’t take credit for the arrest.
“It was just a piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I was a small part of the team.”
Police still haven’t found the trailer involved in the crash.
“We are very happy,” England said. “We put more than 300 hours of investigation into this case. We were very lucky to actually be able to make an arrest when we had so little information to begin with.
“All the statistics show that after a certain period of time, the leads stop coming forward. Without Cpl. Williams’ astute observation, we probably would still be chasing ghosts,” she said.
Williams drove to Centennial Airport Thursday to take custody of Martinez and bring him to the Summit County Jail.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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