A routine "motorist assistance" stop by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife park ranger turned into a three-day hunt for a wanted fugitive recently at Lathrop State Park and ended with two arrests.
It started when CPW Park Ranger Spencer Gerk stopped a car late on Saturday, June 29, as he tried to check for a park pass and reservation.
Gerk noticed the vehicle had no pass and it was lingering in the park after hours. The driver and a female passenger had gotten out of the running vehicle, which was illegally parked.
They were standing at a park information map as Gerk approached the driver and asked to see a driver's license. That's when he noticed "multiple purses" in the back seat and other items that made him suspicious.
The driver said he didn't have a driver's license and tried to grab a knife clipped to his pocket. Gerk said he drew his own service weapon and the male suspect turned and fled south into the park. Gerk detained the female passenger and called in the vehicle, learning the car was stolen and it was displaying plates stolen from another vehicle.
Upon searching the car, Gerk found drugs and stolen property, including the purses. The woman was arrested and the search intensified for the missing driver. Joining Gerk and park staff in the manhunt were Park Manager Stacey Koury, CPW District Wildlife Officer Travis Sauder, based in Walsenburg, CPW Ranger James Wilson from Trinidad Lake State Park as well as deputies from the Huerfano County Sherriff's office and Colorado State Patrol troopers.
Eventually, the male suspect, Daniel Lee Neil, was caught in Walsenburg on July 2 without incident. He and his passenger, Jennifer Irene Wilton, were arrested on multiple charges including aggravated motor vehicle theft, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Wilton also faced a charge of possession of a concealed weapon.
"I'm really proud of the way Ranger Gerk reacted and the teamwork shown by Travis J.J., and our partnering law enforcement agencies to jump in and help track the fugitive," Koury said. "We take our law enforcement duties very seriously because we want the public to know they are safe in our parks when they come to visit. They should take comfort knowing CPW rangers are on the job, seven days a week."