Police evacuated residences nearby as crowd gathered to see outcome

Quick thinking by four friends at a Fruitvale duplex probably helped save their lives during what could have been a deadly scenario early Sunday afternoon.

An armed man who allegedly attempted to carjack a vehicle at a nearby gas station chose to knock on Sara Hill’s door, 614B Jackson St. Over the course of about 20 minutes, Hill, her roommate Levi Costopoulos, and their friends, Brett Ross and Tim Mayo were able to get out of the home safely, but a more than four-hour standoff ensued between the man and police.

Just after noon, Hill answered a knock at the door to find a heavily tattooed man in a sweat-stained shirt with a shotgun at his side.

“He said, ‘This is a bad situation’ and asked if my husband was home,” Hill said, replying she didn’t have a husband and closing the door.

But a T-shirt hanging over the door kept it from shutting as Hill scurried to a back bedroom where she relayed the scene to her three friends. The man pushed open the door, following Hill down the hall, she said.

Upon hearing about an unknown man with a shotgun, Ross, a former U.S. Marine, reached for a shotgun that was already in the room. It was unloaded, and he knew it.

The two squared off, then Ross set his gun down.

“He said, ‘It looks like I’ve got the draw on you,’ ” Ross recalled. “He looked like he was tweaking on something.”

The man had SS tattooed on an eyelid — the letters possibly indicating a Nazi reference — and “he was all over the room” acting frantically, the four people said.

The man leveled the gun at Mayo’s stomach, and that’s when Ross said he tried to calm the intruder and divert the man’s attention to himself.

“I just tried to get him to talk. I emptied out my pockets to distract him,” Ross said. “I just wanted to get him out of the house. At that point, I knew he was serious.”

The man demanded all the cellphones and wallets in the home, which were handed over. He wanted car keys and told Ross to start the truck parked outside. He wanted Ross to ride with him for a while, then he would drop him off.

“He said, ‘if you call the cops, I’ll kill you,’ ” Costopoulos said.

A .45-caliber gun was nearby, but Ross said it was just out of his reach, otherwise he would have used it in self-defense. Also in the home was an SKS, a semi-automatic rifle, which the residents later reported to police.

The man marched the four out of the home, following them with the shotgun.

Just as Ross was starting the truck, a trooper in a Colorado State Patrol vehicle crept down the road. Ross caught the trooper’s eye and pointed to the suspect, without the man noticing. The intruder saw the officer.

“Looks like I’m busted now,” Ross recalled the man saying, and the suspect ran back into the house.

The four friends spent the next four hours outside, Ross wearing socks but not shoes.

Another woman living in the duplex, Rene Heinrich, also was forced to make a bold escape. She was taking a shower when she heard the phone ringing nonstop. Heinrich answered it in a towel, and a police officer told her about the brewing standoff and to put on some clothes. On the count of three, she was to run out of her home toward F Road. She threw on a robe and wrapped the towel around her hair.

Once outside, a neighbor soon enough offered her a sweat suit to wear.

As neighbors gathered in the street, members of the SWAT team began to take position, and the Mesa County’s Sheriff’s Department tactical vehicle, the BearCat, lent a surreal vibe to the usually quiet neighborhood.

Two National Guard members with sniper rifles walked down the street, then disappeared out of view. The street filled with people aiming to get a better look at the influx of officers, who at times had their assault rifles drawn.

About 5 p.m., the suspect came out of the house and was taken away by law officers.

After hours of tension, neighbors’s faced showed relief.

“I hope I never have to do that again,” Heinrich said.


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