Protesters gathered shortly before 7 p.m. at Centennial Square in Sterling
Sterling Police Department officers were taken aback as community members stepped up one by one, to surprise them with a variety of goodies, as well as numerous cards, at a Back the Blue gathering Saturday, July 25, 2020. “Thank you, we can’t tell you how much we appreciate this,” officers told the community members.(Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
LIMON, COLORADO – JANUARY 2: The grouping of lights in the center of the photograph shows a drone flying several hundred feet in the night sky on January 2, 2020 near Limon, Colorado. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
A firefighting plane prepares to drop retardant on a prairie fire north of Crook Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Jeff Rice/Journal-Advocate)
As another year winds down it’s time to take a look back at some of the top new stories of 2020. For law enforcement and first responders it was a busy year.
District Attorney pleads guilty
In November, 13th Judicial District Attorney Brittny Lewton pled guilty to abusing an employee’s prescription painkillers. She pleaded to misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, misdemeanor unlawful conduct on public property and second-degree official misconduct, which is a Class 1 petty offense. Lewton was sentenced to 48 hours of community service and must undergo substance abuse evaluation and treatment and report of convictions to the state’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel for a review of her law license.
Lewton will be replaced next month by Travis Sides, who ran unopposed in this year’s election.
Protestors stage peaceful demonstration
For several weeks starting in June demonstrators gathered at Centennial Square in Sterling for peaceful protests in hopes of starting a conversation about race relations in Sterling. The local demonstrations were part of a string of protests around the country sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd while being restrained by Minneapolis police. The Sterling protests however, were aimed less at Sterling Police Department than they were at the community in general.
“People say it isn’t here, but it is,” said Sterling High School graduate Courtney Jones, who organized the demonstrations. “I went to school here, graduated in 2013, and I was (racially) harassed constantly. People wrote ‘White Power’ or drew swastikas on my books.”
Following the demonstrations, a SHS athlete and the school’s business teacher spoke out about race relations and their experiences and Northeastern Junior College President Jay Lee shared a message declaring “we must address the racism, the bigotry, and prejudice that is present, that does exist and that will not go away unless we act.”
Along with the protests, there was also community led “Back the Blue” gathering to show support to local law enforcement.
Two suspects fatally shot by police
In May, Tyler Wayne Kracht, 28, of Fort Collins, formerly of Sterling, was shot and killed after SPD Officer Austin Molcyk attempted to pull over his vehicle near Highway 6 and Atwood after recognizing Kracht as a suspect in a shooting that occurred days earlier. Molcyk was en route to work when he spotted Kracht
When Molcyk attempted to stop Kracht’s vehicle, he fled at a high rate of speed heading west on Highway 6 to Merino. The SPD pursued the suspect’s vehicle as it traveled from Merino south to Interstate 76, west on I-76 in the wrong lane, then back north to Highway 6 near Hillrose. The chase ended in a crash on Highway 6 just west of Hillrose when officers with SPD and the Logan County Sheriff’s Office conducted a high risk stop.
During the stop, shots were fired by police and Kracht died at the scene.
Molcyk and other officers involved in the incident were placed on administrative leave during an investigation of the incident, as is protocol in officer-involved shootings.
The investigation was conducted by the Morgan County Critical Incident Response Team. In October, Sterling Police Chief Tyson Kerr said the task force had completed its investigation and it had been sent to the District Attorney’s office. The DA’s office has not announced any findings yet.
A second fatal shooting happened in October, when Douglas Sanchez, 54, of Sterling, was shot by Sterling police after he fled while being pursued. Sanchez, who later died in a Denver-area hospital as a result of the shooting, had been wanted on felony charges of attempted first degree murder, menacing and possession of a weapon by a previous offender, as well as misdemeanor reckless endangerment and driving with a revoke license after firing three rounds from a .22 caliber rifle at a man working outside his home in the 800 block of N. Sixth Street.
After firing the rifle, Sanchez fled from the scene and several days later he was spotted. An officer gave chase on foot when Sanchez fled the vehicle he was in; Sanchez then stopped, turned and confronted the officer, brandishing a weapon and was shot by the officer.
No officers or bystanders were issued in the altercation.
Colorado Bureau of Investigations conducted an investigation of the shooting. As is protocol in officer shootings, the shooting officer was placed on administrative leave.
Man arrested in connection with shooting death
In August, LCSO arrested 60-year-old David Rothe of Sterling in relation to the shooting death of 49-year-old Shannon Karin Cromwell at 12534 Sugar Mill Road. Rothe was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder and felony menacing.
Rothe is due in court for a status conference on Jan. 12.
Drones raise safety concerns
From late December into January mysterious drones perplexed – and in some cases frightened – residents of northeast Colorado and southwest Nebraska. In early January, one drone was reported hovering over Sterling Regional MedCenter and later over Xcel Energy’s Pawnee Power Plant near Brush. Authorities gave chase on the ground but the drone quickly outran them. Drones were signed over Sterling Municipal Airport as well.
Several days later, a Flight for Life helicopter pilot out of St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood reported that the helicopter he was flying on a routine mission to Fort Morgan was buzzed by an unmanned small aircraft. The drone passed under the helicopter, about 100 feet below it.
In mid-January a group of Wichita, Kan., UAP enthusiasts known as ArchAngleRECON told the Journal-Advocate they may have been responsible for some of the mysterious drone sightings. The group was chasing what it believed was the mysterious “unidentified aerial phenomenon” first encountered by a Navy fighter pilot in 2004. They were trying to track what they believed was new technology aircracft some have dubbed the TicTac because that’s how it was described in the Navy reports, as well as another aircraft they believed was flying underneath it.
While the drones seemed to vanish for a period, there have recently been new reports of drone sightings on social media.
Blaze near Crook destroys 700-acres
Colorado had a particularly devastating wildfire season this year. Logan County residents dealt with smoky conditions as a result of the fires that occurred along the Front Range, which caused extensive damage there, and while there were no fires of that magnitude here, in July a fire north of Crook did burn 716 acres.
Fire response involved every crew in the county except Merino, which covered Sterling while Sterling Fire Department responded to the fire. A state engine stationed in Sterling also responded and the Division of Fire Prevention and Control called in a heavy air tanker to help combat the blaze.
Structural damage from the fire was contained to a small storage shed, as firefighters were able to keep the flames away from the home and big barn on the property where the fire began. Otherwise, the damage was limited to a field, some pasture, feed and trees.
Containment of the fire, which took most of the night, was made possible by the combined efforts of a neighbor who happens to be a volunteer firefighter with the Crook department, and the air tanker. The neighbor used his tractor and disc to cut a line, and the plane sprayed along that line to create a big fire break that helped keep the flames from spreading.