Deputy DA tried in vain to keep motorist in jail - Wheat Ridge man now suspect in double fatality
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Author: Ellen Miller, Julie Poppen And Marilyn Robinson, Rocky Mountain News
A Park County prosecutor tried last month to keep in jail a driver who is now suspected in a high-speed crash that killed two college students.
"I thought he was a clear and present danger to the motoring public," Deputy District Attorney Martin Kenney, of Fairplay, said Friday.
On Thursday night, police say, Patrick Strawmatt killed two 19-year-old Mesa State College freshmen as he drove 120 mph from a pursuing Colorado State Patrol trooper.
Strawmatt, a former Lafayette police officer, was driving erratically when troopers attempted to pull him over about 10 p.m. Thursday.
He made an obscene hand gesture and raced away, slamming into a compact car carrying two students, Jennifer Kois , of Brighton, and Jacob Brock, of Eagle.
As firefighters worked to pull Strawmatt from his SUV, he swore and spit at them, Trooper Ron Greasley said.
Strawmatt was ordered held on $1 million bail Friday, as District Attorney Pete Hautzinger contemplated the possibility of adding first-degree murder charges to counts of vehicular homicide and DUI.
A Wheat Ridge resident, Strawmatt, 42, has a lengthy criminal record, but he was able to get out of jail the day after his Park County arrest last month because his bail was set at $15,000.
Park County chase
Strawmatt was charged in February with ramming the patrol car of Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener and punching the sheriff in the face after a high-speed chase. Wegener said Strawmatt was drunk.
Strawmatt was arrested Feb. 15 in Park County and faced multiple charges, including vehicular eluding, assault on a peace officer and DUI, court records indicate.
"I used to be a (state) trooper, and this was very disturbing," Kenney said. "He took on three uniformed officers, rammed the sheriff's car and punched the sheriff."
Kenney said he recited Strawmatt's extensive criminal record at the man's bond hearing, but was unable to persuade Magistrate Larry Allen to deviate from the bond schedule. Allen could not be reached for comment Friday.
Wegener said Friday that the chase began when deputies checked on reports of a drunken driver.
"It was a high-speed chase, and we tried to pull him over," Wegener said. "I was able to pull in front of him and slowed him down and eventually stopped, and he rammed into the rear of my patrol car.
"It took three of us to get him out of the vehicle."
Strawmatt was hired as a police officer in Lafayette on Jan. 7, 1987.
Within 18 months, he earned "senior police officer" status, which meant he was doing his job according to expectations, said Penny Ford, who works in the city's human resources office. He resigned on Nov. 30, 1994.
Leo Carrillo, who was the police chief in Lafayette during Strawmatt's time with the department, said Strawmatt "didn't cause us any problems."
He worked in patrol, Carrillo said. He left of his own accord and was not fired. Ten years after leaving the department, Strawmatt was arrested for cruelty to animals, burglary and other charges, beginning a string of at least nine arrests, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records.
According to court records, a temporary restraining order was filed against him in February 2005 in connection with a domestic violence case in Littleton. The restraining order was vacated in March 2005.
In December 2005, Strawmatt pleaded guilty to aggravated cruelty to animals. He was sentenced to three years of probation in Jefferson County District Court. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge.
At Mesa State College in Grand Junction, students grieved, and counselors were called in to help Friday, said Shannon Robinson, president of the school's Associated Student Government.
Robinson, 38, the mother of an 18-year-old and two younger children, said the circumstances of the students' deaths are senseless.
"This infuriates me," she said. "He shouldn't have been released to endanger people."
Father watched son spiral downward before fatal crash
Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Author: David Montero, Rocky Mountain News Staff writer Charley Able and correspondent Ellen Miller contributed to this report.
JR Strawmatt would like to be clear: The choices his son made last month are his son's and his son's alone. But that doesn't mean Strawmatt can't relate to some of them.
It was 21 years ago when the 66-year-old Strawmatt began his sobriety. Prior to that, booze was the reason for life - often at the expense of steady employment and family.
He even, at times, had fleeting thoughts of leaving the country or killing himself.
Then his wife and three sons intervened and, in 1984, they told him to choose between them and liquor. He was 43. He didn't choose family for another two years.
"I had to make a decision," Strawmatt said. "The elevator either stops or it takes you all the way down until you're buried. I made the decision to make a change, and by the grace of God and some good luck, I'm here."
The same can barely be said for his oldest son, Patrick Strawmatt.
The 42-year-old, who has been sitting in jail on a $1 million bond, will appear today in a Mesa County courtroom to face possible murder charges.
He is accused of fleeing a state trooper on March 22 while allegedly drunk and, traveling at 120 mph on Interstate 70, plowing into a car carrying two Mesa State College students. Jacob Brock and Jennifer Kois , both in their teens, died in the collision near Clifton in western Colorado.
It's a tragedy JR Strawmatt is having trouble reconciling. He said his heart grieves for the families of Brock and Kois . They're the ones suffering, he said.
But he also thinks of his son - whom he hasn't talked to at length in two years - and wonders what will become of that relationship.
"I don't hate my son. I hate what he's done, but I don't hate him," JR Strawmatt said. "It's hard for me to not think of him as an individual that had promise in life."
Son makes adjustment
Patrick Strawmatt was born in West Covina, Calif., and lived there for seven years before the family moved to Colorado.
Even though JR Strawmatt's drinking was a constant backdrop in their lives, young Patrick seemed to adjust - doing well enough in school to get by but also excelling when subjects interested him.
He graduated from Wheat Ridge High School in 1982 and expressed interest in becoming a police officer, his father said.
Patrick married his girlfriend in 1984, and three years later, the couple had their first child, a daughter. That same year, he joined the Lafayette Police Department. Two years after that, they had a son.
Patrick Strawmatt took to police work immediately.
"He was an intelligent, pretty hardworking young man who did a good job," said Brad Wiesley, who was a police lieutenant when Strawmatt worked in Lafayette. "I always liked him and don't know anyone who disliked him."
Wiesley remembered Strawmatt was active with DUI cases. His father, who had been sober for about a year when Strawmatt started on the force, also remembered him being interested in those cases. But JR Strawmatt said he doesn't remember any single case standing out to his son.
By the time Patrick Strawmatt resigned in good standing from the police department in 1994, JR Strawmatt said he thought he'd made peace with his son for some of his poor fathering.
"Eight years after being sober, he wrote a letter that said he wasn't happy with the amends I made with him," JR Strawmatt said. "We talked and, after that point, he could talk to me about anything, including my drinking, without hanging his head."
Divorce, then a new job
In his own family, however, things weren't going so well.
Patrick Strawmatt had a penchant for using his cutting humor to put down his wife. At first, she shrugged it off. But it got worse, and the couple divorced in 1993.
JR Strawmatt said his son always had a knack for selling things, so after Patrick left the police force he moved to Montana to sell cell phones. But his ex-wife and his father said he missed seeing his young children.
Strawmatt worked his way back to Denver and began working for a telecommunications company as a salesman.
It was then that he saw an opportunity to become a bail bondsman.
Blayne Brown recognized Strawmatt's skills as a businessman and, with his solid law enforcement background, said it was a no-brainer to bring him on board. Brown worked the Fort Collins area, while Strawmatt worked the Denver area.
"He was as good as they get," Brown said. "He was so good, I let him be his own agent. He was very good at it. Smart, responsible and everything you'd look for in the job."
Strawmatt remarried in 1999 to a bail bondswoman and brought his father into the business in 2003 on a part-time basis.
"I was semi-retired and it gave me something to do," JR Strawmatt said. "But it can be a hard, ugly business, too."
The following year, things started to go south for Patrick Strawmatt. Brown said he became less reliable and the two had a falling out. He wouldn't reveal the reason, but said it wasn't related to the business. By 2004, Brown couldn't even reach him.
"I called and left messages, but it was like he just disappeared," Brown said. "I haven't talked to him in three years."
A downward spiral
During the past three years, much of Patrick Strawmatt's biography has been written in police records and court appearances.
The most dramatic incident occurred in May 2004, when the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office showed up at his ex-girlfriend's house after Strawmatt shot her dog several times.
According to a police report, the dog had bitten Strawmatt, so he marched out to his motorcycle, pulled out a handgun, came back in and shot the animal, whose name was Hoss.
But the pit bull didn't die.
The ex-girlfriend begged Strawmatt to put the dog out of its misery, but he refused and took off on his motorcycle. Later, he left a profane message on the woman's cell phone.
He left an even more ominous one after that: "I told you what would happen if that f---ing animal bit me. Go ahead and f--- with my family. I've made arrangements for somebody to take care of it if you do."
In court, a veterinarian testified about Strawmatt's behavior.
"Whatever Hoss' behavior was that day, reasonable, nonviolent people don't kill pets with a gun in a home," he said. "In my opinion, shooting a pet in anger should send a strong message as to the violent nature of the defendant. People who kill pets out of anger, control, revenge or pleasure will be violent again."
Incredibly, the whole incident took place shortly after Strawmatt had been hospitalized for a heart attack.
Series of problems
JR Strawmatt remembered visiting his son at North Suburban Medical Center in Thornton after his heart failed in May 2005. Their relationship at that point was strained, and JR Strawmatt remembered asking the nurse to ask his son if it would be OK to talk with him.
"We didn't talk much," JR Strawmatt said. "Mostly small talk, but nothing substantive."
Strawmatt said his son has had a series of problems with his heart, which is functioning at only about 20 percent of its capacity.
But that didn't stop him from continuing to spiral even further downward.
The family grew even more estranged from Patrick, and many people feared him. His father said Patrick told him to stay away from his children.
By February this year, JR Strawmatt and most of the family weren't even aware of what Patrick Strawmatt was up to and were surprised to learn that he allegedly rammed Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener's car and assaulted him while in an alcohol-fueled rage.
Strawmatt posted bail in that case and was released.
Then came the night of March 22.
"My primary concern is for the families who have been hurt," JR Strawmatt said. "We're all baffled in most ways and extremely distraught from what he has done."
What's left for the Strawmatt family is a cloud of confusion. JR Strawmatt said he won't be in court for his son's hearing today and doubts anyone else from the family will be, either.
But he also said that could change if his son asks.
"If he wanted to see me and talk to me again, I would go and visit with him, I guess," JR Strawmatt said. "What he needs to do, I don't know. His situation right now - he'll probably never be back in the public again.
"My feeling is he has to face what he's done as a man. . . . He's probably hurting pretty bad, and I pray for him and I hope he can get help if he decides to."
Key dates in Patrick Strawmatt 's life
* Moved to Colorado with father and family when he was seven
* Graduated from Wheat Ridge High School 1982
* First married in 1984. Had two children.
* Joined Lafayette Police Department in 1987
* Divorced July 1993.
* Married for second time in 1999
* Became licensed bail bondsman in March 2001
* May 2004, had a heart attack.
* That same month, went to girlfriend's house and shot her dog. Arrested and convicted of cruelty to animals
* December 2004, Wheat Ridge Police Department called to his house on four separate occasions ranging from physical abuse of girlfriend to reports of shots fired at the house.
* January 2005, bail bondsman license expires
* February 2006, accused of drunk driving, ramming Park County sheriff's car and assaulting the sheriff
* March 22, Strawmatt's car slammed into a car carrying two teenagers. They were killed and he was arrested.
According to the arrest affidavit:
* Strawmatt appeared "intoxicated and was extremely uncooperative with firefighters and police officers on the scene." He cursed at emergency personnel and spit blood on at least one firefighter.
* At St. Mary's Hospital, Strawmatt had "a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech and a hostile attitude." His blood had to be forcibly removed for testing, the affidavit said.
* Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said he is strongly inclined to file murder charges but won't say what his plans are until court today.
Ex-officer formally charged in crash deaths - Judge rebuffs try for hearing delay until end of July
Rocky Mountain News
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Author: Ellen Miller, Special to the Rocky
Liane VanFeldt clutched the piece of paper charging Patrick Strawmatt with the murder of her daughter as the shackled and handcuffed former cop was led into a courtroom here Tuesday.
Sitting next to her husband, Peter VanFeldt, and her daughter, Jamie Kois , she put her hand to her mouth when she saw him for the first time.
Strawmatt, 42, of Westminster, was formally charged with two counts of first-degree murder in a 22-page complaint filed in Mesa County District Court.
He also was charged with vehicular homicide, assault, DUI and other crimes, according to the complaint.
Strawmatt's sport utility vehicle reached speeds of 120 mph on March 22 as he tried to outrun state troopers along Interstate 70.
He slammed into the rear of the car carrying college sweethearts Jennifer Kois , of Brighton, and Jake Brock, of Eagle.
Both 19-year-olds were students at Mesa State College, in Grand Junction.
Authorities said Strawmatt was drunk at the time.
Strawmatt would face life in prison or possibly the death penalty if convicted.
The former Lafayette police officer displayed "an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life," the complaint said.
District Judge Brian Flynn set a preliminary hearing for June 11, overriding defense suggestions that the probable-cause hearing be delayed until the end of July.
"I've talked at length with the families, and they have a desire to move relatively quickly," District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said.
Flynn agreed, saying that scheduling the preliminary hearing at the end of July "would be an unreasonable delay."
Strawmatt, who is jailed on
$1 million bail in Mesa County, had been free on $15,000 bail from Park County the night of the fatal crash near Clifton.
He allegedly eluded Park County law enforcement officers in a chase Feb. 15 that ended with Strawmatt ramming the patrol car of Sheriff Fred Wegener and punching him in the jaw.
Ex-cop pleads guilty in road deaths of 2 students
Rocky Mountain News (CO) - Saturday, August 11, 2007
Author: Ellen Miller, Special to the Rocky
A former Lafayette police officer who pleaded guilty Friday to vehicular homicide in the deaths of two 19-year-old college students likely will spend most, if not all, of the rest of his life in prison.
Patrick Strawmatt, 42, admitted to three of 22 charges against him in the March 22 deaths of Jacob Brock, of Eagle, and Jennifer Kois , of Brighton, both students at Mesa State College.
Strawmatt raced away from Colorado State Patrol troopers, after making an obscene gesture at them when they tried to stop him on Interstate 70 near Clifton, sped up and slammed into the rear of a small car at an estimated 120 mph, killing both students, according to court records.
His blood alcohol content was 0.29 percent, more than three times the level at which drivers in Colorado are presumed to be driving under the influence.
Strawmatt pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide and one of vehicular eluding, all felonies, and faces a maximum prison sentence of 72 years.
"It's the right thing to do and not put people through a long and arduous process," Strawmatt told Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn.
The maximum sentencing range was pushed upward to 24 years on each count, Flynn said, because Strawmatt was on felony probation after shooting his ex-girlfriend's dog in Jefferson County.
However, Strawmatt pleaded not guilty to 19 other charges that could increase his sentence, including first-degree murder through "extreme indifference," first- and second-degree assault and numerous crimes of violence.
Flynn set a Sept. 10 deadline for District Attorney Pete Hautzinger and public defender Dave Eisner to reach an agreement on additional pleas that would resolve the case without a trial.
Should no plea agreement be reached, Strawmatt would stand trial on the remaining 19 charges.
"He made it clear to law enforcement from the first day he didn't want to go to trial and doesn't want the families to go through a trial," Eisner said.
Hautzinger acknowledged that plea negotiations will continue, but "I'm not going to do anything the families don't want me to do. They are most interested in him spending the rest of his life in prison. Their concern is him getting out and doing it again."
Vern and Marilyn Brock, of Eagle, Jacob's parents, and Liane and Peter VanFeldt, of Brighton, Jennifer 's mother and stepfather, attended the half-hour hearing Friday, met briefly with Hautzinger and left without comment.
"I can't recall a case of this magnitude where a defendant chose to plead guilty to some counts but not others," Hautzinger said. "The focus is on how much time he spends in prison."
He said prisoners who earn good time can become eligible for parole after serving 37 percent of their sentences.
"Given Judge Flynn's sentencing practices, that could be 72 years, so he'd theoretically be eligible in 26 or 27 years, and he's 42 now," Hautzinger said.
"He didn't plead to any of the counts that carry a crime of violence count, which would mean he'd serve 75 percent of his sentence."
"He's never getting out," Eisner said. "This guy can't survive a 10-year sentence. He needs a heart transplant. And he has the case in Park County."
Strawmatt faces a trial in Park County in October on charges of eluding officers while driving drunk, ramming the patrol car of Sheriff Fred Wegener and punching the sheriff in the face when Wegener tried to remove him from his vehicle last Feb. 15.
Ex-police officer pleads guilty in crash that killed two teens
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Author: Ellen Miller, Special to the Rocky
Two families who lost teenagers to a drunken driver reacted with sadness and relief Friday when he pleaded guilty to charges that are expected to keep him in prison for the rest of his life.
Patrick Strawmatt, a former Lafayette police officer who turns 43 Tuesday, will be sentenced Friday to at least 64 years, after pleading guilty to four first-degree assault charges that carry crime-of-violence sentence enhancers. He would have to serve a minimum of 48 years before he could be paroled.
"The reality is, he's 42 years old with a bad heart condition, so the likelihood is he'll never get out," Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said after the hearing.
Strawmatt previously pleaded guilty to counts of vehicular homicide and vehicular eluding in the March 22 deaths of Jacob Brock, of Eagle, and Jennifer Kois , of Brighton, both Mesa State College students.
They died after Strawmatt crashed into the rear of their car as he fled state troopers on Interstate 70 near Clifton.
"It's still incomprehensible, but it is a blessing that this doesn't have to go on," said Brock's father, Vern, after Friday's hearing. "It's never been about satisfaction, but due process has worked here and the public will be protected."
Brock said that his daughter, Kathryn, likely will make a statement at sentencing next week. She did not attend the hearing Friday, but Brock and his wife, Marilyn, and son Weston, did.
Friday's sentencing also will mark Weston's 14th birthday, which Brock called "both bitter and sweet."
"It reopens the wound every time we come to Grand Junction, driving past the accident scene and coming to court," he said.
Kois ' stepfather and mother, Peter and Liane VonFeldt, and Jennifer 's younger sister, Jamie, also attended the hearing. Jamie sobbed on her mother's shoulder as Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn read the charges.
When Flynn asked Strawmatt why he was pleading guilty, Strawmatt replied, "Because it's the right thing to do, to take responsibility for what's happened."
"I think he's truthful," Peter VonFeldt said after the hearing. "We didn't want to put the other kids through any more."
Strawmatt, who was a Lafayette police officer from 1987 to 1994 and later was a bail bondsman, has a case pending in Park County from last February. He is accused of leading authorities on a chase and punching Sheriff Fred Wegener in the jaw.
Tears fill courtroom as driver gets 72 years in teens' deaths
Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Author: Ellen Miller, Special To The Rocky
A former Lafayette police officer who killed two 19-year-old college students while driving drunk was sentenced Friday to 72 years in prison, believed to be the longest prison term ever imposed in a Colorado vehicular homicide case.
Patrick Strawmatt, 43, shed tears as he listened to the wrenching statements from the families of Jake Brock, of Eagle, and Jennifer Kois , of Brighton, students and sweethearts at Mesa State College.
Many of the friends and relatives of his two victims' families who packed the courtroom cried, too.
"There's a lot I would like to say, but the reality is I don't have the words to speak about the unspeakable I have done," Strawmatt, a former police officer and bail bondsman, told Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn. "I am deeply sorry and desperately remorseful."
Strawmatt will not become eligible for parole until he is 91.
Strawmatt was on felony probation from Jefferson County and free on $15,000 bail from Park County when he killed Brock and Kois . His blood-alcohol content was 0.29 percent, more than three times the legal limit, and he had five prescription drugs in his system.
"You murdered two young people,'' Flynn told Strawmatt as he imposed sentence. "It's pretty clear you knew the danger of what you were doing. It was your decision that ended up in the murder of two young people."
Liane VonFeldt, Kois ' mother, stood with her husband, Peter, and surviving daughter, Jamie, and told Strawmatt, "You have controlled our lives" from the moment the family was notified of the death.
"Just going to the mailbox every day," she said. "There are no letters from Jen, instead we get medical bills and autopsy reports."
Strawmatt, initially charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to reduced charges of vehicular homicide, vehicular eluding and first-degree assault.
"I want to thank Mr. Strawmatt for pleading guilty and not putting us through something we couldn't handle,'' said Vern Brock, Jake's father, referring to a trial and appeals.
Strawmatt still faces charges in Park County from the February incident, three weeks before the deaths of Brock and Kois , in which he allegedly eluded authorities, rammed the sheriff's car and punched Sheriff Fred Wegener in the face after he was stopped.