Colorado bank robber throws cash in air, shouting ‘Merry Christmas’

Colorado bank robber throws cash in air, shouting ‘Merry Christmas’
By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A man with a white beard was being held on $10,000 bond for allegedly robbing a Colorado bank and throwing the stolen cash into the air while shouting, “Merry Christmas” to passersby, police and local media reported on Tuesday.

David Wayne Oliver, 65, was arrested at a nearby Starbucks coffee shop after he held up the Academy Bank in Colorado Springs on Monday afternoon, according to a police report.

Police said the suspect had “threatened the use of a weapon” and left the bank with an undisclosed amount of cash.

A police spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment, but Colorado Springs television station KKTV reported that eyewitness Dion Pascale recounted Oliver stepped outside the bank and tossed the money “all over the place.”

“He started throwing money out of the bag” before yelling, “Merry Christmas,” the TV station quoted Pascale as saying.

Pascale said bystanders retrieved some of the money and returned it to the bank as Oliver walked to the Starbucks, sat down and appeared to be waiting for police to arrest him, KKTV reported.

The Denver Post quoted police as saying “thousands of dollars” remained unaccounted for, adding there was no indication Oliver used a weapon in the heist.

Oliver, pictured in police mug shots with gray-and-white hair and a full white beard, is being held at the El Paso County jail and is set to make his first court appearance on Thursday, jail records showed. It was not clear from the records if he has an attorney.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Osterman)

Survival camps cater to new fear: America’s political unrest

By Andrew Hay

FORTITUDE RANCH, Colo. (Reuters) – Aiming an AR-15 rifle across a Colorado valley dotted with antelope and cattle, Drew Miller explains how members of his new survival ranch would ride out an apocalypse.

The former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer said his latest Fortitude Ranch community, under construction below mountain forests, will shelter Americans fleeing anything from a bioengineered pandemic to an attack on the electricity grid.

For an annual fee of around $1,000, members can vacation at the camps in good times, and use them as a refuge during a societal collapse.

“If you’ve got a lot of weapons, if you’ve got a lot of members at guard posts, defensive walls, we don’t think we’re going to need to fight,” said Miller, crouching on top of a fortified position on the camp perimeter.

The expansion of Miller’s camp chain underscores the growing mainstream appeal of the “prepper” movement long associated with anti-government survivalists.

In recent years prepping has overlapped with millennial interests in renewable energy, homesteading, minimalist living and concerns about climate change.

Then there is politics.

Increasingly, Miller said, clients fear sharp political divisions will deepen around the Nov. 3, 2020 U.S. presidential election.

“There is growing concern that after the 2020 election there could be massive, long-lasting civil unrest if people say, ‘Hey, I don’t buy the new president, I don’t recognize him or her,'” said Miller, who has added “civil war” to his risk scenarios.

Skeptics said Fortitude Ranch was preparing for catastrophic events that were unlikely and possibly not worth surviving.

There is a rational level of readiness for natural disasters or power outages, said New York University Professor Robyn Gershon, and then there is “hyper-extreme” preparedness.

She predicted a bad ending for anyone holing up in a compound with strangers to make it through a global pandemic or nuclear war.

“The quality of life will be degraded to a point where, for modern-day people, it probably won’t be worth living,” said Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology.

AR-15 OR SHOTGUN?

The solar-powered camps cater to middle-class Americans worried about their vulnerability in cities and suburbs. Unlike traditional survivalists, many are not schooled in off-the-grid living, and some have no idea how to hunt. Besides the annual fee, the main requirement for members is an AR-15 style rifle or pump-action shotgun for defense.

The camps stock about three months of food and have goats and chickens. In a collapse situation, members would follow orders from camp leaders like Miller. Tasks would include collecting firewood and nuts, killing game and growing vegetables. Everyone would do guard duty.

Miller expects marauding gangs to pour out of cities if law and order breaks down. He expects his ranches to have superior firepower. The new Colorado camp has a .50 caliber rifle to take on armored vehicles.

Anthropology professor Chad Huddleston said such fears sounded like “apocalyptic fiction.”

“The research around the world shows that communities come together first, before anything else,” said Huddleston of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, citing studies on the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Fortitude Ranch has around 175 members from all ethnic groups, many with business or military backgrounds, and most distrust the government, said Miller. He asked that exact locations of camps not be disclosed.

If he can find investors, Miller hopes to expand communities from two existing locations in Colorado and one in West Virginia to 10 more states.

“A SPECIAL GROUP”

Members like health insurance professional Kiki Bandilla, 53, of Castle Rock, Colorado, worry about over-dependence on modern technology and see the ranches as survival insurance.

“We all need to have a certain level of preparedness,” said Bandilla, who runs Denver’s Self Reliance Expo showcasing everything from tiny homes to body armor. “I see it becoming a little bit more mainstream, because I believe what’s happening in our government, on both the right and the left, is chaos.”

Tom, a 52-year-old who runs a Maryland housing business, fears a 2021 economic meltdown and wants a place to take his girlfriend and children.

“You’re going to have a lot of people who are going to want to give up, but most of those people are not going to be at the ranch,” he said, asking that his last name not be used.

Just how many Americans are prepping is hard to measure as most keep their activities secret. People within the industry, including Roman Zrazhevskiy, chief executive of Ready To Go Survival, said interest is growing.

Zrazhevskiy said sales of his survival-kit bags and gas masks have doubled or tripled on demand from “liberal preppers”. “They’re concerned about what Trump is doing,” he said. “The whole civil war thing isn’t that implausible.”

Some within the movement say private survival communities may not be for everyone.

“It would be a challenge, I think, to throw a hundred people into a compound without really knowing each other,” said Don Rodgers, who runs Rocky Mountain Readiness, which trains families in emergency preparedness and sells gear.

“It would take a special group and a special leader to hold that together.”

Miller believes Fortitude Ranch is that group: “If you’ve got to be here, then it means it’s really, really bad out there, so where are you going to go?”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Colorado; Editing by Richard Chang)

Colorado man deemed unfit for state court in abortion clinic shooting faces federal charges

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A man deemed mentally unfit to face trial in state court for a shooting spree that killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado was indicted on Monday on federal charges stemming from the 2015 rampage, U.S. prosecutors said.

The homicide charges contained in both the state and federal indictments are capital offenses, but prosecutors have yet to determine whether they would seek the death penalty if the defendant were convicted.

Robert Lewis Dear, 61, was taken into federal custody early on Monday at the State Mental Hospital in Pueblo, Colorado, where he has been confined under court order for four years, and appeared later in the day before a U.S. magistrate judge in Denver.

But the hearing was postponed until Friday after Dear, a onetime self-employed art dealer, told the judge he wanted to represent himself, Denver television station KMGH reported.

As he has during previous proceedings, Dear ranted in federal court about abortion and the selling of body parts. “I am not crazy, I’m just a religious zealot,” the TV station quoted him as saying.

Dear was originally charged with multiple counts of murder and dozens of additional offenses in the shooting at the Colorado Springs clinic that killed a U.S. military veteran, a mother of two small children and a police officer. Nine others were wounded in the five-hour siege.

In courtroom outbursts, Dear said he was guilty and proclaimed himself “a warrior for the babies,” prompting a state judge to order a mental evaluation that led to him being declared incompetent to stand trial.

An appeals court in January upheld the state’s authority to forcibly medicate Dear in an effort to restore his fitness for prosecution, but the case has remained in legal limbo.

With a statute-of-limitations deadline looming on some federal charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver decided to seek its own indictment, containing 65 counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, plus three counts of using a firearm in an act of violence resulting in murder.

The indictment alleges Dear went to the Planned Parenthood clinic in November 2015 armed with an arsenal of rifles and handguns with the intent to wage “war” because the center provided abortion services.

El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, the state prosecutor in the case, said his office supported the federal indictment and intended to eventually move forward with its case separate from U.S. court proceedings.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Heavy snow in U.S. West and Midwest could disrupt post-Thanksgiving travel

(Reuters) – A major winter storm will lumber across the United States over the weekend, dumping snow as it moves east from the U.S. West and threatening to disrupt millions of people traveling home after celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Over a foot of snow is forecast in mountainous parts of Colorado, Utah and Arizona on Friday before the storm system slips toward the upper Midwest, the National Weather Service said.

Freezing rain will likely turn to snowy blizzards in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan beginning on Friday night, with more than 18 inches of snowfall possible in some mountainous areas, the service said.

Some snow could appear in the Northeast by Sunday morning, the service said. New York City and other places further down the Atlantic Coast can expect a wintry mix of precipitation on Sunday.

More than 4 million Americans were expected to fly and another 49 million expected to drive at least 50 miles or more this week for Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association.

Wintry weather disrupted travel this week ahead of Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebrations, with airports in Minneapolis and Chicago reporting hundreds of delayed or canceled flights.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Colorado school officials consider razing site of Columbine massacre

FILE PHOTO: Students arrive for class at Columbine High School before participating in a National School Walkout to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – Public education officials in Colorado are considering a plan to tear down and rebuild Columbine High School, saying the site remains a “source of inspiration” for potential gun violence 20 years after a mass shooting there left 15 people dead.

The idea was floated on Thursday in an open letter from the superintendent of Jefferson County public schools, Jason Glass, to Columbine staff, students, parents and members of the surrounding Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado.

The proposal calls for placing a bond measure seeking $60 million to $70 million on a future ballot to pay for demolition of the existing school and construction of a new school to replace it just west of the current site.

Under the superintendent’s plan, the new campus would still be called Columbine High School, “honoring the pride and spirit the community has with the name,” and its school mascot and colors would remain unchanged.

The county Board of Education and administration are “in the very preliminary and exploratory stages” of discussing such a plan, and are seeking public feedback on the proposal, Glass said.

He cited numerous instances in which actual or would-be perpetrators of violence expressed a fascination with Columbine, including an 18-year-old Florida woman who shot herself to death in April after she sparked an extensive manhunt by traveling to Colorado days before the 20th anniversary of the 1999 massacre.

‘SOURCE OF INSPIRATION’

In 2010, 29-year-old twin sisters from Australia, obsessed with the shooting, traveled to Colorado and shot themselves at a local gun range in a suicide pact. One of the women survived, and police found among their belongings a photocopy of a news magazine cover depicting the Columbine killers and their victims.

The Columbine site, Glass said, “continues to serve as a source of inspiration for potential school shooters, and its lasting impact only seems to be growing.”

Fifteen people were killed in the Columbine rampage, which at the time ranked as the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Two high school seniors shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives in the bloodshed on April 20, 1999.

The now-retired principal of Columbine during the massacre, Frank DeAngelis, 64, said Glass had sought his opinion before going public with the demolition idea, and he thought it was a “good plan.”

“Twenty years ago, we never imagined that there would be people so infatuated with this tragedy years later,” DeAngelis said. “Maybe moving the physical plant would alleviate some of the issues.”

Aside from numerous threats and the hoaxes the school has received over the years, curiosity seekers would take pictures of their children in front of the school with the Columbine sign in the background.

“It became a tourist attraction,” he said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Months before shooting, parent warned Colorado school could be next ‘Columbine’

Crime scene tape is seen outside the school following the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Five months before Tuesday’s deadly shooting at a Colorado school, a district official urged the school’s director to investigate allegations of student bullying and violence by a parent who feared they could lead to the next “Columbine.”

In a Dec. 19 letter to the director of the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, the district official said the anonymous parent raised “concerns about student violence due to a high-pressure environment” and referred to the massacre at a nearby school in 1999.

One student was killed and eight injured when two classmates opened fire with handguns at the school on Tuesday.

The district official’s letter, seen by Reuters, said the parent told Douglas County School Board of Education Director Wendy Vogel by telephone that “many students are suicidal and violent in school. Several students have reported sexual assault and nothing is being done.”

Referencing an alleged bomb threat and “an extremely high drug culture at STEM,” the parent said the environment at the school was “the perfect storm,” according to the letter.

The parent expressed concerns about a repeat of what happened at Columbine when 12 students and one teacher were killed, about five miles northwest of the STEM school.

Douglas County School District official Daniel Winsor’s letter to STEM Executive Director Penelope Eucker asked the school to investigate the parent’s “very serious” concerns, determine their “legitimacy, and “take any remedial action that may be appropriate.”

The district informed police of the allegations, it said. Cocha Heyden, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said on Thursday that the district filed a police report about the complaints.

Winsor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eucker said in a statement on Thursday that STEM contacted the school’s 2,800 parents seeking information on the complaints.

“While STEM took the allegations seriously, our investigation revealed no evidence to support any of the allegations,” the statement said.

On January 17, the school filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court seeking to establish the identity of the anonymous parent, who it said defamed the school and Eucker.

On Feb. 1, the school told parents their attorney was seeking “full remedy” for the “outrageous accusations,” which also included embezzling public funds and teaching children how to build bombs.

“We want you to know the depth of this depravity and apologize if you find this as offensive as we did,” said that letter, seen by Reuters.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chizu Nomiyama)

Selfless teen killed in Colorado school shooting loved robotics, helping the elderly

People hold up the phone lights during a moment of silence at a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019 as U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) speaks. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Kendrick Ray Castillo, the 18-year-old who sacrificed his life to save other students during a shooting in a suburban Denver high school, loved robotics, helping the elderly in his community and making people laugh, his friend told Reuters.

Cece Bedard, who knew Castillo since elementary school, said she broke down in tears when she heard her friend had died but was not surprised at his selfless act.

“There is no doubt in my mind that he would have done anything he thought he could have to help anyone,” Bedard said on Wednesday.

Two teenagers are accused of opening fire on fellow students on Tuesday at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Denver, killing Castillo and wounding eight other students.

People listen at a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

People listen at a vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Witnesses said Castillo, who was due to graduate in three days, charged at one of the shooters.

“Kendrick lunged at him,” senior Nui Giasolli told NBC News, referring to the older of the two shooting suspects, Devon Erickson, 18, who was being held on Wednesday on murder and attempted murder charges.

“He shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape,” Giasolli said.

Fellow student, Brendan Bialy, a U.S. Marine recruit who also charged the shooter with a third student, described Castillo as an unstoppable bowling ball.

“Basically when he gets moving there’s no stopping him,” Bialy said in an interview with multiple media outlets, including Denver’s Fox News affiliate, late on Wednesday.

Bialy said his friend showed no hesitation.

Bedard said she and Castillo both volunteered with their fathers at the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s community service organization when they were in middle school.

Castillo loved tagging along with his father to volunteer with the Knights of Columbus, whether it involved carrying heavy crates of fruit for a peach drive or setting up senior lunches. He was especially good at connecting with the elderly people he served, Bedard said.

“He was always there earlier than I was and was always there later than I was,” she said.

His friends remembered Castillo as a goofy jokester, although his humor was never at anyone’s expense, Bedard said. He had a strong sense of self and did not care what other people thought of him, a trait that made him stand out among his peers.

Castillo was also a member of a regional robotics team, another community that was mourning his loss on Wednesday.

“We’re heartbroken by the death of Kendrick Castillo … Kendrick was a member of @Frc4418, of which his father is Lead Mentor,” FIRST, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing youth in STEM, said on Twitter.

Bialy said Castillo was not a victim but someone who jumped into action.

“I love that kid,” Bialy said. “He died a trooper. He got his ticket to Valhalla, and I know he will be with me for the rest of my life.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in NEW YORK; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in ATLANTA; Editing by Frank McGurty, Phil Berlowitz and Paul Tait)

Two students arrested in Colorado school shooting make first appearance

Crime scene tape is seen outside the school following the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (Reuters) – Two teenage students accused of fatally shooting one classmate and wounding eight in a suburban Denver school made separate court appearances on Wednesday, a day after their arrest on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

Douglas County District Judge Theresa Slade, who presided over both proceedings, ordered the two suspects to remain held without bond pending their next court hearings, set for Friday, when formal charges are expected to be filed.

The two youths are accused of opening fire with handguns on fellow students on Tuesday in two classrooms at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Denver.

They were arrested by police after several students under fire at the school fought back, including a young U.S. Marine recruit, Brendan Bialy, who survived, and 18-year-old robotics enthusiast Kendrick Ray Castillo, who was killed.

Castillo’s father, John Castillo, told the Denver Fox news affiliate Fox 31, that his son, “gave up his life for others.”

“If he didn’t do it, what would this mess look like?” he said.

Devon Erickson, 18, accused of taking part in a deadly school shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, appears at the Douglas County Courthouse where he faces murder and attempted murder charges, in Castle Rock, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Pool via REUTERS

The first defendant, Devon Erickson, 18, who prosecutors said they were treating as an adult, sat silently at a small table with his head bowed, hands shackled to his waist, flanked by two defense lawyers as a pair of sheriff’s deputies stood just behind them.

Slight of build with longish, unkempt black hair partially dyed bright lavender, Erickson wore an orange-red jail uniform.

His 16-year-old accused accomplice, referred to in court by his lawyer as Alec McKinney, was listed on the court docket by the name Maya Elizabeth McKinney but was addressed by the judge during the hearing as Mr McKinney.

Denver’s ABC television affiliate, citing an unidentified police source, has reported that the younger suspect identified as transgender and had been bullied for it.

Erickson’s hearing was televised live, but the judge closed McKinney’s hearing to cameras. District Attorney George Brauchler said he would decide by Friday whether to charge McKinney as a juvenile or adult.

Dressed in dark blue jail garb with short-cropped brown hair, McKinney said little in court except to answer softly, “No your honor,” when the judge asked the defendant if there were any questions. The judge refused a defense request to unshackle McKinney for the hearing.

No pleas were entered.

ECHOES OF COLUMBINE

The ABC affiliate, Denver 7, said the two pistols used in the attack had been stolen from the home of Erickson. His friends told the Denver Post that he had acted in musical theater and performed as lead singer in several rock bands. According to Denver 7, city law enforcement sources, Erickson’s parents had purchased the guns legally.

Both defendants were being held on suspicion of a single count of first-degree murder and 29 counts of attempted murder, according to court records. Eight students were wounded in the shooting and survived.

The attack occurred less than a month after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in nearby Littleton, carried out by two students who shot 13 people to death before committing suicide.

Precisely what happened inside the STEM school remained unclear as police searched for a motive in the attack.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock said there was a struggle as officers entered the building, and some students said one victim was shot in the chest as he tried to tackle a shooter.

A man who identified himself as Fernando Montoya said his 17-year-old son, a junior at STEM, was shot three times when one assailant walked into his classroom and opened fire.

“He said a guy pulled a pistol out of a guitar case and started to shoot,” Montoya told the Denver TV station.

The bloodshed shocked the affluent suburb of Highlands Ranch. Parents and students had considered the school a safe place for its 1,850 pupils ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“It still doesn’t seem real to me. It completely came out of nowhere,” Aiden Beatty, a friend of Erickson, told the Denver Post, recounting that he broke down sobbing in his car when he heard Erickson had been arrested in the shooting. “I was really close with him. We were best friends.”

The attack came a week after a gunman opened fire on the Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina, killing two people and wounding four others.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Castle Rock, Colo.; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta; writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Trott, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)

Trucker in deadly Colorado crash charged with 40 criminal counts

Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos appears in a Lakewood Police booking photo after he was arrested for suspicion of multiple counts of vehicular homicide following a crash on the I-70 in Lakewood, Colorado, U.S. April 26, 2019. Lakewood Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A Texas truck driver who police say caused a fiery multi-vehicle crash near Denver last week that killed four people and injured four was charged on Friday with 40 criminal counts including vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors said.

Police in Lakewood, Colorado said they arrested 23-year-old Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos after he lost control of his tractor-trailer truck during the evening rush hour on April 25 and caused a crash on Interstate 70 that involved at least 28 vehicles.

The district attorney for Jefferson County, where the crash took place, charged Aguilera-Mederos with 40 counts on Friday, including four counts of vehicular homicide, six of first-degree assault and 24 of attempted first-degree assault.

The tractor-trailer, which was carrying lumber, rammed into several cars, causing a pile-up that became a raging inferno, authorities said. The four men who died were all single occupants in their vehicles, according to a local TV station.

“The carnage was significant,” police spokesman Ty Countryman said at the time. “Just unbelievable.”

There was no initial indication that Aguilera-Mederos intentionally caused the crash, or that he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Countryman said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Truck driver who triggered deadly Colorado crash charged with homicide

Police Lights

(Reuters) – Police have charged a truck driver with vehicular homicide after he triggered a fiery multi-vehicle crash that killed a still unknown number of motorists, some of whom remain in the wreckage on an interstate near Denver, authorities said on Friday.

The crash on Thursday afternoon turned a stretch of Interstate 70, a major east-west highway, into a raging inferno that involved at least 28 vehicles and may have damaged the road surface and an overpass, authorities said.

A day after the crash, the death toll remains at “multiple” as responders and investigators inspect the burned-out vehicles, Lakewood, Colorado, police spokesman Ty Countryman told reporters.

“We’re just saying ‘multiple’ at this time,” he said, adding that six people were taken to hospitals.

Asked whether there were still any bodies at the crash site, Countryman said, “Unfortunately, yes, there are.”

Police said the chain-reaction crash started when a tractor-trailer truck collided with slower traffic on the highway.

The driver, who was injured in the crash, but not seriously, was taken into custody after police determined they had sufficient cause to bring “multiple counts of vehicular homicide” against him, Countryman said.

There was no indication that the driver, who was not immediately identified, intentionally caused the crash, Countryman said, adding that “at this time there’s no evidence of drugs or alcohol.”

Despite the criminal charges, Countryman said investigators were also trying the determine if the truck’s brakes failed.

The stretch of Interstate 70, which runs through Denver west into the Rocky Mountains, will remain closed in both directions at least until sometime on Saturday, state Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Josh Laipply told reporters.

Parts of the highway will need to be resurfaced and, while a preliminary check shows that a bridge over the crash site was undamaged, it will need a full safety inspection, Laipply said.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)