DURANGO – The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol believe they have captured the suspect who escaped a manhunt this past weekend in wilderness near Beaver Meadows, near the La Plata-Archuleta County line.
Deputies arrested Shawn Wester, 35, of Pagosa Springs on Sunday night during a follow-up investigation in which the driver of a Toyota SUV, accused of theft, eluded CSP Troopers last Thursday on U.S. Forest Service Road 620 in Archuleta County.
According to a news release from the La Plata County Sheriff's office, Wester was contacted by Sheriff’s Deputies and Colorado State Patrol Troopers at a camper trailer in a storage area at the Homestead Trails subdivision in Bayfield on Sunday.
He was in possession of a revolver which appeared to have its identification numbers removed. Wester was arrested for possession of a defaced firearm, possession of a weapon by a previous offender and first-degree criminal trespass. He is being held on a $5,000 bond at the La Plata County Detention Center in Durango.
Last Thursday evening, a CSP trooper attempted to apprehend a vehicle that was driving without headlights and pulling a trailer on U.S. Highway 160 east of Bayfield.
During that incident, according to the news release, a small trailer being towed by the SUV was detached "and set ablaze in the middle of the road.” The trailer held containers of ammunition, a few of which exploded in the fire.
“There was some ammunition that was on the trailer,” CSP Capt. Adrian Driscoll told the Durango Herald. “We think when it got lit on fire, the rounds went off. I don’t think that it was directed at us.”
A tactical team was assembled to search the area along with a helicopter. On Friday, the burned SUV was found, over a mile away from the trailer.
According to scanner traffic Friday morning, searchers found one man, who told officers he was just a hitchhiker who was hiking with another man and that they had "parted ways." When asked about the fire, the man "was adamant that he wasn't there when the car was torched and wasn't there when the trailer was torched."
The man was identified as 28-year-old Vernon Mott of Alamosa; he was taken into custody suffering from frostbite and hypothermia, then released on Saturday after receiving medical treatment and being interviewed by members of the CSP. Scanner traffic that day reported that searchers were still looking for a man believed to be “armed and dangerous” and in possession of a “silver handgun.”
The CSP, along with U.S. Forest Service rangers, concluded the search on Sunday in the belief that Wester had escaped the area by using a “GPS and cell phone.” Wester was later arrested Sunday night.
Neither Wester nor Mott have been charged by the CSP, which is continuing its investigation into last week’s incident.
La Plata Sheriff Office Public Information Officer Dan Bender said residents along the La Plata/Archuleta County line are in no danger as a result of the investigation.