Five juveniles that escaped a youth detention center in Durango on Friday have been captured and returned, and a 21-year-old man who conspired to break the youths out of the center is now in police custody.
“What happened was unprecedented,” said Kent Moe, executive director for the mountain region of Rite of Passage, which operates the Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center at 720 Turner Drive in Bodo Park.
“It was just a bizarre circumstance, and we hope (the man who broke the juveniles out) is prosecuted to the fullest degree.”
Calls to the Durango Police Department, the law enforcement agency handling the case, in an effort to obtain the identity of the 21-year-old man suspected of orchestrating the breakout were not returned Sunday.
The DeNier Youth Services Center holds troubled males and females between the ages of 10 and 21 with a history of delinquent behavior, mental health issues, substance abuse or trauma, among other issues, according to its website.
The center has the capacity for about 28 youths.
On Friday afternoon, a 21-year-old man outside the facility “calculatingly” watched the routine of staff conducting perimeter searches, Moe said. When staff wasn’t looking, the man sneaked up to the chain-link fence around the center and cut links to allow the juveniles to escape, Moe said. The man then waited in a getaway car at an adjacent parking lot.
Five youths broke out of the juvenile detention facility, Moe said. About a dozen other juveniles, however, opted to stay inside when they could have escaped through the fence, he said.
Once the five escapees reached the man waiting inside the getaway car, they took off. Staff at DeNier tried to chase the vehicle down but were unable to stop them.
Moe said the entire incident was caught on security cameras.
According to a news release from the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, law enforcement was notified of the escape around 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Information at that time indicated a vehicle with the driver and five escapees was headed from Durango to the Denver area.
Archuleta County Sheriff Rich Valdez reportedly spotted a vehicle matching the description of the getaway car driving through Pagosa Springs, about 60 miles east of Durango, and alerted authorities.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the getaway car took off once spotted, inciting a police chase with officers from the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office and the Pagosa Springs Police Department.
The driver and five escapees then took off on U.S. Highway 160 headed eastbound over Wolf Creek Pass. The Sheriff’s Office said Colorado State Patrol and South Fork Police Department were then notified of the chase.
At mile marker 182, just before entering the town of South Fork, about 44 miles from Pagosa Springs over the dangerous mountain pass, the vehicle came to a stop and the escapees fled on foot, prompting a foot chase.
Eventually, the driver and all five juveniles were detained, arrested and transported to the La Plata County Jail, police said. Moe said the juveniles have been taken back to the DeNier Youth Services Center, and it’s likely the youths will face additional repercussions for their escape.
“I would suspect additional charges would be pending, but right now, we’re just glad they’re back and safe,” Moe said.
He said authorities believe the man had some association with the juveniles. It’s likely, too, that some youths that escaped simply took advantage of the opportunity and did not know the man.
“I know it’s happened elsewhere in the country … but it’s really just unprecedented that someone has done that here, at least in recent memory,” Moe said.