Philip Jones had just driven a man — frantic and bleeding from a gunshot wound sustained moments earlier — into Paonia last October when he glanced down an alley and saw the suspected shooter behind the wheel of another vehicle.
That man was Henry Russell, Jones testified Thursday at Russell’s trial, identifying him by the clothing he wore in the courtroom.
Russell is charged with attempted first-degree murder and reckless endangerment, which he denies.
Prosecutors allege he drove by a longtime nemesis who was walking across the bridge in Paonia last Oct. 5, said the man’s name and fired a shot that struck the man in the neck. The pair had an ongoing feud and had reportedly engaged in back-and-forth thefts from one another over a period.
Jones on Thursday told jurors he was headed into Paonia that night to get dinner when he spotted a man walking along the highway, on the bridge. A silver truck passed the pedestrian, then made a sharp turn and stopped, catching Jones’ attention.
Jones said it appeared as though the driver “engaged” the pedestrian by stopping and talking, but that as he neared the truck, he heard a “pop” from a small-caliber gun.
The pedestrian fell to the ground and began scrambling up. Jones heard him calling: “Help, help! I’ve been shot.”
Jones pulled up and told the injured man to get into his van. “He was very shaken and he was holding his hand on the left side of his throat,” the witness testified.
Jones drove off with the bleeding man in tow.
According to Jones’ testimony, after the shot was fired, the truck came up on his left until an oncoming vehicle forced it back behind him.
Jones delivered the injured man to the Paonia Police Department. As the man began getting out, Jones saw the truck coming up the alley and got a view of the driver.
“That’s when I really made a scene, yelling ‘Help, help; this man has been shot,’” Jones said, adding he felt as though he was being chased and that the man at the wheel of the truck had been “driving like a bat out of hell.”
Jones left the injured man in the care of a gathering crowd near the police department and waited to speak with officers, who he allowed to search his van.
The witness said he did not see whether the injured man had anything in his hands when he encountered the truck on the bridge.
Nor had he seen Russell with a gun, Jones said, but after the gunshot he did see the injured man running as if to get out of the line of fire.
When asked by defense attorneys, Jones agreed his written statement of that night does not say that he saw the truck’s driver.
“It was something you normally don’t see in Paonia,” Jones said of the incident.
Another witness also testified to hearing a gunshot — there was no mistaking it as she drove over the bridge, witness Kimberly Peterson said.
She stopped, turned her head, and saw a man who she had passed fall to the ground. As she remarked “I think he just got shot,” the man got up and ran to another vehicle, Peterson testified.
She pulled over and told her passenger they needed to call police. As she drove into town, she saw the injured man again, this time, near the theater.
Although Peterson said she saw a truck pull up to the man prior to hearing the shot, she did not see who was driving that vehicle, per her answers to defense questions. She did not see whether the pedestrian had his hand on the truck, or if the passenger door opened. “When I turned, it was closed,” said Peterson, who had taken the stand just before Jones.
Yet another witness told of seeing a possible chase. Van Whittimore was working at a liquor store when, he said, he saw a minivan and a silver or white truck “flying by.”
Whittimore during his brief time on the stand said he could not recognize anyone in the vehicles because of the speed involved.
When Delta County Sheriff’s Sgt. Keith Sanders took the stand, public defender Patrick Crane peppered him repeatedly as to just how thoroughly he had searched the bridge and surrounding environs — especially after darkness fell.
Sanders, a patrol sergeant for the sheriff’s office, responded to the shooting scene, as did deputies. Sanders testified that although he found droplets of blood in the gravel at the site of the shooting, he didn’t find firearms, casings or rounds.
The fire department had offered to floodlight the area, but Sanders turned it down, under questioning saying that he had already searched for casings and evidence while it was still light out and the fire department had specifically asked if he wanted it to light up the bridge.
The sergeant also noted on redirect that he had not been the only law enforcement officer at the scene.
“I did not see any weapons. I did not find any weapons,” Sanders said.
Crane through his questioning sought to establish whether Sanders’ body camera had been consistently on during his investigation. He further asked if Sanders thought it could have malfunctioned and that, if it had, whether Sanders had documented the failure in accordance with agency policy.
Sanders said to his knowledge, the camera had been on and he did not think it had malfunctioned. When quizzed about department policy requiring equipment errors to be logged, Sanders said that he was seeing the footage for the first time and therefore, he could not document what he did not know.
Paonia Police Department Officer Patrick Hinyard also responded to the shooting. He saw the injured man in the care of an ambulance crew and another officer and, upon speaking to Jones, headed to the bridge to “lock down” the scene. He too found blood.
Further testimony was curtailed due to a technical issue with footage from Hinyard’s body camera.
Although prosecutors had a recording of more than two hours (including from a second call Hinyard went on that night), the defense’s upload of the evidence was only about 26 minutes long. Prosecutors only planned to play about 30 minutes, but Crane said he needed to know what the rest of the footage showed and would therefore need time to view it all.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.