Steamboat Springs Sgt. Dale Coyner and officer Scott Middleton first responded to the house at 2739 Iris Lane at about 9:30 a.m. Friday after Rhonda Heaton Cash’s co-workers asked officers to check on her because she did not show up for work.
When Coyner and Middleton knocked on the door and yelled Rhonda Cash’s name, they heard a shot. That set in motion the response for the rest of the incident.
Steamboat Springs Police Department officials have said they suspect that Robert Cash shot his estranged wife in the back of the neck at about 6:30 a.m. and shot himself in the chest when officers arrived at the door three hours later. But because officers didn’t know where the shot came from, where the shooter was or what dangers were waiting inside, Police Chief JD Hays said it was important for officers to wait for the backup they needed.
Police arrived at the house at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t enter until 11 a.m. Hays provided an account of why that time was necessary for officers to assemble at the house and enter safely.
Because it was a Friday, several senior members of the police force were on a furlough day. Patrol Capt. Joel Rae was among the first of the furloughed workers to respond, followed by Hays and Detectives Capt. Bob DelValle, also on a furlough day. Only administration is furloughed, not officers.
Hays said he arrived between 10 and 10:10 a.m. and officers, with bulletproof vests and rifles, began assembling and preparing to go inside.
“We were waiting for bodies,” Hays said, because they needed enough officers to cover every angle as they entered the house.
“Because it is a multiroom house, you have to clear all the rooms, and you don’t know where anybody is,” he said.
Detective Nick Bosick reached Rhonda Cash on the phone at about 10:25 a.m., so officers knew she was alive, injured and in the bathroom. But neither Rhonda Cash nor the officers knew where Robert Cash was.
“You need enough people to search the house in a safe manner and get through all the rooms,” Hays said. “That takes more than a couple people to get that done.”
So more officers were called to the scene, including members of the department’s emergency response team, the local equivalent of a SWAT team.
Members of that team must get a recommendation from their superior, apply and go through a physical test to get on the team.
As the team prepared to enter the house, officers from other agencies also offered their help securing the perimeter of the neighborhood, including two deputies from the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, an officer from the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a State Parks ranger.
Hays said officers were coming from all over, and it took time to get everyone to respond.
“Part of the problem is we’re not a big city where we just have these resources sitting waiting to respond at a drop of a hat,” he said.
Hays said there is no definite number of officers that were required, but several showed up at the same time, bringing the total to eight. That was enough to line up and enter the house.
Tactical team members Sam Silva, JD Paul, Josh Carrell and Jeff LaRoche, along with Coyner, DelValle, Bosick and Rae entered the house using a flash-bang grenade.
Police fired no shots.
Hays said the most important thing during the response was making sure enough officers were on scene to “do it in a safe manner, so none of the officers get hurt.”
Police said there were no updates on Robert or Rhonda Cash on Wednesday, and a hospital spokeswoman at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver said she could not provide an update about their condition. The last available update from Tuesday was that the bullet was removed from Rhonda Cash’s spine, and Robert Cash remained in a medically induced coma.
— To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org