Trial under way for 2 accused of burglary during evacuations

LANCE BENZEL Updated: January 29, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 29, 2013

When the Waldo Canyon fire threatened the Rockrimmon neighborhood in Colorado Springs, panicked residents packed up what they could and fled.

But according to El Paso County prosecutors, Belinda Wells-Yates went “chasing the fire” — not to battle the flames, they allege, but to loot what she could while others were at their most vulnerable.

“I was helping them vacate so they wouldn’t lose nothing,” Wells-Yates allegedly joked to an undercover CBI agent while trying to sell him wares taken from a home in the 1600 block of Alleghany Drive, including a television, guitars, a jewelry box filled with trinkets and personal identification and check books.

Wells-Yates, 38, and a co-defendant, Shane Garrett, 36, began trial Tuesday in El Paso County.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May, whose home came under threat by the monster blaze in Colorado Springs, is personally prosecuting the case along with a deputy prosecutor, Natalie Mitchell.

At a pre-trial hearing in Colorado Springs last year, an undercover CBI agent whose work led to the pair’s arrest testified that Wells-Yates told him she slipped through the home’s doggy door and pillaged what she could before leaving.

The CBI agent, posing as a petty criminal named “Buzz,” initiated contact with Wells-Yates under the guise he wanted to buy stolen goods.

The agent said Garrett, of Cheyenne, Wyo., accompanied the woman to sell the items. Both Wells-Yates and Garrett suggested someone should return to cut the locks from two rifles and five handguns that were bolted to the wall.

Both face a variety of charges, including burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, identity theft and methamphetamine possession.

If convicted, prosecutors intend to seek quadrupled penalties against them because of their history of prior felony convictions.

Wells-Yates’ attorney, public defender Cindy Jones, told a jury Tuesday that others were responsible for burglarizing the home and that prosecutors have no direct evidence the her client entered the home.

“There’s a lot of people involved in this situation,” Jones said the evidence would show. “She’s trying to get rid of items that other people have given her.”

Garrett’s attorney, Phil Tate, reserved his opening statement for the end of the trial.

Mitchell, who delivered opening statements for the prosecution, said Wells-Yates and Garrett couldn’t have provided detailed information about the home’s interior without entering it.

Testimony resumes Wednesday morning and the trial is expected to continue into next week.

Wells-Yates is being held in El Paso County jail on $450,000 bond and Garrett is held on $150,000 bond.

The Waldo Canyon fire ignited June 23 in the foothills above Colorado Springs and destroyed 346 homes and killed two people before it was brought under control by hundreds of wildland firefighters.

Contact Lance Benzel: 636-0366 Twitter @lancebenzel

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