The wife of a man accused of threatening people with a hatchet near Mount Herman Road isn't convinced he's responsible for a two-state crime wave.
Could Daniel Nations, 32, get angry enough to pull a hatchet on people he felt offended him, as his arrest charges allege? "Possibly," his wife, Katelyn Nations, 30, said. "In a fit of rage, yes."
But is he capable of killing, as authorities have openly questioned as they investigate murders in Colorado and Indiana?
"I don't really know," Katelyn said, thinking back over his increasingly aggressive behavior in the months before his arrest on the hatchet charge. "But he scares the heck out of me."
Speaking out extensively about the accusations for the first time, Katelyn was direct Wednesday: "I'll talk about anything but my kids." The children are in the custody of social services, she said.
It was death that brought them to Colorado Springs, Katelyn said.
The couple had been living in a motel in Greenwood, Ind., where records show Daniel was regularly complying with his sex offender registry check-ins, when he learned in May that his only brother, Edward Lyles, 39, was killed in Colorado Springs five months earlier. Lyles died in January following a brutal assault.
Daniel seemed to "snap," Katelyn said.
He'd never known his father. He lost his step-grandfather, with whom he was close, in 2011. And his mother was murdered at the hands of his uncle when Daniel was 17. She suffered multiple stab wounds before being dragged into the woods behind her house and covered in leaves, records said. His uncle remains in a South Carolina prison.
Lyles was the only family Daniel had left, save for his wife, their two children and his grandmother, whom he hadn't seen or spoken to in years. He wanted answers, Katelyn said. They didn't know Lyles' attacker, Matthew Stroker, 35, already had pleaded guilty to kicking Lyles in the head with steel-toed boots and had been sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Daniel was so adamant about coming to Colorado that he packed up the family less than two weeks later and started driving them west, Katelyn said. Court records note Daniel's failure to register and show he left the hotel on May 12.
The family arrived in Colorado at the beginning of June, Katelyn said, but when "things didn't go the way he wanted," Daniel started to fall apart.
He claimed he couldn't get answers about his brother, though he never explained why. He struggled to find work or a stable place for the family to live because of his sex offender status, leaving the family, now with a 4 year old and an infant, to toggle between sleeping at cheap hotels and camping. They repeatedly fell victim to theft, Katelyn said.
Once, they returned to their camp in the Mount Herman area to find their tent and belongings stolen. "All that was left was the tent stakes," Katelyn said. Later, the front passenger window of their car was smashed and money and property taken.
Katelyn bought a gun for protection. Daniel just got mad, she said.
"He kept taking everything personally," Katelyn said. "He had less patience with anybody that was rude to him. We had a small car, people could look in and you could tell we were traveling. He'd yell at people he thought were looking down on him.
"It's like he lost all reasoning when we came here," she said.
Daniel has always had a temper, Katelyn conceded.
When he gets mad, "he keeps accelerating," she said. In fits of jealous rage he's kicked dents into her car and he left her with a broken nose in 2015, leading to his felony conviction for domestic battery in the presence of a child.
A former landlord, Randy Hamilton, also accused Daniel of having "a zero-tolerance temper," according to The Journal and Courier. Hamilton, who rented a house to the Nations family in Martinsville, Ind., recalled seeing Daniel chop trees and a chair with a hatchet during one of his fits of anger.
"He's a damn nut, I'll tell you that," Hamilton said.
Katelyn said Daniel was more controlling than violent toward her, and it only worsened in Colorado. He demanded she turn over her phone, limited her interactions with friends and family on Facebook, and always carried their money and car keys in his pocket. She was rarely allowed away from him, she said.
But he never threatened her with a weapon, she said.
Then, a chance encounter with an erratic driver seemed to send him over the edge.
Katelyn said the family was driving down Mount Herman Road in August or September, she couldn't remember the date, when a passing truck took a corner too fast and edged into their lane. Daniel whipped the car to the right to avoid crashing, but the maneuver brought the vehicle dangerously close to tumbling off the side, Katelyn said.
"That set him off," Katelyn said. "He jumped out and took off screaming after them, but I was so scared about what happened I never looked back. If he had a hatchet, I never saw it."
Daniel's explosion lasted only about five minutes, Katelyn said. The truck never stopped.
That was Daniel's only aggressive interaction on Mount Herman Road that Katelyn said she witnessed or was aware of, though police said in his arrest records that a man and woman resembling Daniel and Katelyn Nations were involved in menacing complaints in the area on Aug. 23 and 24.
A photo later shared by law enforcement purportedly shows Daniel driving in the area alone.
The near-crash shook her, Katelyn said, but it fueled Daniel's anger. A couple of weeks later, he tried to choke her for the first time in their six-year marriage.
"That's how I knew he'd lost it," Katelyn said.
She praised Woodland Park police for stopping her for a broken taillight on Sept. 25, and for eventually arresting Daniel on a weapons violation, separating them. He remains in jail on suspicion of illegal possession of a weapon, menacing, reckless endangerment, attempted trespassing, attempted assault and criminal mischief. He also is accused of failing to register as a sex offender in El Paso County and in Indiana.
"I'm still afraid of him," Katelyn said. "He makes me nervous."
Despite his bouts of anger, Katelyn isn't certain whether her husband is behind all of the crimes of which his name has been associated, particularly the deaths of cyclist Tim Watkins, 60, who was found dead in the Mount Herman Road area in September, and Liberty Rose Lynn German, 14, and Abigail J. Williams, 13, who were killed in Delphi, Ind., in February.
Daniel has not been charged in any of the killings, nor has he been named a suspect.
"I have no idea if he did any of it," Katelyn said, but she expressed doubt about whether Daniel would have been able to carry out the heinous acts.
Watkins, an avid mountain biker, was discovered shot to death on Sept. 17, three days after he'd been reported missing. It's unclear if the death was an accident or cold-blooded murder - the El Paso County Sheriff's Office has released few details and no arrests have been made - but Singletracks editor John Fisch wrote on the mountain biking blog that Watkins' body was "hidden, under a pile of leaves and twigs."
Fisch said he learned the information from a fellow mountain biker who had been part of the original search party after Watkins went missing. It has not been officially confirmed.
Shooting a person and hiding the body takes time - time Katelyn doesn't believe Daniel ever had. She can't recall him leaving her and the kids alone for longer than 15 minutes. He was too protective, she said.
She's also not sure Daniel ever had access to her .22 caliber rifle, which she kept locked in the trunk of the car. On the few times he'd leave them to find a new campsite, Katelyn said she often kept the gun with her for protection. She can't say whether she removed it every time Daniel took the car.
Gazette news partner KKTV has reported that Watkins was shot with a .22-caliber bullet, but the Sheriff's Office has not confirmed the information. Katelyn said she heard gunfire in the area "all the time."
It appeared that the Sheriff's Office was considering Daniel related to Watkins' death, Katelyn said, because they interviewed her in the week following Daniel's arrest and asked her questions specific to the cyclists. No charges have followed.
Doubt also shrouds Daniels possible connection to the Indiana killings.
Daniel never had his own means of transportation, and never lived less than an hour and a half from Delphi, where the girls were found dead beside a historic trail, Katelyn said. Instead, Daniel relied on her and coworkers to get him to and from work. She kept the car to attend doctor's visits because she was pregnant with their son, she said.
The day the teens went missing in Delphi - on Feb. 13 - Katelyn said she believes she and Daniel had attended one of her appointments together. He often skipped work to go with her, she said.
"I think he was there. I can't say what time it was, and there were a couple (appointments) that he didn't go to, but I always had the vehicle," Katelyn said.
And though she agrees that Daniel resembles a composite sketch of the man believed to have killed the girls, actual photos pulled from one of the teens' cell phones of a man walking behind them was less compelling, she said.
"I can't tell if that is him or not," Katelyn said. "But the one thing I'm not going to buckle on, he did not have that jacket."
Aside from the blue jacket made of apparent windbreaker material, Katelyn is also certain Daniel never owned a flat cap like the one worn by the man in the photo. She only saw him wear baseball caps, she said.
"He's had the same clothes pretty much since we've been married," Katelyn said. "He just started throwing out some of his shirts here in Colorado because they had holes in them."
Finally, the girls' killer was estimated to weigh between 180 and 220 pounds, and a photo of the suspected killer appears to show him with a plump middle. Daniel is listed in the Teller County jail as weighing 190 pounds, but sheriff spokesman Greg Couch said that number is self-reported. Inmates are not weighed.
It's the same weight Daniel listed in 2012 when he registered as a sex offender in Florida. His picture from that registration shows him obviously heavier than in his recent mugshot. Standing in Teller County court Monday, Daniel also appeared thin.
According to Katelyn, Daniel hasn't weighed 190 pounds since she was pregnant with their first child in 2013. She estimates his current weight at around 175 pounds.
He also has unmistakable traits, Katelyn said, such as a limp in his walk from one leg being shorter than the other, and a southern drawl that leads him to pronounce words like "right" as "riagh," with a long "I" and indistinct "T." One or both of those things would have stood out to witnesses if they encountered him on the trail, she said.
Indiana State Police asked her not to say whether they interviewed her while agents were in Colorado recently vetting Daniel's possible link to the Delphi murders. At the conclusion of their stay, police determined they did not have enough evidence to call him a suspect, nor did they rule him out.
"This is such a weird case that we don't have enough to officially rule anybody out at this point," Indiana Sgt. Kim Riley said previously. "We have people that we don't think it is, but we can't rule them out."
Katelyn said their marriage has been on shaky ground since Daniel was accused of exposing himself in public for the second time in July 2015.
At the time, he told her he'd stopped at a Ricker's gas station in Indiana for a bathroom emergency but found the men's restroom full. In fear he wouldn't be able to hold it, he rushed into the women's restroom where a woman confronted him and called police.
Court records tell a different story, one Katelyn said she didn't hear until Daniel was arrested in Colorado. Records say Daniel was caught peeping and pleasuring himself in a stall in the women's restroom.
He previously was convicted of indecent exposure in 2007 in Beaufort, S.C.
The new information, coupled with Daniel's latest Colorado charges and speculated involvement in murder, is too much to forgive, Katelyn said. She hasn't talked to him since his arrest, she said.
"Now I've had the veil lifted," Katelyn said. "Our marriage is basically over. He was a decent dad. That's probably the best thing he did."
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