Photo credit: The Denver Channel
Photo credit: The Denver Channel
Photo credit: The Denver Channel
GRANBY, Colo. -- A muffler shop owner who plowed through several buildings in Granby with an armored bulldozer was found dead early Saturday morning.
Authorities say a man identified as Marvin Heemeye, 51, apparently shot himself. He was found after officers used a torch to cut through metal plates that encased the dozer. The plates had a 12-inch layer of concrete between them.
The bizarre situation developed in the small mountain town of Granby, Colo., Friday afternoon, when the heavily-armed man with an apparent vendetta knocked down five buildings with his homemade armor-plated bulldozer before losing hydraulic fluid and becoming stuck inside a large warehouse. The man was later identified as Heemeyer, the 51-year-old owner of a muffler shop in town.
The massive, heavily modified D-9 Caterpillar was finally stopped around 4:40 p.m.
Jim Holahan, the emergency manager for Grand County, said that there was never any contact with the driver. A shot was heard coming from inside the bulldozer, 7NEWS reported.
Just before 10 p.m. the bomb squad detonated several explosives, trying to blast the steel contraption apart. The SWAT team couldn't tell if the man inside was dead or alive, or if the bulldozer was rigged with booby traps, 7NEWS reported.
Heemeyer reportedly had a grudge with town officials and was not happy with some of their recent zoning decisions, townspeople told the station.
Heemeyer recently sued the owner of the town's cement plant over the land dispute and lost.
"He and Cody were at odds with one another and he ended up losing that in court, and I think he was just mad," said Casey Farrell, owner of Gamble's General Hardware Store, a business that was destroyed during the rampage.
"He's a person who had a business here in the county and was put out of business so I think he's just got some vengeance with the town and the people who represent the town," Granby resident Alicia Draper said.
Residents believe that it may have taken Heemeyer at least a couple of weeks to plan his alleged attack, since the vehicle was so heavily fortified and nearly impenetrable -- a virtual custom-made tank. The machine had large steel plates welded onto it and had areas for the driver to shoot out of, areas that one witness described as "gun turrets."
"It's an ugly beast. It's pretty sealed up," Draper said.
The one-man destruction derby began around 3:15 p.m. Friday when the bulldozer began barrelling through the library and town hall, which are in one building, and also smashing through the two-story Sky-Hi newspaper office, demolishing it.
"He'd go forward, ram it as hard as he could and then he'd go in reverse, and then do it again," a witness said.
The bulldozer plowed through the Mountain Park cement plant and adjacent Mountain Park Electric, clipped an Xcel Energy service building -- damaging its natural gas lines -- and ran over at least three police cars that had been put in its path to block it, witnesses said.
The driver also hit the town's fire station and the new Liberty Bank building, heavily damaging it.
The bulldozer driver then headed west out of town, pursued by law enforcement vehicles.
"There were SWAT officers that were surrounding the vehicle and they'd open fire and it was steel-plated, so the bullets just bounced off, basically," witness Mathew Lopez said.
The bulldozer driver also fired back at officers with his 50-caliber machine gun, authorities said. At one point, when he had been swarmed by officers, the man fired several shots into a couple of propane tanks but the tanks did not explode.
A short time later, the bulldozer turned around and headed back into town, moving down the side of the Gambles store. The bulldozer became stuck in a rear building behind the hardware store when its hydraulic fuel line was severed by debris. That's when the Grand County Special Response Team moved in.
At one point, the Grand County Road and Bridge Department moved a large earthmover (pictured, left) into the rear path of the bulldozer, in an effort to block it. A smaller bulldozer was moved into the front path of the larger machine, but that did little to slow down the dozer.
"The piece of equipment is so big it's hard to stop," said Lurlene Curran, the Grand County manager, while the bulldozer was moving down the main street in town. "We're doing everything we can to stop this chaos."
From AirTracker7, the scene looked like a tornado had swept through, with selected buildings damaged and demolished. But it wasn't a natural disaster that had occurred, as evidenced by the bulldozer tracks streaking its way through Main Street.
"He has systematically severely damaged the town of Granby," said Curran.
"The hit to downtown Granby is huge. We just embarked on an ambitious downtown redevelopment effort and this will not help," Granby Mayor Ted Wang told 7NEWS. Wang said the Liberty Savings building that was damaged was just erected within the last year.
Although there was an incredible amount of damage to the small mountain town of 1,500, luckily, there were no reports of injuries.
Several eyewitnesses told 7NEWS that the scene in the downtown area was chaotic as numerous law enforcement officers converged on the area, shooting at the bulldozer in an attempt to immobilize it as it carved out its path of destruction through town.
Residents in the downtown area received reverse 911 calls and were evacuated from the area or put in lockdown mode as bullets flew between the bulldozer and law enforcement. One resident estimated that at least 100 rounds were fired in the streets. All of this chaos occurred during a very active part of the day, so some say it is a miracle that not one person was hurt.
To help in the continuing investigation, the Colorado State Patrol closed U.S. Highways 34 and 40 around Granby. The mountain town is located just south of the intersection of the two highways, about 50 miles west of Denver. Travelers who want to visit Grand Lake for the weekend are being detoured around town.
Gov. Bill Owens flew over the area in AirTracker 7 to assess the damage.
"It's amazing what one person can do. It's tragic. And we're going to be here and try to help," he said.
The Colorado National Guard had been put on standby for the situation but were never called. Owens said state assistance will be available to help the town rebuild its city hall and library. The cost of the damage to the tiny town has not been estimated.
Some residents told 7NEWS that it doesn't shock them that Heemeyer may have gone on a revenge-inspired rampage.
"He seems to be a normal guy; he's just different," Draper said. "I've talked to some people and this is not surprise to see him do this."
Others said that they knew he had a very open grudge against the town council, but they never thought he would take it this far.
Granby Attack Mirrors Alma Incident
The bulldozer attack in Granby is reminiscent of a 1998 heavy equipment attack in the Park County town of Alma.
In that case, a 50-year-old man was accused of shooting and killing the former mayor, firebombing town hall and then driving a stolen front-end loader into a number of buildings, including the post office, fire department and water treatment plant.
The man also burned down his own home and was captured after running into the nearby forest. Thomas Leask was sent to the state mental hospital, where he remains today.
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