Colorado teens accused of taking ‘memento’ photo after rock-throwing death set to appear in court

Oct 17, 2023, 9:01 PM

A roadside memorial for Alexa Bartell, age 20, who was killed by a rock thrown at her vehicle on Ap...

A roadside memorial for Alexa Bartell, age 20, who was killed by a rock thrown at her vehicle on April 19, 2023 stands on April 28, in Broomfield, Colo. Three teenagers charged with her murder are set to appear in court Wednesday, Oct. 18, for an evidentiary hearing to determine if their case should go to trial. (Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via AP)

(Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via AP)

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — Three teenagers charged with murder in the death of a 20-year Colorado driver who was struck by a rock that investigators say was thrown through her windshield are set to appear in court Wednesday for an evidentiary hearing to determine if their case should go to trial.

Joseph Koenig, Nicholas “Mitch” Karol-Chik and Zachary Kwak were arrested several days after Alexa Bartell was hit in the head by a rock while driving northwest of Denver on April 19 and talking on the phone with a friend. After the call went silent, the friend tracked Bartell’s location with a phone app and found the suburban Denver woman dead in her car, which had crashed into a field.

Investigators have said Bartell was killed by the rock and not the crash.

According to court documents, the teens, all 18 at the time, circled back to take a photo of the crashed car as a “memento.”

Investigators said at the time that they believed the attack was linked to several other similar incidents in which rocks between 4 and 6 inches (10 and 15 centimeters) in diameter and weighing 3 to 5 pounds (1.4 to 2.7 kilograms) were thrown at cars in the area the night of Bartell’s death.

The attacks started just after 10 p.m. and involved at least seven vehicles. In addition to Bartell’s death, three people suffered minor injuries.

All three of the teens were suspected of throwing rocks at vehicles.

Karol-Chik told investigators that Koenig slowed down so Kwak could get a photo of Bartell’s car, according to arrest affidavits. Karol-Chik also said the three got excited every time they hit a car with a rock that night but acknowledged he felt “a hint of guilt” passing by Bartell’s car, according to the documents.

Kwak said he took the photo because he thought that Karol-Chik or Koenig would want to have a “memento” of what had happened, according to the affidavits. Koenig did not speak to investigators after he was arrested.

Attorneys for the three teenagers did not immediately respond to voice messages seeking comment Tuesday evening.

The teens were arrested at their suburban Denver homes after being identified as suspects with the help of cellphone tower data and another friend who had been hanging out with them earlier that day.

The friend told investigators that Koenig often participates in “destructive behavior” because “he likes causing ‘chaos,’” according to court documents. He told sheriff’s investigators he asked to be taken home after he saw the three others taking landscaping rocks from a Walmart parking lot and loading them into Karol-Chik’s pickup, because he said he knew something bad was going to happen, according to the documents.

All three teens are charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, second-degree assault and attempted second-degree assault. Koenig and Karol-Chik face additional charges of attempted first-degree murder and attempted second-degree assault for an earlier incident in which they are accused of throwing a statue head at a moving vehicle in Arvada.

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Colorado teens accused of taking ‘memento’ photo after rock-throwing death set to appear in court