Substitute teacher arrested in connection with Fraser bank robberies

Fraser Winter Park Police shared this image of a man who robbed the United Business Bank in Fraser on Wednesday.
Courtesy FWPPD

Authorities have arrested a man they believe is connected to two bank robberies in Fraser, including one Wednesday at the United Business Bank and the robbery of the same bank in January.

James W. Smith, 57, is facing two charges of aggravated robbery after being arrested around noon Wednesday in Empire.

According to police, an officer at a car wreck on Berthoud Pass recognized a dark Toyota sedan and its driver as matching the descriptions from the Fraser Winter Park Police Department.

Around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, a teller at United Business Bank in Fraser reported a man had demanded money using a note and left the bank on foot. Within an hour of the call, police had shared security images of the suspect and a car in the area at the time on social media.

The officer reportedly followed the Toyota east on US Highway 40 over the pass. With help from Empire and Georgetown police and the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office apprehended Smith in Empire before taking him to the Grand County Jail.

Fraser Winter Park Police shared this image of a man who robbed the United Business Bank in Fraser on Wednesday.
Courtesy FWPPD

The arrest comes almost six months after the first robbery at United Business Bank in Fraser, and Wednesday’s robbery bears some similarities to the first robbery on Jan. 6, when a man entered the bank and demanded money via a note. The man did not have a weapon and left on foot.

The same man who robbed the Fraser bank on Jan. 6 was later connected to a Jan. 14 robbery at the Credit Union of the Rockies in Frisco.

Fraser Winter Park Police Chief Glen Trainor said his department has been in contact with Frisco police and more charges are possible.

Employees at the United Business Bank said they were not authorized to comment on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the East Grand School District alerted parents via an emailed letter that Smith had been employed as a teacher at Granby Elementary from August 2019 to January 2020.

Officials said in the letter that the school district does not know any of the details of the robbery yet, just that it happened. However, the district emphasized that it does not believe students were ever put in any kind of danger.

“At no time have we suspected Mr. Smith of any wrongdoing or illegal activity and do not feel that our students or schools were ever in danger,” the district said in its letter to parents. “Part of our obligation is to report the arrest to the Colorado Department of Education, where his license will likely be revoked and will not be able to renewed again if he is found guilty.”

In addition, because banks are federally backed institutions, local police have notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Formal charges will be filed by the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.

Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.

If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.