One of three suspects in rock-throwing death of Alexa Bartell pleads guilty

Zachary Kwak was facing 12 counts in the killing of 20-year-old Alexa Bartell, but pleaded guilty only to 3 in court Friday as part of a plea deal
Posted: 11:50 AM, May 10, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-10 19:23:09-04
alexa bartell.png

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — One of the suspects accused of killing a woman after throwing a rock through the windshield of her car in 2023 pleaded guilty in court Friday.

Zachary Kwak, 19, was facing 12 counts in the killing 20-year-old Alexa Bartell from Arvada, but pleaded guilty only to 3 in court Friday: Two counts of second-degree assault – causing injury with a deadly weapon in connection with Bartell's death; and a criminal attempt to commit second-degree assault charge for injuring three other victims during the series of rock-throwing incidents that happened between the hours of approximately 10 p.m. and 10:45 p.m in Jefferson and Boulder counties on April 19, 2023, according to court records.

He faces 20-32 years in prison for taking the plea deal, according to a spokesperson with the First Judicial District Attorney's Office.

"As part of today’s plea, Kwak agreed that with regard to the death of Bartell, the defendant acted knowingly, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, by engaging in conduct which created a grave risk of death," the spokesperson said.

Kwak is scheduled to be sentenced on Sep. 3, 2024, at 1 p.m.

Bartell was discovered fatally-injured by a friend who went to check on her after she “abruptly stopped talking” on the phone, an arrest affidavit in the case states. Multiple agencies then responded to the scene, discovering the windshield of Bartell’s Chevrolet Spark had a large hole in the windshield on the driver’s side.

A preliminary investigation by the Colorado State Patrol determined the damage was not consistent with a vehicle crash and appeared to “be the result of an object penetrating the windshield and striking Alexa in the head,” according to the arrest affidavit.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies, who were also the scene, discovered a landscaping rock which had a red stain on it on the side of the road. That stain later tested presumptive positive for blood, arresting documents show.

Alexa Bartel car hit by rock

Several days after Bartell was killed, a Westminster Police Department investigator received a tip from a person who said a coworker discussed the rock-throwing incidents while they were both at work.

The tipster told investigators one his co-workers had seen several guys loading rocks into a vehicle from a Walmart parking lot hours before the crimes were reported, the affidavit states. That co-worker was later interviewed by police and told authorities he previously worked with one of the other two suspects, Joseph Koenig. Koenig's former co-worker told police Koenig called him on Snapchat the night of the rock-throwing incidents, asking if he wanted to hang out, to which the suspect agreed, according to the affidavit.

Koenig's co-worker said he drove around for a couple of hours until arriving in the parking lot of the Walmart near W. 72nd Avenue and Sheridan Blvd. Once inside, Koenig's co-worker said he returned to find Koenig, Nicholas Karol-Chik and Kwak picking up the landscaping rocks and placing them into the truck, according to the investigation.

During the interview with police, the co-worker said he believed something bad was going to happen and he insisted the others take him home, which happened before the rock-throwing incidents.

Six days after Bartell's death, deputies obtained a search warrant and seized a 2016 model Chevrolet truck at Karol-Chik’s home, believed to be connected to the alleged rock-throwing incidents.

Karol-Chik was taken into custody on April 25 where he agreed to speak, according to the affidavit.

He told investigators he drove his truck to pick up the other two suspects and originally said it was just Kwak who collected and threw the rocks. But later in the interview, Karol-Chik changed his story to say both he and Kwak collected rocks and said all three threw them at moving cars, according to the affidavit.

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At around the same time Karol-Chik was interviewed, Koenig and Kwak were taken into custody. While Koenig refused to talk, Kwak agreed to be interviewed.

Kwak admitted to stopping and collecting rocks and throwing them at cars and told police that when one of the rocks was thrown at Bartell’s car, “the impact made a very loud noise," according to arresting documents.

He then told police Bartell’s car went off the road after the rock was thrown, and when the trio turned their vehicle around, Kwak admitted to taking a cell phone picture of the scene, the affidavit read.

During a preliminary hearing in October of last year, the lead investigator in the case, Detective Dan Manka with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, revealed before the court that the day after the rock-throwing incidents, the three suspects met at a restaurant to solidify their stories in case they were confronted by authorities

Karol-Chik and Koenig, who pleaded not guilty last month, face charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder, second-degree assault and attempted second-degree assault. Their bonds were set at $2 million cash-only.

Their trials will happen separately, starting with Karol-Chik's on June 7 and Koenig's starting on July 19. If convicted, they face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

One of three suspects in rock-throwing death of Alexa Bartell pleads guilty

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