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Colo. inmate fills cell with smoke after tampering with batteries from tablet

Weld County deputies searched the cell from which the smoke was coming but were unable to find the source of the smoke; when they searched the bathroom, they found lithium-ion batteries wrapped in a white t-shirt in a toilet bowl

Weld County Jail

Weld County Sheriff’s Office

By Chris Bolin
Greeley Tribune, Colo.

GREELEY, Colo. — An inmate in the Weld County Jail already facing over 60 felony charges will now face one more charge after deputies say he filled his cell with smoke earlier this month by tampering with batteries from a jail-issued tablet.

Police say 29-year-old Austin Carlholm was in possession of contraband by having the tampered-with batteries — which are defined as dangerous instruments, according to an affidavit for his arrest.

He was in Weld County Jail from a 2022 arrest for his suspected involvement in an auto theft ring targeting Northern Colorado car dealerships. Carlholm, as well as seven others allegedly involved, each face over 60 felony charges — including one count each of Violation of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.

One deputy was taken by ambulance to a hospital due to smoke inhalation, and another two were taken by patrol cars, according to the affidavit. Two more deputies say they were checked out by medical personnel after their shifts due to concerns about smoke inhalation.

Just before 1 a.m. March 18, Weld County Sheriff’s Deputies were dispatched to Weld County Jail on a report of a fire in the jail. They spoke with deputies on scene who said a fire alarm in a cell went off about an hour and a half prior, according to the affidavit.

Deputies searched the cell from which the smoke was coming but were unable to find the source of the smoke. When they searched the bathroom, they found lithium-ion batteries wrapped in a white t-shirt in the toilet bowl, according to the affidavit.

They say the batteries were 3×3 lithium-ion batteries, matching those in tablets issued to inmates. One was charred around the edges and blackened inside, which was visible because the battery pack was pulled apart. The second was still intact, but the tape sealing the battery pack was partially pulled off, according to the affidavit.

Deputies reviewed camera footage and say seconds after the smoke alarm went off in the cell they saw Carlholm walk out of his cell carrying something wrapped in white fabric and enter the bathroom. About 15 seconds later, he left the restroom with nothing in his hands and returned to his cell, according to the affidavit.

Deputies say they separated Carlholm’s four cellmates just after the fire and spoke to them all separately.

One said he was watching a video on his tablet when a battery that Carlholm had started smoking. He told Carlholm to get rid of it and said Carlholm ran out of the cell with it wrapped in a shirt or a towel, according to the affidavit.

Deputies say another cellmate told them he was listening to music on his tablet when he heard screaming.

The other two said they were sleeping and woke up to yelling. One heard someone yell about something smoking, and the other woke to a deputy yelling at him to get out of the cell, according to the affidavit.

A deputy asked Carlholm what happened to his tablet, and he told her he didn’t know. He said it was working fine and that he put it up on his bed and walked out of the cell, according to the affidavit. He denied doing anything to it and said it wasn’t overheating, but he chose not to speak further with deputies.

Carlholm has been in Weld County Jail since September 2022, when he and six others were arrested in connection with the theft of over 49 vehicles from August 2021 to February 2022. The group would use stolen identities to test drive vehicles at dealerships before stealing them, according to arrest records.

Police say the group also operated a large-scale forgery ring in which members produced forged checks, temporary license plates, insurance cards and identification documents.

Carlholm will appear April 2 in Weld District Court for both cases.


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