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REGIONAL NEWS ROUNDUP (and other items of interest)

WSC Students Die in House Fire

GUNNISON – Two Western State College students perished in a house fire that occurred Jan. 30 in the 100 block of North Colorado Street in Gunnison.

Lucille Causley, 18, and Adam Lockard, 21, died in the blaze which was believed to have started in an unenclosed porch attached to the home that tenants of the home reportedly used for smoking.

Autopsies revealed the victims died from smoke inhalation. The college immediately set up a walk-in counseling center for those impacted by the fire.

Geothermal Lease Pulled

LAKEWOOD – After reviewing public comment, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to delay the controversial lease sale of a geothermal parcel near Nathrop.

The nearly 800-acre parcel was the first geothermal lease ever offered in Colorado. Among those sending letters of concern to the BLM was State Senator Gail Schwartz, who had concerns about the timing of the lease.

Many homeowners in the area adjacent to the proposed lease parcel were concerned with issues of noise and residential incompatibility with a geothermal power plant proposed for the area.

According to the BLM, the parcel “will undergo additional environmental review and analysis,” according to an article in the Mountain Mail.

Man Stranded after Given Wrong Directions

MONTE VISTA – A 31-year-old man who was given bad directions became trapped in his SUV for three days in the Rio Grande National Forest in early Feb., burning furniture to stay warm and subsisting on Mountain Dew.

Jason Pede reportedly was told by a local in Saguache about a short cut to Aspen which led him into deep snow on a county road off Highway 114 which eventually came to above the hood of his Lincoln Navigator, according to the Denver Post.

He was driving from Dulce, N.M. to Aspen, Co. to deliver an Australian Shepherd rescue puppy.

Pede said he learned by watching reality shows on television that he should stay with his vehicle, which he did, along with the puppy, until the SUV ran out of gas.

He then decided to try and hike out and discovered a road after about seven miles where he flagged down passing motorists who took him to Monte Vista.

After voicing concerns about his canine cargo, sheriff’s deputies went back up to the vehicle and rescued the animal. Both man and dog are in good shape after the ordeal.

Fatal Avalanche Spares Chaffee County Residents

RIDGEWAY – An avalanche near Ridgway that killed one man on a backcountry hut trip spared two Chaffee County residents. Evan Ross, 25, of Salida, and Tiffany Simpson, 32, of Buena Vista, were part of a group of seven skiers who were on a hut-to-hut trip when the avalanche occurred near Cirque Peak in the San Juan Mountains on Feb. 15, according to the Mountain Mail.

Kellen Sams, 26, of Manitou Springs, was pronounced dead at the scene due to multiple trauma injuries. Investigators reportedly called the avalanche “human triggered.”

Hit and Run Driver has a Close Shave

LEADVILLE – A 40-year-old Leadville man is believed to have fled to Florida after being involved in a series of hit and run incidents that occurred on Jan. 8.

Leadville Police received a 911 call from a woman who had been struck by a vehicle which had run a stop sign on Spruce St.. The driver of that vehicle supposedly walked away from his car only to return, grab his keys, and leave the scene, according to the Leadville Herald-Democrat.

Police then learned that a vehicle matching the same description had sideswiped two other vehicles just prior to the hit and run. The driver was identified as a man with facial hair and a plaid blue jacket.

An officer went to the home of the suspect, Byron Keith Vest, who, appearing freshly-shaven, claimed he did not own a blue plaid coat and believed someone had stolen his car after he left it running earlier in the day.

Vest later called police to inquire as to whether they had found the car thief but a photo of Vest obtained from the motor vehicle department had been shown to witnesses, several of whom ID’d him as the driver of the offending vehicle. Police then obtained videotape from a liquor store shot earlier in the day showing Vest, with beard and blue plaid coat, buying a half-pint of whiskey and driving off in his vehicle about nine minutes before the 911 call.

A warrant was then issued for Vest whose mother claimed to have driven him to Denver the next day for a flight to Florida.

Economic Woes Hit the Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS – Fiscally conservative Colorado Springs took drastic steps to balance its budget earlier in February including shutting off nearly a third of its streetlights and putting some police helicopters up for sale.

Included in the cost-cutting measures were the closing of several museums and city recreation centers and severely cutting back on watering and mowing of city parks.

Below-average sales tax collection as well as increased health care and pension costs for municipal workers were among the reasons cited by the Mayor and City Council for the cuts.

On top of its budget woes the city is also dealing with a growing homeless population, most visible in a tent city which has sprung up along the banks of the Fountain River. A Homeless Outreach Program run by the Colorado Springs Police Department has been offering one-way bus tickets to homeless campers in an attempt to clear them out but the City Council decided to take more drastic action and, on Feb. 9, voted 8-1 to ban camping on public property.

It is estimated that between 300 and 500 homeless live in the camps spread around the city.

Conservation Group Awarded Stimulus Funding

The Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC), which is based in Durango and has a branch in Salida, was featured in a recent CNN television story about stimulus funding the group is scheduled to receive.

The SCC employs young Americans to help maintain trails, do tree planting, erosion control and other conservation work on public lands including U.S. Forest Service Land and National Parks. The SCC is an offshoot of Americorps which was established by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The organization will receive about $4.2 million dollars in federal stimulus funding to create over 600 seasonal jobs for young people ages 18-25.

Saguache County Museum Denied Parade Permit

SAGUACHE – The Saguache County Museum, which has been putting on an Opening Celebration for 50 years, has been denied use of a parade permit by the Town due to prohibitive insurance expenses and were also denied use of the city park in order for a new organization, Saguache Recreation, to hold a fundraising event there, according to a museum representative.

The Museum Opening and BBQ, traditionally held since 1960 on the Sunday before Memorial Day, will be held instead on May 29.

Bill Seeks to Raise Renewable Energy Requirement

DENVER – A bill to raise the state’s renewable energy requirement for large utility companies from 20 percent to 30 percent by 2020, was unveiled at a press conference on Feb. 4.

House Bill 10-1001 is co-sponsored by Reps. Max Tyler and Jack Pommer and Sens. Gail Schwartz and Bruce Whitehead.

Colorado voters approved Renewable Energy Standard in 2004 with the passage of Amendment 37, which set a 10 percent renewable energy goal by 2015 which was then raised to 20 percent by 2020 in 2007 by lawmakers and Gov. Ritter.

Robin Hood Charged

DENVER – A 34-year-old man with the name Robin Joshua Hood was charged with identity theft and impersonation by Denver police after he was caught using a stolen ID to avoid being apprehended on a warrant, according to the Associated Press.

DA’s Sons Busted for Drinking

GRAND JUNCTION – Police in Grand Junction cited 26 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 for underage drinking at the home of district attorney Pete Hautzinger on Feb. 7 according to a Denver Post article.

Police were called out to the home after a report of a party involving juveniles and booze. Hautzinger, the district attorney for the 21st Judicial District was out of town on a Mexican vacation and had reportedly given instructions to his two teenage sons not to have any parties or sleep-overs.

Hautzinger said he was, “appalled and dismayed,’ by the actions of his sons but expressed confidence it was a one-time occurrence. According to the Grand Junction Police report, many of the teens “were obviously intoxicated.”

City prosecutors in Grand Junction’s municipal court will be handling the case.

Notable Quotes:

“My police department will never be turned over to the sheriff’s office while I am on this council and my street department will never be turned over to the county road and bridge department while I am on this council.” – Leadville City Councillor Lue Ellen Brownlee during a city meeting about sharing services with the county. Leadville Herald-Democrat, Feb. 18, 2010.

“… newlyweds and nearly deads,” – Chaffee County Commissioner Dennis Giese discussing the demographics of the county during a work session held in late January. He later apologized for his choice of wording. The Mountain Mail, Jan. 27, 2010.

“Some of these, just by reading the ballot language, sound very nice to the general public. Therein lies the problem.” – Gunnison Councilman Rick Miller referring to statewide citizen ballot initiatives on tap for this November’s election. – Gunnison Country Times, Feb. 18, 2010.