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Regional Roundup

Brief by Martha Quillen

Local News – October 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

Suspect and Friend Commit Suicide

When Chaffee County Sheriff’s Deputies and an 11th Judicial District Investigator attempted to serve a search warrant at the home of Justin Jimerson, 24, in September, things went awry. The authorities wanted to search Jimerson’s home in connection with a suspected arson at Rocky Mountain Pine Cone in Poncha Springs. The business burned in June, an arson investigation ensued, and owner Candus Wolfe, 49, was arrested on July 31 and released on bail. Two business associates, Wayne Eugene Clements and Jesamiah Davis, were also arrested in connection with the suspected arson and released on bond. Justin Jimerson was an employee at Wolfe’s business, and her boyfriend. Though he’d been questioned during the investigation, he was not arrested.

When the deputies arrived at his door, Justin refused to answer, so investigators called his father, Mark Jimerson, who agreed to talk to him. Mark entered the house alone, and reportedly found his son and Wolfe. According to Mark, the couple had a gun and planned to commit suicide, and he spent 20 minutes trying to talk his son out of it, but couldn’t. Mark Jimerson later told The Mountain Mail, “She handed him the gun, and he asked ‘Are you ready?'” Justin shot Wolfe once in the head, then killed himself in front of his father.

Justin’s father told the Mail that he was a “good kid,” who “never drank, skipped school, did drugs….” Though he had been concerned about his son’s attachment to a women so much older, and subsequent events, he and Justin’s sister hadn’t realized the seriousness of the situation.

Sheriff Tim Walker told the Mail, “We praise Mark for his actions that night. It could have been a lot worse had he not helped us.”

Drive-by Shooting, Gunnison Style

The Gunnison Sheriff’s Department responded to a call from residents who reported they were “pinned down” in their house by gunfire. Upon arriving, officers found that a bullet had struck the house from a stray prairie dog hunter’s rifle, and subsequently charged a 36-year-old woman with reckless endangerment.

“Not to dramatize this, but it had the potential to injure someone,” said Undersheriff Richard Besecker.

Water Woes Continue

Trustees from Silver Cliff and Westcliffe met on August 24th in the hopes of resolving issues the two towns had with their municipal water supplier, the Round Mountain Water and Sanitation District. The towns are uneasy about lack of water pressure on the east side of Silver Cliff; and a water flow problem which might be crucial in the event of a catastrophic fire; and Round Mountain’s apparent lack of interest in expanding services if the towns continue to grow.

According to the August 31 Wet Mountain Tribune, a meeting had been held earlier to determine what to do about water pressure and flow, and Round Mountain’s representatives indicated that they weren’t interested in taking action on the recommendation that an additional water tank should be installed to increase pressure.

To complicate matters, some time back the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District was contacted by a developer who hoped to develop property he owned near Silver Cliff, and the UAWCD wanted to help with an augmentation plan. But Round Mountain objected, claiming that putting wells so close to town could pose a threat to their water supply.

Round Mountain wanted UAWCD to exclude a one-and-one-half-mile radius around it’s service area from any proposed augmentation plan. But UAWCD said that it could not do that, because once a water augmentation plan went into effect in Custer County, the agency would be obligated to provide water to all who ask for it.

Ordinarily, allowing private wells and septic systems on property where water can presumably be supplied by a municipal provider, is considered a bad idea (because having a lot of wells and individual septic systems sitting close together in an area which is basically suburban in nature can pose a sanitation threat).

But in this case, there seems to be a question about whether Round Mountain can adequately supply water to all of its in-town customers, let alone nearby homes. (So how would homes a mile outside of Round Mountain’s service area get water, if not by well?)

Anyway, the tiff between the two water agencies led to a stand-off, which Sue Hutton, town administrator of Silver Cliff apparently felt had gotten out of hand. At the meeting she urged Round Mountain and UAWCD to “stop their ridiculous feud and work together for the benefit of the whole community.”

Clearly, something must be done.

But exactly what was beyond the scope of that August meeting. The towns still hope that they can come up with an agreeable plan for everyone, and thus they are sitting down again — right about now. We’ll keep you posted.


Yet another experienced climber died on Crestone Needle this summer. John Rataj, 60, of St. Louis, Missouri apparently fell to his death on his way down from the summit in late August. Rataj was climbing alone, but rescuers could tell he reached the top because they found a picture he’d taken of himself.

Two other sixty-year-old climbers also ran into problems on Crestone Needle, but were more fortunate. During their descent, they got caught on a ledge, where they had to spend the night. But Custer County search and rescue members arrived in the area at 4 a.m. with ropes and technical equipment, and had the climbers off that ledge by 2 p.m.. “They spent a cold, miserable night on the crevice, but otherwise they were okay,” said rescuer Art Nordyke (in the August 24 Wet Mountain Tribune).

Another climber got lost on the summit of 14,005-foot Mount Huron in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness August 20th. Melanie Vicknair, 47, was hiking with her boyfriend Gary Swing, 58, when the two decided to head in different directions and rendezvous later. But Vicknair took a wrong turn on the trail and ended up at a dead-end, whereupon she turned around and headed back up Huron in the dark. She got near the top, then sat down and waited for dawn.

Meanwhile, after Vicknair failed to arrive at their meeting place, Swing walked six miles to their campsite. When he didn’t find her there, he followed her path up Huron, and found her name in the trail register. Still unable to find Vicknair, he then returned to camp and called for help.

Carl Bauer, the Chaffee County Search and Rescue north end team president, decided to launch a search early the next morning.

That morning, Vicknair found the main trail head and started down. She was spotted by a search team, which took her the rest of the way down on horseback.

According to the Mountain Mail, Bauer said, “This is calculated stupidity.” She “had no business hiking by herself.” And he also criticized her decision to head back up the mountain. “‘She just sat on a rock,’ Bauer said, adding that the temperature above 13,000 feet dipped to about 30 degrees Sunday night.”

After more than thirty years of covering rural mountain happenings, however, we’d have to say that Vicknair and Swing probably weren’t just lucky. Vicknair was apparently well-enough outfitted and clothed to spend the night outdoors, and she even had a Colorado Outdoor Search and Rescue Card. Furthermore, the couple was certainly hail and hardy enough to manage a considerable amount of trekking and backtracking.

In our experience, though, it’s generally expert backcountry hikers, climbers and skiers who get themselves into trouble — perhaps because they’re the only ones with the stamina to ascend into lonely, perilous places.

As for hiking alone, it’s certainly not the smartest thing to do, but we can’t think of any avid hikers who don’t. So our advice: Be careful, but for those times when you forget: stay in shape, take food and water, and always be prepared for a sudden change in weather.


“Facing the bears in my T-shirt and boxers, headlamp blazing and bear spray in hand, I’m sure I cut as stupid a figure to the bears as I did in the hail …. but they run nonetheless.”

John Norton, Gunnison Country Times, August 17

“Hawaii’s second city could not be more different than Gunnison: small city vs. small town; tropical vs. semi-arid desert climate: 130 inches of rain per year (or more) vs. 13 inches (or less); never freezes vs. freezes solid….

And yet, there are so many similarities…. [The article goes on to tell about Hawaii’s problems with affordable housing, or lack thereof; development; endangered species galore; tourism; low paying jobs….]

Toni Todd, Gunnison Country Times, August 24

“The reason kids can’t join now is because of their grades last year, which I understand is a CHSAA rule. It doesn’t mean we agree on that rule. Whoever thought up that rule must enjoy living in the past. Why are kids that had below-average grades in the past being punished for their future?”

April Fetters, Leadville Herald Democrat, August 31, after the high school’s football program was suspended for the year, because too few “eligible” students showed up to play.

“Furthermore, a student loses the right to participate in interscholastic activities when he or she is failing in two or more classes. As a community, we should support our administrators in assuring that a student succeeds academically first and foremost.”

Jaime Stuever, Volunteer Assistant Football Coach for the “C Team,” consisting of freshmen and sophomore players, launched because Lake County currently doesn’t have a varsity or junior varsity program, Leadville Herald Democrat, September 14.

“In addition to the oh-so-obvious natural charms, I agree it is the people of Salida who complete the picture.

“Every single resident we have met in our many visits have told us they love their town, feel lucky to be able to live here and would never want to live anywhere else.”

Sue Price, Georgia, Mountain Mail, August 29

“Fairplay is a special town. It is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado …. More importantly, it is a town filled with great people: the kind where visitors immediately feel welcome.”

Erik Eiland and Scott Grose, Fairplay Flume, August 18

Aspen Dying

This summer experts announced that Aspen groves in Colorado are definitely in decline and speculated about possible reasons. Apparently experts have noted the increase in the number of dead trees for several years, but as it turns out the aspens’ root systems are dying, too, which is an ominous sign. Aspen generally sprout from roots, which means all of the trees in a stand are interconnected, and stands all over our state appear to be dying off.

On September 7, the Gunnison Country Times gave a regional spin to the story.

“What we’re seeing locally is advanced mortality in just the last few years….” Roy Mask, an entomologist for the US Forest Service told the Times.

Experts are still trying to determine the cause of the decline, which has been attributed to many things from caterpillar infestation, to fire suppression, to drought, to hungry elk, to a loss of genetic vigor. In the Gunnison area, the experts were “feeling fairly unanimous that the drought of the early 2000’s is largely to blame.”

According to local experts, trees that are in drier areas are experiencing the highest rate of death, and some high altitude trees are looking good.

Because aspen thrive in disturbed areas, “fire suppression and limited aspen management” are also thought to be a contributing factor. “The result is a skewed age ratio, where most of the aspen stands in Colorado are more than 100 years old.”

As for the future, Tom Eager, another USFS entomologist who works in the Gunnison area said it depended on the weather. “You tell me what the weather is going to do, and I’ll tell you what the trees are going to do.”

But in the meantime, the experts are brainstorming and considering numerous remedies, including more direct management, redistributing elk populations, and collecting seed and establishing nurseries. At this point, though, more study and observation is necessary.

Court Decides Teens Owe 3.3 Million

Three boys previously found guilty of starting the Snaking Fire were told that they would have to pay 3.3 million dollars in restitution at a final hearing held this August. The Snaking Fire burned 2,590 acres in 2002, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents, destroying one home and damaging many others.

Tyler James Hancock, Eric Sean Alderfer and Austin Franklin Dunst, all 19 years old at the time of the hearing this summer, skipped school and headed to the woods that fateful day four years ago. Later, prosecutors argued that cigarette butts the boys left behind caused the Snaking Fire, and they were found guilty of arson in 2003.

Seventeen parties subsequently asked for restitution, including 14 homeowners, two insurance companies, and the U.S. Forest Service. In a separate federal case, an insurance company set aside $500,000, the amount of a homeowner’s policy held by the family of one of the boys, for the victims of the fire.

The August decision means the young men will have to make payments for the rest of their lives (unless they win the lottery or the decision eventually gets reversed).

Restitution determined after a criminal conviction cannot be discharged in bankruptcy proceedings.