Coroner: River victim can’t be identified yet
Identifying the body that was recovered from the Roaring Fork River Sunday is proving difficult because the man was “a homeless person,” Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said Monday.
Identification was found on the body but Bettis said that isn’t enough for her to rely on. She said her office has been unable to find any family members to make a visual identification of the man. Therefore, she said, she will not release his name until other methods of verifying his identity can be found.
The man was in his 50s, according to a press release from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
The body was taken to Grand Junction for an autopsy. Until that is concluded, Bettis said the cause of death was unknown. When asked if foul play was possible, Bettis replied, “No comment.”
The man was first spotted in the river just upstream from the 7-Eleven Store in Basalt, according to the sheriff’s office. Basalt Fire Department’s swift water rescue team was paged to the Midland Avenue Bridge at 4:43 p.m. The man’s body was recovered three miles downstream at 5:20 p.m. by members of the Basalt and Carbondale swift water rescue teams. The recovery was made at a boat put-in, take-out along Willits Lane, just upstream from the Hook’s Bridge.
Basalt Police Chief Roderick O’Connor said Sunday evening the case was an apparent accidental drowning and on Monday he confirmed that was still the working theory. He said the autopsy will help determine if there was any foul play.
Authorities don’t believe the man was rafting or kayaking because he was dressed in street clothes. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket. A pack was also seen in the water with him, but it wasn’t recovered.
O’Connor said the man had “superficial” injuries when he was pulled from the water. That could be explained from the body running into debris or rocks.
“You can imagine all the [stuff] in the river yesterday,” O’Connor said, noting the current was extremely strong to move a body three miles in 37 minutes.
It is unknown where, when and under what circumstances the man entered the river. No witnesses came forward Sunday evening or Monday with information that helped the investigation, according to O’Connor.
“Nobody came forth and said, ‘Yeah, I was with him,'” he said.
The victim isn’t completely unknown. One person who saw the body said the man has been connected to the Roaring Fork Valley for roughly 30 years.
Basalt police officers encountered the man about one week ago when there was an ambulance call to Lions Park. Officials were called on a report of a man sprawled in the grass with blood on his face. O’Connor said the man apparently fell off a bicycle while riding intoxicated.
O’Connor said the police department doesn’t prepare a report when it assists on an ambulance call, so the man’s identify wasn’t available from that incident. In addition, O’Connor said his department couldn’t release the identity because they defer to the coroner.
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.