Daniel Mejia-Perez’s death in Basalt ruled accidental drowning
The Aspen Times
A Carbondale man who was found dead in a Basalt irrigation ditch Memorial Day died of asphyxia/drowning, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office.
The manner of death of Daniel Mejia-Perez was ruled “accidental with alcohol and drugs as contributing factors,” said a joint press release by the coroner’s office and Basalt Police Department.
Mejia, 36, was discovered face up in the Williams 2 irrigation ditch at about 7:30 a.m. May 27. The body was found by landscapers working in a vacant lot east of Big O Tires on West Cody Lane.
“During the course of Basalt Police Department’s investigation, there was no indication of foul play,” the press release said. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation assisted with the case.
The coroner’s office waited to release the cause and manner of death until results of a toxicology report were complete. Michael Buglione, an assistant coroner, said Mejia’s blood-alcohol content was .023 percent, an amount less than needed for conviction for driving while impaired. He said was unable to say if the amount of cocaine found in Mejia’s system was extremely high or low.
There was no sign of a roofie or the date rape drug in Mejia’s system, Buglione said.
While the manner and cause of death have been established, there are still questions that can’t be answered, both Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott and Buglione acknowledged.
“It’s weird but not suspicious,” Buglione said of the case.
A forensic autopsy by a doctor in Grand Junction showed there was a lack of trauma on Mejia’s body, Buglione said. There were no defensive wounds to suggest there was a struggle, he added.
Knott said nothing in the investigation showed the presence of another person at the irrigation ditch. Mejia was last seen riding a bus downvalley from Aspen late the night of Saturday, May 25. He was leaving work at an Aspen restaurant. It is unknown why he got off the bus in Basalt rather than Carbondale, Knott said. Police questioned another man who got off the bus at the same time as Mejia, but he said he didn’t know Mejia and didn’t know where he went, Knott said.
How Mejia spent the time from late Saturday night to 7:30 a.m. Monday remains unknown. “I wish I knew because this one’s bothering me,” Knott said. “There are just so many questions that I can’t answer.”
A friend of Mejia’s told investigators that the man was known to get hot when he partied and that he would take a shower to cool down. It’s possible that Mejia climbed into the irrigation ditch to cool down, Knott said.
The ditch where Mejia was found was across Highway 82 and about two-tenths of a mile downvalley from where he got off the bus. Personal belongings of Mejia were found across West Cody Lane from the ditch. No other person’s belongings were found, Knott said. Mejia was partially clothed when he was discovered.
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A crew from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center last week cut disks of wood from trees downed by a powerful avalanche that thundered off Garrett Peak in March 2019. The samples will aid research by dendrochronologists into the epic avalanche cycle.