Pitkin County offers to pay for inspector’s criminal defense
Pitkin County said Wednesday it will offer to pay for the criminal defense of Brian Pawl, a building inspector indicted by a grand jury on four misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment in connection with the carbon monoxide deaths of a family of four in 2008.The decision came as part of a county commissioners meeting with John Ely, the county attorney, during an executive session yesterday. Pawl’s first appearance in Pitkin County District Court is scheduled for Aug. 16. While the money will come from the county’s general fund, a specific amount has not been earmarked for Pawl’s defense because it’s unknown how much it will cost, said Commissioner Michael Owsley and county spokeswoman Pat Bingham.In a statement issued by the county, Commissioner Chair George Newman said: “The events of that November 2008 night were tragic. The Board of County Commissioners extends its deepest sympathies to the Lofgrens’ family and friends … We expect a fair and just resolution to this matter.” Owsley said the county also consulted with the sheriff’s office, which launched the initial investigation after the deaths. Officials concluded that the county should fund Pawl’s defense, based on the findings of the sheriff’s office. “This is unprecedented,” Owsley said. “There aren’t allegations of corruption or conspiracy where there is some moral failing on the part of Brian Pawl. This is about the ability to go do your job on a daily basis and know that you’re not going to assume responsibility and liabilities for public service.”Owsley said that as far as he can tell, “it seems [Pawl] was in the due course of his job and for some reason they’re charging him.”A Basalt resident, Pawl, 46, has worked for the county for nine years. His credentials include “master code professional,” according to a county press release. The county also is in discussions with the city of Aspen to arrange funding the defense of retired building inspector Erik Peltonen, 68, who worked for the city but provided the county with mutual aid when he inspected the home, located at 10 Popcorn Lane, about 4 miles east of Aspen.Peltonen, of Basalt, along with Marlin Brown, 56, owner of Roaring Fork Plumbing & Heating in Glenwood Springs, were both indicted on four class-five felony charges of criminally negligent homicide, in addition to four counts each of reckless endangerment.The indictments were signed July 22 by the grand jury, which initially convened on July 31, 2009. On Friday, all three defendants were issued summonses and released on personal recognizance bonds. Because the grand jury proceedings were held behind closed doors, the prosecution’s evidence has been under wraps. The day after Thanksgiving 2008, a family friend found the bodies of Caroline Lofgren, 42, her 39-year-old husband, Parker, and their children Sophie, 8, and Owen, 10, in the bedroom of the home in which they were guests. The family lived in Denver. The home, which was built in 2005, did not have a carbon monoxide detector at the time of the fatalities. The sheriff’s office concluded that a dislodged piece of PVC pipe carrying exhaust from a driveway snowmelt system leaked lethal amounts of carbon monoxide – a poisonous, odorless gas – into the home.Owsley said the case could prompt the county to revise its inspection policies “because nobody knows what’s going on.””The question this case raises is, why would anybody inspect a building anymore?” he said. “Maybe Pitkin County should stop inspecting until this trial is over.”Public officials at the city and county are also bracing for a lawsuit from the relatives of the victims. Attorney William Hansen of Denver said he plans to file a civil suit next week.”I’ve always been outraged by [the three defendants’] conduct but I’m most relieved they were indicted,” he said Tuesday. “How can you have a confluence of screw-ups on an $8 million home? And you had these screw-ups come together to kill this family.”Hansen said the suit’s chief claim will be deprivation of constitutional rights – the right to life. “The civil suit will be a lot broader than the criminal proceedings,” he said. firstname.lastname@example.org
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