Price of Paradise: The exhausting path to a tragedy
Post Independent Correspondent
Third of five parts.
In August 2014, Christine Tinner was living in a way not uncommon in the Roaring Fork Valley: busy with more than one job and her personal life, without great financial resources and scratching around for housing.
The morning of Aug. 23, she moved from her home in Basalt to her then-fiancé’s Willits loft.
Later that afternoon, she made the 80-mile drive to visit her two teenage children in Crested Butte, where they lived with their father. Her daughter was leaving in a couple of days to go off to college, and it was Tinner’s only chance to see her.
She and her fiancé had driven back from Denver the day before.
“I didn’t sleep that great the night before. And that morning, I was moving into my fiancé’s loft. Three huge carloads of stuff all by myself, because my partner had injured his back and I couldn’t afford a mover. I moved a desk, a mattress. So many trips down the stairs, into the car.”
She left for Crested Butte — “a short drive, an hour and 35 minutes” — at 3 p.m.
“I have driven by myself with my kids from here to my parents’ home in Michigan many times. Twelve hours straight. No problem. An hour and 35 minutes is not a big deal. I had already had two cups of coffee. And I had rested from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. before I left. So, I just sort of lay there, and I thought, ‘You’ll be all right,’” she recalled.
That evening, after a warm family dinner with her children, Tinner headed back home. She was scheduled to work the next day.
“I was just exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed out about moving in with a new partner,” she acknowledged. “And stressed out about moving my children. And stressed out about another fall without my children. And my daughter was moving to college. There were a lot, lot, lot of things.”
At around 9 p.m., north of the Avalanche Creek Road intersection on Highway 133, Tinner crossed the center line. The collision killed Meleyna Kistner, a 21-year-old Indiana student, and seriously injured Kistner ‘s boyfriend, Daniel Thul.
Tinner suffered leg injuries and now walks with a cane. She is serving five years of unsupervised probation, must perform 360 hours of community service and will pay $31,000 in restitution.
Money, jobs, kids and relationships are everyday worries for many Americans, all particularly acute for middle-class people in our region, where rural wages fall short in an area with resort prices and an acute shortage of affordable housing.
People drive long distances between the homes they can afford and the jobs they can find, and to maintain friendships and family connections.
Stress, exhaustion, anxiety are not unique to Tinner.
“I loved living in Basalt, so it was a hard decision to move to Willits,” she said. “But I was so frustrated. The year before, even with two part-time jobs and as an adjunct at Colorado Mountain College, there were months that I couldn’t pay the rent. I relied on my parents. It’s just humiliating as a 40-something-year-old person with tons of education not to have full-time employment. I was going to move into the loft, and then my accident happened.”
Tinner’s Aspen attorney, Dan Shipp, said that people in the Roaring Fork Valley who “have a better education tend to have worse problems with that than the people that work in blue-collar jobs.”
“Generally, the blue-collar people have a family or someone else to give them a hand in child care. They tend to commute in ride-share if they’re working in condos or restaurants. The people that tend to have the biggest problems, especially divorced women with children, is that the cost of child care is very high in this valley because the cost of housing is extremely high.”
He added that it’s “very difficult for somebody with an education to get a job in a white-collar world because you have so few jobs that are year-round. You work for the bank, but they are not very high-paying jobs. You can work year-round in a firm that sells insurance or whatever, but, again, the problem that you’ve got is people tend to get paid less here and tend to have high expenses.”
In 2008, Tinner moved to the valley from her former husband’s home near Davos, Switzerland.
“I had to leave,” she said. “I had two kids from my first marriage. Even though I tried very hard to get them to live with me in Switzerland during the school year, they had to stay with their dad, my first ex, in Crested Butte.”
‘I CAN HARDLY LIVE ON THIS’
Tinner had been offered a job teaching seventh-grade science at Glenwood Springs Middle School. Her Glenwood rent was $1,200, leaving her $800 a month to live on.
“By the time I got done paying my student loans, I remember thinking, ‘This is my life as a teacher? I can hardly live on this.’”
Tinner, who had recently completed her master’s in education, was not rehired for the next school year.
“Once you’re not renewed as a teacher, then it looks like you’re fired, and it’s hard to get another job,” she said.
Tinner has a bachelor’s in psychology from Michigan State, a master’s in education from Walden University, and is working on her Ph.D. in education from Walden.
“My whole background is teaching,” she said. “Everybody in my family is a teacher, and so I thought, ‘I’ll become a teacher and then I’ll have time in the summer to be with my kids.’ That was my dream and that never happened.”
In 2009, she started working as an adjunct instructor at CMC.
“That was pretty much my income. Then in 2011, Obamacare struck and CMC said, ‘If you’re an adjunct, you cannot work as a part-time employee.’ And they cut back my hours from 11 credits to nine credits.”
Her Ph.D. student loan is $110,000. When she graduates in a year, it begins to fall due.
In 2010, she was offered another part-time job at CMC, an administrative position she held until 2013.
“And in 2012, when I got a part-time job teaching literacy at Aspen High School, I thought, ‘Great. Maybe I’ll get a full-time job and I can quit all these part-time jobs.’ By the third week, it was clear the job was not going anywhere.”
In the spring of 2013, after her position at the high school ended, the lease was up on Tinner’s car.
“I wanted to purchase it instead of trading it in because I had put on 20,000 more miles than the lease agreement. I didn’t have the $2,000 that I owed on the extra mileage. I was devastated to the point of being suicidal when the local bank refused to grant me an auto loan,” she said. “My parents paid for my car in the end. I hated relying on my retired parents. They sent me monthly checks to cover my health insurance for myself and my kids.”
TRYING TO FIND A HOME
In 2009, Tinner had taken a chance. She moved from Glenwood and rented a more expensive home in Basalt with a fenced yard.
“I always wanted to get my kids a dog,” she said. “I spent $1,500 on rent. And then I had a car and health insurance on top of that. Easily $2,500-$3,000 in expenses. There were many times that my bank account would go in the red.”
“In the summer of 2013, I started doing part-time massage work at the St. Regis” Hotel in Aspen, she said. “I already had part-time work as an administrator and part-time work as an adjunct teacher. I had three paying jobs, plus I was working on my Ph.D. That was four jobs. I could pay my bills finally and maybe have a little bit extra.”
In the last four years, Tinner has applied for more than 10 positions at CMC without success.
“I had kept my fingers crossed that by getting my Ph.D., I would land some full- time position there. If you’re an administrator, it’s $60-85,000 a year. It’s not a ton of money, but it’s more than I make with three jobs now.”
Today, Tinner lives in Carbondale.
“I share this house. My share of the rent is $850. It has five bedrooms. There are two other women renting rooms here now. It’s the first time since college that I’ve had roommates.”
Her health insurance for herself and her kids is $750 a month.
“I’ve seriously thought about moving after my probation period. But I love it here,” she said. “I grew up skiing. I would love to skin up from the bottom of Highlands to the top of the bowl. I don’t know if I can do that again. I’m on Medicaid right now and that doesn’t feel good. I need a full-time job. I’m tired of not paying for stuff.”
Thursday: Many immigrants have different expectations than U.S.-born residents but still face a tough time.
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