Sheriff: No illegal drugs found in Aspen hostage taker’s blood
The 30-year-old Colorado Springs real estate agent who took three men hostage on Lincoln Creek Road this summer and repeatedly threatened to kill them had no illegal drugs in his system at the time, a law enforcement official said Friday.
“He had a small amount of marijuana (in his blood),” said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, quoting blood test results. “It was less than what you can drive on.”
After Brolin McConnell was taken into custody July 27, many in law enforcement agreed with Officer Jason Hegberg of the Basalt Police Department, who helped transport McConnell from Lincoln Creek Road on Independence Pass to the Pitkin County Jail.
“Officer Hegberg said based on his training and experience he believed McConnell was on some type of drug such as methamphetamine,” according to a report written by Pitkin County Sheriff’s Investigator Brad Gibson. “Officer Hegberg said McConnell was mashing his teeth.”
Aspen Police Officer Braulio Jerez reported seeing a marijuana vaporizer pen next to McConnell’s truck after he was taken into custody.
“Officer Jerez said McConnell was screaming at times,” Gibson wrote in his report. “Officer Jerez said he was unsure if McConnell’s actions could be attributed to illegal drugs or mental-health issues.”
The suspicions prompted law enforcement officials to obtain a District Court judge’s permission to obtain samples of McConnell’s blood, which were tested by Colorado’s state crime lab, according to DiSalvo and Gibson’s report. Those results came back this week, the sheriff said, and contained nothing besides the little bit of THC.
“I don’t know what caused this kind of break,” DiSalvo said.
Aspen prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz declined to comment on the blood test results. Ariel Benjamin who works for Denver attorney Harvey Steinberg and represents McConnell, did not return a phone message Friday seeking comment.
Mark Meredith, 23, one of the three men taken hostage, told The Aspen Times the day after the incident that McConnell talked about the FBI while he held them at gunpoint and told them drones “were all over the place.” McConnell even shot at crows that flew by because he thought they were drones, Meredith said.
McConnell also appeared to listen to one of the men’s iPhones, he said, and thought he was being watched by cameras.
Such behavior is often associated with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, or with the effects of methamphetamine, which can provoke schizophrenic-like symptoms.
Meredith and a friend had gone up to the Lincoln Creek area to camp, when McConnell, who was parked in the middle of the road, got out of his truck and pulled a 9mm handgun and a .38 caliber handgun on them. McConnell repeatedly told them men he would put a bullet in their heads, Meredith said.
Pitkin County Deputy Ryan Turner told The Aspen Times he watched as McConnell shot at another of the hostage’s feet, then yelled, “He’s next” at encroaching deputies.
“I was just like, ‘He’s going to kill this kid and there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do about it,’” Turner said a day after the incident. All three hostages were able to run away from McConnell when he was distracted and were not physically injured.
After he gave up peacefully and put the guns on the ground, deputies arrested and handcuffed him, according to police reports. At that point, he lunged at one deputy, then began to “kick and flail” when they tried to put him in a patrol car, forcing officers to place a strap around his ankles, reports state.
Pitkin County Deputy Michael Buglione sat with McConnell while they waited for a vehicle to transport him to jail.
“McConnell’s behavior was erratic,” Buglione wrote in his report. “He would be calm and able to carry on a conversation, then McConnell would ask if we were live on TV and would mention the Truman Show.
“McConnell appeared to be paranoid and kept asking if we were going to kill him.”
The Truman Show is a 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey as a man who’s life is a reality TV show captured by hidden cameras.
McConnell also behaved bizarrely the next day when he appeared in District Court. He bickered with Meredith, reminding him he threatened to kill him. He said he never kidnapped anyone, he “just held him hostage.” He repeatedly told the judge he feared for his life.
However, since his incarceration at the end of July, McConnell has been a model inmate at the Pitkin County Jail, according to Jail Administrator Don Bird and DiSalvo. It is unknown if McConnell previously suffered from a mental illness.
Ryan Kalamaya, an Aspen lawyer representing the three hostages in a possible future civil case, said Friday that all three have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. One has left the Aspen area because of the incident with McConnell, while all three suffer from sleeping problems and continue to seek counseling because of the incident, Kalamaya said.
McConnell is charged with two counts of attempted murder, one count of kidnapping, two counts of attempted kidnapping, nine counts of menacing and one count of prohibited use of a firearm. All are felonies except the firearm charge.
The case is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Nov. 12 in Aspen District Court. McConnell remains in the Pitkin County Jail in lieu of a $500,000 cash-only bond.
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Robert Shapiro was sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison for running a $1.3 million real estate Ponzi scheme that claimed more than 7,000 victims.