Top 10 stories of 2006 |

Top 10 stories of 2006

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

SILT A routine traffic stop south of Silt turned ugly late in the evening of Oct. 24 for state trooper Brian Koch when a motorist pulled out a gun and shot him, shattering his arm.The shooting triggered a massive manhunt that came to a dramatic ending the next evening. Police say the suspect, Steven Appl, 33, of rural Battlement Mesa, shot himself while hiding in the back of a car stopped at a police checkpoint near Silt. But repercussions from the case continue. Three people have been arrested for their alleged roles in trying to hide Appl from authorities after the shooting.Police say one of them, Cori Graham of DeBeque, was driving the car Appl was in when he killed himself. Also arrested were Wayne Hangs, who lives in a home south of Silt where Appl is said to have holed up, and Hangs tenant, Nichole Brownell.The shooting case apparently has links to methamphetamine use. A former employer has said Appls life went downhill after he began using the drug, and a deputy Garfield County coroner has indicated Appl may have had meth in his system at the time of his death. Authorities say they found what they believed to be meth in his Battlement Mesa-area cabin, along with guns, detonation cord and blasting caps.Also, Brownell has pleaded guilty to local meth-related charges and was arrested on meth charges in Mesa County in October.Brownell, Hangs and Graham all are free on bond and face felony charges including accessory to crime and tampering with evidence. Their next court dates are scheduled for January. Dennis Webb

GARFIELD COUNTY Immigration played a big role in both local and national news with debate raging over the economic and social impact of a growing Latino population. National issues echoed strongly at home this year, especially with the passage of a new state law requiring employers and governments to document immigrants before hiring them and proving they are not in this country illegally.Last week, local immigration issues got national television airplay in a documentary by Tom Brokaw. It focused on the growing Latino population in the Roaring Fork Valley and the impact of illegal immigrants on the workforce. The show featured Glenwood Springs contractor Mark Gould, who said his construction business could not function without immigrant laborers.Although Gould said his company checks immigration documents to make sure they are legal immigrants, its unable to discern whether documents are false.Gould said immigration reform should include a provision for a guest worker program that would allow employers to go to Mexico, choose workers and check their medical background and whether or not they have a criminal record.In September Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rounded up 34 illegal immigrants in simultaneous raids on homes in Basalt and Carbondale. According to ICE, the raids targeted people who had been convicted of crimes and were ordered to be deported but ignored the order. Fourteen people detained in the operation hadnt been targeted, but ICE came across them while apprehending the others and determined they were staying in the United States without legal authorization.In May, local students organized an immigration rally at Sayre Park in Glenwood Springs. About 1,000 mostly Latino people packed the park to hear leaders speak out about various aspects of immigration reform, most wearing white shirts to show solidarity.Also this year, a group of non-profit organizations launched the Community Integration Initiative, which seeks to help immigrants and established residents better understand one another and become more connected to their communities. Donna Gray

GARFIELD COUNTY Oil and gas development and oil shale have put western Garfield County on the national map with observers of national economic growth. Colorado is the sixth largest producer of natural gas in the country. Within the state, Garfield County is the second highest producing county with 3,500 operating wells. Its been a boon to the local economy. Last year the county took in $13 million in property tax revenue from oil and gas alone.But oil and gas development is not without its detractors here. Some residents south of Silt, where gas extraction takes place close to rural homes, have complained to county government and state regulatory agencies about noxious odors and noise from drilling rigs, as well as associated truck traffic on county roads.In March one of the largest producers of natural gas in Garfield County, EnCana, was fined a total of $176,800 by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for contaminating two domestic water wells south of Silt.This year the COGCC reduced the level of noise allowed around wells and associated facilities. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment increased emissions standards and expanded the regulatory area from the Front Range to the entire state.Garfield County also felt the growth of the energy industry with a request from Williams Production and Occidental Oil and Gas Group to build temporary housing camps for its workers in remote areas of the county.This year saw the adoption of a controversial Bureau of Land Management resource management plan for the Roan Plateau above Rifle and Parachute.The plan calls for clustered development of about 23,000 acres on top of the plateau. It did not satisfy the thousands of people who wrote letters calling on BLM to prohibit gas development there. In addition to natural gas development, the county will is bracing for a big push to commercially exploit oil shale in the next few years. In December the Department of the Interior issued 10-year research, development and demonstration leases to Chevron USA, EGL Resources, Inc., and Shell Frontier Oil & Gas, Inc. Donna Gray

RIFLE Accused arsonist Robin J. Clifton has a trial date scheduled for May 2007 after being arrested in early April in connection with several arson fires set on Labor Day 2005 in Rifle.Clifton, of Collbran, is charged with setting four fires in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 2005, which destroyed the Amoco service station at 1st and Railroad Avenue and did heavy damage to the Rifle Fireside Lanes bowling alley in north Rifle. An apartment complex and a restaurant received minor damage.Rifle police investigated the incident for seven months before arresting Clifton at the Garfield County Courthouse in Glenwood Springs in April 2006 as he was coming out of court on unrelated charges.He faces 18 criminal charges and sentence-enhancing charges of being a habitual criminal. Clifton’s criminal history dates back to 1978 and includes charges ranging from robbery to drugs to prison escape.Damages from the fires were estimated at nearly $1.6 million.Clifton pleaded not guilty to the charges in November. At the hearing, a video tape recovered from the Amoco station after the fire shows a man dressed in black breaking into the station and spreading a liquid around the inside of the garage. It also shows the man igniting a fuse and the inside of the building bursting into flame. The last clip shows the man running away enveloped in flame.Clifton was linked to the Amoco after it was discovered that a trailer and motorcycle that he had hooked to his pickup had been reported stolen in Utah. The trailer and motorcycle were impounded and taken to the Amoco station where they were stored in the north bay.Eleven months after the fire that completely destroyed his service station, which hes owned since 1980, Rifle native David Valencia reopened his business.Jack and Ava Bowles reopened the bowling alley earlier in the summer. Heidi Rice

GLENWOOD SPRINGS Inmate control and discipline practices at the Garfield County Jail have come under a legal microscope this year due to a lawsuit filed by the America Civil Liberties Union in Colorado.The organization sued Sheriff Lou Vallario and jail commander Scott Dawson, contending the jail has abused prisoners through the use of restraint chairs, pepper spray, pepper ball guns and electric shock belts, and has kept mental health care from indigent prisoners and imposed harsh discipline without due process.The two filed a formal response denying the allegations.Some of the alleged conduct by jail deputies that has been denied by Vallario includes: taunting prisoners and inflicting mental torture by playing mind games in connection with an electroshock belt, including intentionally dropping the belts remote control and saying the belt had been having problems and going off on its own. threatening transfer to the jails supermax section, replacing regular meals with a substance called nutraloaf, or putting people in restraint chairs as forms of punishment rather than for legitimate reasons; failing to provide opportunities to pursue grievances. not allowing inmates in significant need of mental health care to receive it if they dont have the money to pay for it.The lawsuit defendants admitted to isolated occasions of inmates being strapped into a restraint chair while their hands were cuffed behind their backs, which the ACLU says creates extreme pain.The procedure was used in one case to keep an inmate from harming himself, and in another to allow a nurse to safely approach him, Vallario and Dawson said in their answer to the lawsuit.The ACLU complaint is a class action lawsuit but specifically names four inmates as plaintiffs.The ACLU also had criticized the jails visitation policy, and asked U.S. District Judge Walker Miller to force Vallario to let the ACLU meet with any inmate in a confidential setting regardless of the hardship such meetings place on jail staff. Miller ruled the ACLU hadnt proven the current visitation policy was inappropriate. The policy requires jailers to ask inmates who their attorney is or if they are seeking representation from the attorney or legal organization who wants to meet with them. Dennis Webb

GARFIELD COUNTY Republicans and Democrats lined up to fill a slew of open seats in county government this year. Democrats won every contested Garfield County election except one. County Commissioner incumbent Trsi Houpt, a Democrat, handily beat Republican Steve Reynolds for the District 1 seat.Two women who worked for retiring County Clerk and Recorder Mildred Alsdorf vied for Alsdorfs seat: Republican Marian Clayton and Democrat Jean Alberico, with Alberico the winner.County Treasurer, Democrat Georgia Chamberlain, a Democrat, successfully fought off a challenge by Republican Gala Ivie, of Silt, who is deputy treasurer of Eagle County.The most hotly contested race was for county assessor. Republican incumbent Shannon Hurst was challenged by Democrat and Glenwood Springs realtor John Gorman. In what some saw as a major surprise, Gorman defeated Hurst.Gormans campaign focused on what he saw as a failure of the county to collect its fair share of taxes from the burgeoning oil and gas industry here.County Surveyor Scott Aibner, a Republican, retained his seat and defeated surveyor Dave Nicholson of New Castle, a Democrat.Republican Al White retained his state Rep. District 57 seat defeating challenger Andy Gold.In state races, former Re-1 school board member Susan Hakanson ran for CU regent but was defeated by former state Senator Tilly Bishop of Grand Junction.The only unopposed candidates for county offices were Sheriff Lou Vallario and Coroner William Trey Holt, both Republicans.Voters were also faced with a daunting number of local and state candidates and ballot questions. Among those which passed were formation of a countywide library district, continuation of a Rifle sales tax for parks and recreation, a $1.8 million bond for Carbondale to fund renewable energy improvements, a $1.6 million mill levy override and a $74.9 million bond for Re-2 School District and a $35 million bond for Garfield County School District 16.Voters said no to a sales tax to fund bus service to Rifle. Donna Gray

GLENWOOD SPRINGS A question looming for more than a year about the future of Sunlight Mountain Resort got at least a partial answer in December when the resort signed a deal to be sold.The resort went up for sale in the fall of 2005 for $50 million, leaving resort patrons and the Glenwood Springs community wondering who might buy it and what changes they might bring.One expected change will be residential development on more than 400 acres that Sunlight owns at the base of the mountain. The asking price is based largely on the development potential of the resort.There was little surprise, then, when a buyer came forward whose expertise is in residential development rather than ski resort management. Exquisite Development, a Florida company that has been involved in luxury development projects in the Southeast, has agreed to buy Sunlight for an undisclosed amount. The purchase is contingent on Garfield County approval of development at the resort.Company executive Mike Dooley has said the company plans to keep Sunlight general manager Tom Jankovsky and the rest of the resort staff in place.The resort is currently owned by Sunlight, Inc., a Colorado corporation with some three dozen shareholders. About a third of them are local, including Jankovsky. The resorts principal investors each own about a third of the company. One is Leonard Lorentson, a manufacturer living in Indiana, and the other is Michael Bodnar, former chief executive officer of the Shoneys restaurant chain.Sunlights current owners says the sale and residential development are needed to bring in money to pay for upgrades to the resorts lifts and snowmaking and replace the day lodge. At the same time, both Sunlight and Exquisite Development are seeking to set the public at ease over concerns that development could bring an end to the resorts appeal as a low-key, family-oriented alternative to more crowded and expensive Colorado resorts.Dooley said its too early to know what kind of development may occur at Sunlight, but it may include a commercial as well as residential element. Sunlight has a master plan calling for 780 homes, but its never been subject to county review.Dooley also envisions creating a world-class mountain biking trail at the resort to make it more of a year-round attraction, and one day expanding the skiing and snowboarding onto nearby Williams Peak, where Sunlight already has U.S. Forest Service permission to operate. Dennis Webb

GLENWOOD SPRINGS A series of fires and scrutiny from an insurance ratings agency turned up the heat this year on the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, which has been struggling with a shortage of staffing.The Insurance Services Office announced plans to downgrade the department from a 4 to a 10, its worst rating. Some local insurers feared the action could have resulted in big increases in premiums for property owners, and in some cases even made it impossible to find insurance.ISO was worried primarily about the departments inability to respond immediately with at least four firefighters to structure fires. The agencys point was reinforced by concerns about the responses to structure fires downtown and in West Glenwood, and to a wildfire in a residential area up Four-Mile Road.All the publicity only brought to the forefront what Fire Chief Mike Piper had long been saying: that the department was in need of more people to do the job. The department was sometimes having to shut down some stations for lack of staffing, and running into problems when it had simultaneous structure fire and emergency service calls.Piper had wanted to hire nine more paid, full-time firefighters, but his request was denied for budget reasons. Instead, some City Council members asked why the department used virtually no volunteers, unlike other area departments.Despite Pipers concerns about finding people these days with the time and flexibility to work as volunteers, he has begun recruiting volunteers this year, and now has 10 on staff. The fire department also has experienced success in boosting its paid, part-time force, which increased from eight people to 22.The city also had applied for federal funds to hire three full-time firefighters but was turned down. The city will look early next year into whether it can afford to hire any full-time firefighters on its own.The citys efforts to date have led ISO to back off its threat of a ratings downgrade, but ISO is continuing to monitor the departments progress in boosting staffing and addressing its concerns. ISO recently asked the city for a progress update, which it plans to provide in January. Dennis Webb

SILT A woman whose pit bull mauled an elderly Silt woman in September plea bargained in Garfield County court in early December and was ordered to pay fines, do community service and possibly pay restitution to the victim.Julie Dawn Sullivan 32, of Silt, was charged with ownership of a dangerous dog inflicting bodily harm and a county dog licensing violation after the Sept. 22 incident when her 3-year-old pit bull, Butterbean, attacked Judy McGruder, 74. McGruder had been going to pick up her grandson and mistakenly ended up at Sullivans residence when the dog attacked her several times, biting her in the left arm, leg, backside and the head. McGruder was hospitalized for several days afterwards.Sullivan maintained that she had owned the dog since it was a puppy and it did not have any history of being violent.The dog was later euthanized with Sullivans consent.A decision on whether Sullivan will be required to pay restitution to McGruder is expected to be made by early March.During sentencing in the case, Judge Jason Jovanovich reportedly said that if he could, he would kill all pit bulls, and that they should be illegal to own.Dog incidents made other headlines, too, including a situation at PETCO in Glenwood Springs when a pit bull and Labrador retriever got into a fight. The owner of the Lab was bitten on the hand, and the owner of the pit bull received a vicious dog citation.In December, Aimee Chappelle, Garfield County Sheriff Offices animal control officer, pleaded guilty to having a vicious dog after her dog jumped a fence and bit a neighbor on the ankle. The dog was subsequently destroyed. Sheriff Lou Vallario said he thought the dog was a pit bull. He added that the case would not have any impact on her job status.Chappelle responded to the scene following the McGruder attack. Some people thought her comments were insensitive to McGruder and overly sympathetic toward the pit bull. Heidi Rice

GARFIELD COUNTY The beleaguered residential golf course development between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale on the Roaring Fork River went into foreclosure in November. The 280-acre property was purchased by Snowmass Village developer Pat Smith last week. The property that once was an early homesteaders ranch and was owned more recently by Union Oil, which held its water rights for oil shale development, was set to be a large commercial and residential development known as Sanders Ranch in the early 90s. However, Garfield County Commissioners denied the land use application prompted by large public outcry against the scale of the development. It was scaled down in recent years but a series of developers were not able to raise the money to begin full-scale development and to date have not gotten beyond preliminary excavation of the golf course.

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