A look back at Rifle’s big headlines of 2019
Grand River’s historic expansion
Funded by an $89.4 million bond issue approved by voters in 2017, Grand River Health made considerable progress on its largest expansion since opening in 2003.
Grand River worked with western Garfield County residents on the community-driven project, for which services they would like the hospital to offer in the future.
In November 2017 Grand River Hospital District voters passed an $89.4 million bond issue to cover a three-story approximately 100,000-square-foot hospital expansion and new 110,000-square-foot care center which will replace the existing E. Dene Moore Care Center.
Grand River CEO Jim Coombs said in November that it is a huge project for the hospital.
“It will give us all private rooms, and over the coming years there is going to be a domino-effect for areas to get backfilled and remodeled. There will be a host of smaller projects over the next number of years as capital comes available,” Coombs said.
The expansion will include an intensive care unit, cardiac rehab center and infusion center for cancer services.
Grand River Health is also planning for the future, with the third floor being shelled space to complete later.
“It will create the capacity of this hospital for the next 20 to 30 years. The expansion has a little bit of shell space for additional capacity to expand down the road. We would be able to add more beds beyond the 25 at some point in the future as the community grows without having to build a completely new space.” Coombs said.
No charges in fatal officer-involved shooting
The fatal shooting of Allan George, 54, by Rifle police officers on the Rifle bridge in August led to a three-month investigation before it was announced that officers would not face criminal charges.
The officers who shot and killed an armed Rifle man in August will not face criminal charges, 9th District Attorney Jeff Cheney announced Tuesday.
Following the investigation, 9th District Attorney Jeff Cheney “concluded that no officer committed a criminal violation” when shooting Allan George, who was armed with a handgun, in the back on the Rifle bridge as he attempted to flee arrest on Aug. 5.
George was wanted on charges of possessing child pornography, and the investigation had been going on for several weeks with his knowledge, according to the report.
George never pointed his handgun at Cpl. Dewey Ryan or Officer Shelby McNeal, the two officers involved, but Ryan still didn’t commit a crime in shooting him, the DA determined. Less-lethal force was not an option, according to the officers.
The two officers exhausted all possible measures in trying to get George to submit to arrest, according to the report. In total, Ryan and McNeal told George to put his gun down 46 times, according to a transcript of the audio recording device one of the officers was wearing.
Rifle’s football season cut short by basalt’s good luck
The Rifle High School Bears were unstoppable for nearly the entire season — until Basalt’s good luck prematurely ended their playoff run Nov. 16 in double-overtime.
Rifle entered the Class 2A playoffs as the top seed, having gone undefeated on the regular season en route to a 2A Western Slope League title. The Bears rolled to a 48-15 first-round playoff win over Englewood at home, before the ill-fated short trip up to Basalt.
The Longhorns, who finished second in the league behind Rifle, had hung tough in the regular-season matchup Oct. 25, but Rifle emerged the 21-9 winners.
It was down to the wire in the second round of the playoffs, as the league rivals found themselves tied 14-14 at the end of regulation. After trading chances to win the game in the first overtime period, Basalt won it on a hope and a prayer facing fourth down and 25, when Longhorns senior Jackson Rappaport took the reverse from QB Matty Gillis and heaved the ball into the end zone and into the waiting hands of junior receiver Rulbe Alvarado to pull off the upset.
Rifle ended the season at 10-1. Bears senior running back Levi Warfel was named 2A WSL Back of the Year, and 10th-year coach Damon Wells was selected as the league’s Coach of the Year.
New Technodrome takes off at Rifle Airport
A new 7,000-square-foot indoor facility that opened in October allowed for the safe testing and evaluation of different types of drone technology for public safety in an enclosed environment.
The Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting (CoE) Technodrome at Rifle Garfield County Airport is another forward-thinking program for the center.
“The big advantage of the facility is that we can test new things that aren’t quite allowed or contemplated by the FAA because we are indoors,” Center of Excellence Director Ben Miller said at the October open house.
The center is currently working on a handful of projects including aerial application of water enhancer studies, unmanned aerial systems, unmanned aerial systems detection, geospatial mapping and more.
The Center of Excellence employs eight staff members. Employees include firefighters, PhD electrical engineers and attorneys.
With the new Technodrome, the Center of Excellence has a multiuse facility at its disposal.
Groundbreaking marks start of new aquatic facility
Rifle’s new aquatic facility had been years in the making – after voters approved the project in 2017, the city of Rifle began the planning process for the popular community asset.
The project had to be put on hold after the planned renovation came in over budget, so the city went back to the drawing board and revised the planned aquatics facility.
“We prioritized our pool components of the survey, and when we realized we couldn’t do some of the work because of the costs, we looked at the priorities,” Rifle Parks and Recreation Director Tom Whitmore said.
Two major components the city focused on were the leisure pool with the aquatic structure and the lap lane pool.
“Those were some of the higher priorities, so we had to drop some of the other things. Hopefully those can be added back in at a later date if everything goes well with the economy in a few years,” he said.
The renovation project total is a little over $8 million.
Colorado River Fire Rescue gets new chief
Randy Callahan went from interim to full-fledged chief of Colorado River Fire Rescue this year.
The son of a firefighter, Callahan spent 23 years in fire service in Fort Collins before retiring.
After he retired, he worked on the fire certification board and then with Boulder County Rural Fire before coming to Rifle at the beginning of 2019.
As Fire Chief for Colorado River Fire Rescue, Callahan serves New Castle, Silt and Rifle. He initially came to the role temporarily in January after former Chief Rob Jones stepped down at the end of 2018. He said he’s extended his stay at the request of the board.
“I’ve made an 18 month commitment to stay, to finish up a project we started, we have a lot of good projects going on,” Callahan said.
Callahan oversees 55 career firefighters and around 30 volunteer firefighters covering an 850 square-mile area from Rifle to New Castle.
Garfield County feels Colorado’s ‘blue tide’
The policies advanced by the Democrat-controlled state government this year will affect Garfield County.
As the second-highest oil and gas-producing county, changes to mineral extraction regulations at the state level touched a nerve in the Garfield County.
Commissioners and industry representatives fear the new regulations will make the region unfeasible for natural gas development, which could cripple the economy and trigger an economic downturn in the county.
Proponents of the stricter regulations, however, say they have been negatively affected by gas development. At public hearings on the new rules under SB 19-181, activists have lauded the protections to public health, and the potential to reduce fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions.
The county also took a stand against so-called red flag laws, declaring Garfield County a “Second Amendment Preservation County.” As a statutory county, Garfield County cannot change the force of the red flag law, officially known as HB 19-1177.
Garfield Sheriff Lou Vallario joined the commissioners in opposition to the law, but said he would enforce it as an officer of the law.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, allows a court to remove firearms if the judge finds a person to be a potential danger to themselves or others.
Lauren Boebert announces challenge to Tipton in GOP primary
Staunch Second Amendment advocate and local entrepreneur Lauren Boebert has a new goal in her sights for 2020: a House seat in Congress.
The owner of Shooters Bar and Grill, is challenging Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) for the GOP nomination this year.
Boebert has not shied away from activism in recent years. Her restaurant, Shooters Grill, became famous as a pro-Second Amendment locale. All the servers open carry handguns in the restaurant.
When Beto O’Rourke, then campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president, held a September town hall in Aurora, Boebert confronted him for his statement that “hell yes” he would confiscate semi-automatic rifles.
Boebert’s response was “hell no, you’re not.” In a viral video, she asked O’Rourke how he intended to “legislate the hearts of men” who commit violent acts with guns.
In addition to protecting Second Amendment rights, Boebert wants to be a voice of support for President Donald Trump’s policies.
“I am more than an advocate for the Second Amendment, I am an advocate for freedom,” Boebert said.
Man convicted of murder
A jury in Glenwood Springs convicted Rifle man Michael Montgomery, 47, of second-degree murder in the spring of 2019.
Montgomery was charged with murder for the March 2017 shooting of his son-in-law Chris Gallegos, then 28, outside of an apartment complex in Rifle.
He fled to Oregon after the shooting and was apprehended in September 2017. Montgomery claimed self-defense, but the jury sided with the prosecution, which argued that Montgomery time and again showed intent through his actions.
Montgomery was also convicted of menacing with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence.
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Five newly elected Rifle City Council members were sworn in Wednesday.