A Carbondale man who was found dead in a Basalt irrigation ditch Memorial Day died of drowning, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office.
The manner of death of Daniel Mejia-Perez was ruled “accidental with alcohol and drugs as contributing factors,” said a joint statement from the Coroner’s Office and the Basalt Police Department.
Mejia, 36, was discovered face up in the Williams 2 irrigation ditch around 7:30 a.m. May 27. The body was found by landscapers working in a vacant lot east of Big O Tires on West Cody Lane.
“During the course of Basalt Police Department’s investigation, there was no indication of foul play,” the statement said. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation assisted with the case.
The Coroner’s Office waited to release the cause and manner of death until results of a toxicology report were complete. Michael Buglione, an assistant coroner, said Mejia’s blood-alcohol content was 0.023 percent, an amount less than needed for conviction for driving while impaired. He said cocaine was found in Mejia’s system but that he was unable to say what amount.
There was no sign of a roofie, the so-called date-rape drug, in Mejia’s system, Buglione said.
While the manner and cause of death have been established, there are still questions that can’t be answered, both Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott and Buglione acknowledged.
“It’s weird but not suspicious,” Buglione said of the case.
A forensic autopsy by a doctor in Grand Junction showed there was a lack of trauma on Mejia’s body, Buglione said. There were no defensive wounds to suggest there was a struggle, he added.
Knott said nothing in the investigation showed the presence of another person at the irrigation ditch. Mejia was last seen riding a bus downvalley from Aspen late the night of May 25. He was leaving work at an Aspen restaurant. It is unknown why he got off the bus in Basalt rather than Carbondale, Knott said. Police questioned another man who got off the bus at the same time as Mejia, but the man said he didn’t know Mejia and didn’t know where he went, Knott said.
How Mejia spent the time from late the night of May 25 to 7:30 a.m. May 27 remains unknown.
“I wish I knew because this one’s bothering me,” Knott said. “There are just so many questions that I can’t answer.”
A friend of Mejia’s told investigators that the man was known to get hot when he partied and that he would take a shower to cool down. It’s possible that Mejia climbed into the irrigation ditch to cool down, Knott said.
The ditch where Mejia was found was across Highway 82 and about two-tenths of a mile downvalley from where he got off the bus. Personal belongings of Mejia were found across West Cody Lane from the ditch. No other person’s belongings were found, Knott said. Mejia was partially clothed when he was discovered.