The Basalt bottle-thrower’s motivation remains unknown
July 3, 2018
In the end, only the man who threw 35 duct tape-wrapped, plastic water bottles into the Roaring Fork River this spring will ever know why he did it.
Prosecutor Tony Hershey, who said Monday the bottles contained "pornographic pictures" and "bodily fluids" in addition to household chemicals, had a theory but not an actual reason. He theorized that perhaps Ricardo Parras-Membreno had religious reasons for his behavior and was trying to "cast away" something.
Public defender Molly Owens, Parras-Membreno's lawyer, called her client's behavior "a habit" and said he did not intend to pollute the river or hurt anyone, but did not provide a reason for the bottle dumping.
"He was essentially disposing of some trash," Owens said. "It may have been culturally influenced. He now understands the importance of not behaving that way in the United States."
Law enforcement — including both local and federal agencies — initially thought the bottles contained the remnants of a methamphetamine cook until they tested the bottles' contents and found it contained bleach, other chemicals and the remains of photo paper. Police also searched the Basalt trailer where Parras-Membreno lived and found no evidence of drugs.
Finally, the question fell to District Judge Chris Seldin.
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"Why did you put the bottles in the river?" the judge asked Monday before sentencing Parras-Membreno to two years of supervised probation.
Through a Spanish translator, Parras-Membreno, 44, said he had a difficult childhood in El Salvador and never had much, including toys, and that his mother's recent death affected him significantly.
"I think that's sort of why," Parras-Membreno said.
Seldin paused a moment, then said, "OK, thank you."
In addition to the two years of probation, Parras-Membreno, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony criminal mischief last month, must also complete 40 hours of community service, Seldin said.
Parras-Membreno was arrested March 16 after police staked out a site near the 7-Eleven Bridge in Basalt, where they believed the bottles were being thrown into the river.
Seldin said Parras-Membreno's case, which attracted media attention throughout the state, is a reminder that criminal cases can sometimes take time to work through and that defendants are presumed innocent for a reason.
"This is a cautionary tale and an endorsement of our system of justice," Seldin said, noting that the lesson was worth pondering as Independence Day festivities take center stage this week.
Owens said Parras-Membreno is living legally in the United States, though that could now change given the Trump administration's immigration priorities.