Body in Breckenridge believed to be missing man
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado ” Search members found the body of a young white man believed to be Michael Barbiere on Saturday morning in a field behind the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge.
Barbiere, 23, a tourist from New Jersey, disappeared after leaving Cecilia’s Bar alone early on the morning of Feb. 8.
The first clue came Friday evening, when a Denver resident discovered Barbiere’s American Express card in the melting ice on the sidewalk on the northeast corner of Highway 9 and Boreas Pass Road. He contacted police at around 7 p.m.
“It looks like the ice just gave up the card,” Breckenridge Police assistant Chief Greg Morrison said.
The man who found the card works for Vail Resorts and had been searching regularly for any signs of the missing tourist, Morrison added.
“He was very cognizant there is a reward,” he said, referring to the $10,000 reward offered by Barbiere’s family and friends.
Several members of the Breckenridge Police Department gave the area an unsuccessful preliminary search before darkness fell Friday night, posted an overnight police officer at the site, and contacted Summit County Search and Rescue for help when the search resumed Saturday morning.
With more than two dozen rescue workers scouring the field, it took about an hour to locate a piece of gray and white fabric protruding from the snow among a stand of willows halfway between Main Street and the ice arena building.
“The body was almost completely covered,” Morrison said. “Even standing nearby, it was almost impossible to see.”
Because of the ice around the body, workers spent nearly two hours extricating it from the snowy gully.
“We had to use ice saws, ice axes and shovels,” Summit County Search and Rescue site commander Joe Ben Slivka said.
Icy conditions may have contributed to the inability to find the missing man sooner, longtime search and rescue volunteer Dan Burnett said.
“We searched that field in February,” he said. Rescue workers at the time used 12-foot probes in the deep snow, but even in a narrow grid search, ice and willow roots can confuse probe findings, he added.
Although the clothing on the body matched the description of what Barbiere was wearing when he disappeared, Summit County Coroner Joanne Richardson is unwilling to make a positive identification until an autopsy is performed.
“Right now, it’s a presumptive’ identification,” she said. “We’re unable to examine the body at this point (because of the ice), and we hope to do the autopsy on Monday or Tuesday.”
What actually happened that night in February remains unclear.
“There’s nothing at all to suggest foul play,” Morrison said. “We have always felt the highest probability was that he succumbed to the elements that night.”
According to his friends, Barbiere carried his credit cards and cash loose in his pocket without a wallet. So far, only the American Express card has been located, but, because of its icy condition, authorities have been unable to examine the clothing for other identification or effects.
If the body turns out to be Barbiere, its discovery marks at least a partial resolution of what Burnett calls “one of the biggest mysteries we’ve worked on in the last 30 years.”
“It’s a bittersweet deal,” Burnett said. “It’s satisfying to know closure is there.”
Authorities have been in contact with Barbiere’s family members, who are in Summit County waiting for official word.
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