Man who died rafting in Vail Valley had strong work ethic |

Man who died rafting in Vail Valley had strong work ethic

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
William Spang

ASPEN – Longtime Aspen resident William Spang, 48, died Saturday after being thrown from a raft on the Eagle River.

Spang, an experienced rafter, was on the river with good friends Derek Mitchell and John Galvin, both of Aspen, when the raft flipped in a hole at the bottom of a rapid near or in Dowd Junction, authorities said.

All three were wearing life vests, said Alex Iacovetto, a patrol sergeant with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. Runoff and rainy weather that has pelted Eagle County the past few days have raised river levels to dangerous heights, Iacovetto said

Mitchell and Galvin called 911 at 11:36, bringing out numerous emergency responders.

Spang may have died of a heart attack in the water, Mitchell said, citing the coroner on scene.

Law enforcement officials in both Pitkin and Eagle counties said rafting and kayaking is particularly dangerous now due to high, fast water.

Spang is survived by his wife of nine years, Silke Spang, his 8-year-old daughter Kristen, stepchildren Gregory and Katrina Buesch, his mother and father who live in Cape Cod, and three sisters.

Originally from Massachusetts, Spang established a strong passion for the outdoors, learning to ski from his father who taught him to race on the Buddy Werner trail on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.

His father would have him walk to the top of the course.

“He said, ‘I always hated that all the other kids got to take the lift up and I had to walk,'” said Silke (pronounced Sil-ka).

But that work ethic preceded a career in carpentry and eventually contracting in Aspen that, Silke said, became an integral part of the construction community in the Grand Valley.

He moved to the area from Massachusetts in the early 1990s to build a house in Steamboat Springs, eventually following a girlfriend to Aspen in 1994.

After that relationship, he met Silke, who is originally from Germany, in 1997 while “out bar-hopping,” she said. They married in 2001, and Kristen was born in 2002 as “the best thing that ever happened to him,” Silke said.

Silke and Mitchell said Spang was an excellent father who doted on his daughter, and Gregory and Katrina.

“He was always there when the bell rang, waiting for [Kristin]. He always took her to McDonald’s, which mommy wouldn’t have approved of,” Silke said. She paused and added: “Too much healthy food. She needs a little junk food sometimes.”

That passion for his children was coupled by an intense love of the river. Silke recalled a time, observing a rapid, when Spang said, “That looks so awesome; don’t you want to do that?”

“He was like a little kid sometimes. He thought he was invincible,” Silke said from her back patio west of town, which she said Spang built from brick and sweat. The porch overlooks two tiered gardens housed in wood-retaining walls, which Spang also built.

Looking at the structures he had constructed, Silke said, “There wasn’t a better guy in the world for the honey-do’s.”

Mitchell remembered Spang as a man of integrity and honesty, as well as his best friend. They met in 2006, when Spang built Mitchell’s house.

From there the men quickly became best friends and spent the next four years frequenting the surrounding ski slopes, snowmobile trails and rushing rapids looking for the next adrenaline rush. But more than that, Mitchell said, Spang lived up to his word.

“I had no trouble telling people, ‘This is the man to build your house,'” Mitchell said. “He was a serious loss to this community. I will feel his loss forever.”

Silke recounted his daredevil lifestyle with a smile and many tears, saying he had a number of close brushes with death.

“He used his nine lives,” she said.

Spang had no life insurance policy. Friends are setting up a fund to contribute to the family through American National Bank. Anyone interested in contributing can call the bank at (970) 544-3777 and ask how to donate to the family of William Spang.

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