Victims’ families, sheriff weigh in on Aspen indictments |

Victims’ families, sheriff weigh in on Aspen indictments

Rick CarrollThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The grand jury indictments of two building inspectors and a contractor in connection with the carbon-monoxide poisoning deaths of a Denver family of four in the Aspen area drew measured praise from the victims’ relatives, while the sheriff who oversaw the initial investigation expressed frustration that the case has entered the criminal arena.”We are pleased with the outcome and are certainly appreciative of the time and attention the grand jury paid to this,” said Hidly Feuerbach of Massachusetts on Monday. “Nothing will bring them back. But we think it’s really important to expose what happened to hold those who were responsible accountable.”Feuerbach is the sister of Caroline Lofgren, 42, who died along with her 39-year-old husband, Parker, and their children Sophie, 8, and Owen, 10, over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2008. A friend of the family found their bodies the day after Thanksgiving in a bedroom of the home at 10 Popcorn Lane, located 4 miles east of Aspen near the North Star Nature Preserve. The Lofgren family had won the stay through a church auction.Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said he wants to learn what evidence the District Attorney’s Office plans to present as the case moves forward. That’s because an investigation by the sheriff’s office determined that criminal conduct did not cause the deaths. But in April 2009, the DA’s Office, apparently feeling that the potential for criminal charges existed, took steps to seat a grand jury, which commenced closed-door proceedings in Pitkin County Court in July 2009. The jury ultimately concluded two of the three indicted defendants committed criminally negligent homicide. The case will now begin normal court proceedings, open to the public.”This is one of the most tragic events in Pitkin County, and my team investigated it in reference to the applicable statutes as deep as humanly possible,” Braudis said. “And we decided there was no criminal activity involved and the rest is history. I’m as curious as anyone as to the legal points that the indictments will enumerate.”Following the grand jury investigation that lasted nearly a year, the 12-member panel returned the three indictments, also known as true bills, on Thursday. On Friday night, the three suspects were booked and released from the Pitkin County jail on personal-recognizance bonds.Glenwood Springs resident Marlin Brown, 56, the owner of Roaring Fork Plumbing & Heating, and Erik Peltonen, 68, of Basalt, were both indicted on four class-five felony charges of criminally negligent homicide. The indictments, made public Monday, say that both Peltonen, the building inspector for the residence, and Brown “unlawfully and feloniously caused the death” of each family member. The alleged crimes were committed on or between Jan. 1, 2004, and Jan. 1, 2006, the indictments say.The single-family home in which the Lofgrens died was built in 2005.Brown and Peltonen, who is now retired, also face four class-three misdemeanors of reckless endangerment. The indictments say Brown and Peltonen “unlawfully and recklessly engaged in conduct which created a substantial risk of serious bodily injury” to the deceased family members. A third person, 46-year-old Brian Pawl, who works as a building-plan examiner and field inspector for Pitkin County, also was indicted on four misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.Contacted Monday, county and city building officials declined comment. One official said the city attorney’s office has instructed building department employees to not discuss the indictments with “the press or anyone else.” Another source said the City Council was expected to discuss the matter in executive session Monday night.Court filings make no indication, beyond the charges filed, of what Brown, Peltonen and Pawl precisely did wrong.”We’re not going to comment about evidence,” Assistant Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin said Monday.He said Sunday that Brown’s firm installed the boiler and pipes at the Popcorn Lane residence. Following the deaths, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office concluded a dislodged piece of PVC pipe carrying exhaust from a driveway snowmelt system leaked lethal amounts of carbon monoxide – a poisonous, odorless gas – into the home.More specifically, the sheriff’s office determined that a disconnected exhaust pipe that stretched from the boiler to a chimney flue enabled carbon monoxide to get into the home. The investigation determined the PVC pipe was not hooked up at the “elbow” point, where it was to allow the gas from the boiler to flow to the flue and out of the home.The home did not have a carbon monoxide detector installed even though a county ordinance required one.Mordkin said the sheriff’s office’s findings that the exhaust pipe became disconnected should shed some light on the case’s direction.”That’s not supposed to happen,” he said, “and that’s what the sheriff’s office said happened.”Said Braudis: “We all have questions about what led to these indictments. I’d be very interested to see what Arnie calls evidence. I guess I can’t get evidence on my own case until these guys [the defendants] lawyer up. I’m a little frustrated.”The indictments indicate that the prosecution will have eight witnesses: Ian Gaspar of Glenwood Springs; Patty Brown of Glenwood Springs; Brad Gibson of Aspen; Mark Passamaneck of Sheridan; Jonathan Thomas of Denver; John M. Wheeler of Basalt; Robert Kurtzman of Grand Junction; and Alex Rugh of Denver.Passamaneck runs Entropy Engineering Corp., and is considered an expert in “plumbing system and component failures,” according to his resume. Kurtzman is a forensic pathologist; Gibson is an investigator with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office; Rugh is a lab agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation; and Kurtzman is a forensic pathologist. Details on the other witnesses were not readily available Tuesday evening.Meanwhile, relatives of the victims issued the following statement Monday afternoon: “The Lofgren, Rittenour and Feuerbach families would like to sincerely thank the Pitkin County grand jury and Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin for their extensive time and tireless efforts over the past year investigating the tragic deaths of the entire Lofgren family from carbon monoxide poisoning after celebrating Thanksgiving in 2008.”While the filing of criminal charges in the deaths of Parker, Caroline, Owen, and Sophie will not relieve our families’ sorrow it will hopefully assist in exposing those responsible for their deaths and in holding them fully accountable. As importantly, we hope that these criminal proceedings, as well as the imminent civil proceedings and the ongoing efforts by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, will send a clear message to contractors and building inspectors and even manufacturers of heating equipment to ensure that such senseless carbon monoxide deaths are prevented in the future.”Our families will continue with our efforts to raise public awareness about the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, to pass laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors and to ensure the compliance with and enforcement of carbon monoxide laws and building codes to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.”

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