Violence up between Aspen, Glenwood
ASPEN ” An unusual amount of violence has broken the perception of safety recently in the Roaring Fork Valley, where gunplay and assault used to seem like the problems of distant cities.
“There’s definitely a trend going,” said one agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in the valley. “We’ve seen an increase in overall violence. A lot of it doesn’t get reported. There are more domestics, more knives, more guns being picked up. In the valley, we didn’t see that stuff before.”
With the shooting of a Glenwood police officer, a wild car chase in Aspen, a slaying in Glenwood and gunfire in Basalt, the valley seems to have awoken to a different reality this summer. It is clear, however, that violent crime in the upper valley has not been anything like that in towns such as Rifle, Parachute and Glenwood Springs.
“The thing in Basalt is an aberration. I do not believe it is a signal for the future,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.
Aspen has seen a few unusual incidents and there was shooting June 26 at the Basalt 7-Eleven. And, after the recent violence, there has been speculation about the causes behind it ” with some pointing the finger at an increase in methamphetamine use and others blaming a burgeoning Latino population.
The agent said the two suspected causes are related, though not in a way most would think.
He explained that while most meth used to be made in smaller labs, it is now produced for far less expense in superlabs in Mexico and trafficked along with cocaine from Colombia.
Methamphetamine can cause extreme paranoia, as well as long sleepless periods that lead to a breakdown in decision-making and higher tendency toward violence, the agent said.
“A lot of dealers who used to just have coke now have meth and coke,” the agent said. “That’s why we’re seeing more meth up here, because it’s being pushed south-up. The meth is now readily available. When times get bad, [users] just go with whatever.”
The agent said meth-related crime has increased in Aspen, though local agencies are not seeing anything near the uptick in violence that downvalley agencies have seen.
“Some of our most difficult cases with the most potential for harm to people were meth-related,” said Deputy District Attorney Gail Nichols. “We don’t get a lot, but we are going to be getting the residuals. People are coming up here to socialize.”
The most recent example of a meth-related incident was that of Phillip Vigil, 27, who allegedly led police on a five-hour chase through the upper valley while on meth.
Still, Nichols said crime in Aspen is mostly alcohol-related, though meth sometimes can cause more high-profile crimes.
If the Latino population has something to do with increasing violence, the agent said, it has to do with Mexican drug cartels and gangs, and not the average immigrant.
“As far as the violence goes, we’re seeing more gang taggings,” he said. “A lot of it could be wannabes, but we’re definitely seeing more organization.”
Law enforcement officials in the valley are by and large in agreement that a burgeoning Latino population cannot be blamed for the violence, though many said the violence has been detrimental to race relations here.
“It’s getting frightening because people are tense,” said Maria Munday, Pitkin County’s Latino-Anglo liaison.
The shooting at the 7-Eleven resulted from an altercation over race issues, according to police documents. The men police are seeking two Latino males in the recent shooting of a Glenwood Springs police officer.
Incidents like that aggravate problems just below the surface, Munday said. And Braudis echoed that by talking of threatening graffiti that closed Aspen schools in May.
“The perceived tension that was illuminated with the Port-a-Potty blogs, after deeper inquiry, we realized was not a new reality,” Braudis said. “This has been going on for many years here.”