Abraham Garcia stuns Vasquez; wins heavyweight regional title
And your Class 4A Region 2 Wrestling Tournament heavyweight champion is … Eagle Valley’s Abraham Garcia.
Not only did Garcia pin Battle Mountain’s Jeremiah Vasquez at the 1:26 mark during the semifinals at the regional tournament at Discovery Canyon High School in Colorado Springs, but he and the rest of the Devils weren’t even meant to be here in the first place.
Change of plans
Just three days ago, Eagle Valley announced that it would skip the Region 2 Meet because of COVID-19. The Devils thought they were shutting down for good on Feb. 22 when it had a wrestler with the virus. Having been slapped with the 14-day mandatory quarantine for athletes with the actual virus or for being involved in contact tracing, Eagle Valley abruptly changed its plans on Thursday night when the Colorado Department of Public Health changed its rules on returning to play.
Once the CDPHE eliminated the 14-day quarantine for athletes in favor of a 10-day quarantine for student with the virus or a 7-day timeout for those involved in contact tracing — accompanied by a all clear from a coronavirus test — Eagle Valley became eligible again for regionals.
Devils coach Melvin Valdez got the news on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and stayed up until 2 a.m., trying to make arrangements. With the regional split over two days and the lower weights to 145 pounds being contested in full on Friday, that was too quick of a turnaround.
Valdez passed on that competition in favor of the heavier weights on Saturday. Five of Eagle Valley’s six seniors, the strength of the team, are all 152 or heavier. As for Bubba Heredia who was scheduled to wrestle at 145, Valdez moved him to 152 and the 145-pounder nearly ended up qualifying for state.
And so it was that heavyweight Garcia found himself in the semifinals against Vasquez, who took bronze last winter at heavyweight. The first time these two met back in February, Vasquez squeaked by Garcia in triple overtime, so Garcia winning isn’t an outrageous concept. A win by pin? Surprising.
Regardless, Garcia went on to pin Wheat Ridge’s Samuel Mondragon in the second period and got to see the beautiful view from the top step of the podium.
And, ironically by beating Mondragon, Garcia did a solid for Vasquez. Only two wrestlers per division from each region qualify for state this winter because of COVID-19. But if you finished third and had not met the wrestler in second place, a wrestle-back is required for the state berth.
Had Mondragon won the heavyweight crown, Garcia would have been second and had beaten Vasquez already, so the Battle Mountain senior would have been eliminated. By winning, Garcia handed Mondragon on a silver platter to Vasquez for the wrestle-back. Vasquez got the pin, the second state spot, and earned his third state tournament in as many years.
And regardless of allegiances, all local wrestling fans are rooting for the decider of the best-of-3 series in Pueblo at state.
“We’ll see if they make it that far,” Huskies coach Angelo Vasquez said. “The state tournament is a different animal. There’s no guarantees. If it does happen, it’s going to be fun. The rubber matches are always the fun ones.”
Anthony makes it
Battle Mountain’s Anthony Sanchez returned to state at 170 pounds. The Huskies senior won his first three matches by pin before falling to eventual champion, Discovery Canyon’s Dylan Ruane.
Sanchez bounced back to win his wrestle-back with Evergreen’s Gabe Benton to punch his ticket to Pueblo. Now a senior, Sanchez has qualified the last three years at 152, 160 and 170 pounds.
Given that Eagle Valley had been quarantined, hadn’t practiced in two weeks and had 24-hours notice that they could wrestle, the Devils did pretty well all things considered.
Heredia (up to 152) and Jason Morrison (160) both came within a wrestle-back of making state and Brian Garcia was close in fourth at 220 pounds.
For Battle Mountain, Marshall Jones took fourth at 182.
Photos and results: Vail 2021 big mountain ski and snowboard competition
Chair 37 riders at Vail were treated to a big mountain competition on Wednesday and Thursday.
Big mountain competition is one of many judged disciplines of skiing and snowboarding, but unlike the others, big mountain judges examine the many choices the athlete takes down a challenging face of ungroomed terrain.
This week’s competitions took place on Lover’s Leap in Blue Sky Basin, where skiers, snowboarders and spectators were treated to the area’s namesake blue sky on Wednesday, and snowy conditions on Thursday.
Local coach Matt Luczkow said the Lover’s Leap competition was capped at 78 kids under 12 on Wednesday, and 90 kids ages 12-18 scheduled for Thursday, and without the limit, “We probably could have had more,” he said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife to launch gray wolf reintroduction eNewsletter
Looking to reach as many residents as possible, Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans on rolling out a new gray wolf reintroduction eNewsletter in the coming months in hopes of keeping people up-to-date and included in the reintroduction process.
“As the agency begins the planning and implementation process for reintroducing gray wolves to the state, we are dedicated to keeping the public informed and engaged throughout the process. This means frequent updates to our website, social media channels and this new eNews,” a CPW news release states.
The newsletter will help keep those interested in the gray wolf reintroduction involved and informed in every step of the process, said Randy Hampton, public information officer for the northwest region of Colorado.
“We’ve been getting a lot of requests lately from people saying they want to be involved in the process, so we want to make sure we have a simple way of providing people with that very basic information such as meeting times, developments with the process, and more,” Hampton said.
Hampton stated that while CPW will still put out news releases regarding important information with the reintroduction of wolves, the eNewsletter should make things easier to communicate developments moving forward for everyone.
“If there are news items of interest, they’ll be included in the newsletter,” Hampton said. “Anything that helps people understand what’s up with the process, where are we in the timelines, we’ll do that. A lot of what’s going to be in the newsletters will be where these public meetings are going to be held, feedback, those kinds of things.
“There will still be press releases, but we’re going to be using this as another tool,” Hampton added. “We have such a diverse population of people in this state that are interested in this information that we’re trying to reach as many people as possible through various forms of communication.”
To sign up for the future gray wolf newsletter, fill out the Colorado Parks and Wildlife email updates form.
Those that have questions regarding the wolf reintroduction process that want to communicate with CPW can do so through a new email address to collect and share your questions and comments. Please share your input to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail Valley starting to see optimism surrounding the tourism industry
The year, and counting, of the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on just about everyone. The travel and tourism industries are no exception. But there are signs of better days to come.
At the Sitzmark Lodge in Vail, general manager Jeanne Fritch said people were booking rooms throughout the pandemic. Most of those bookings were for stays months in advance, and few of those people ended up cancelling their plans.
But, Fritch said, more people are hanging on to their reservations every month.
Fritch said she spoke in late 2020 with longtime guests who always come at the end of February. Fritch recalled asking those guests if they still planned to come. Their reply: “We’re doctors; we’re going to have our vaccine by then.”
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has been a key part of building optimism in the tourism business.
At the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, general manager Kristen Pryor said a combination of vaccines, declining case counts and good snow in February helped spur bookings.
Pryor said there’s a sense of optimism building as the weather warms, and there’s more daylight in our days.
Group’s slower recovery
Pryor added there’s been a “lot of interest in weddings and smaller meetings” at the hotel. But group business, a key part of most lodges’ reservation picture, is likely to recover more slowly than individual travel.
That’s actually created opportunity at some properties.
Scott Gubrud, the sales and marketing director of the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Vail, said the lack of group business has increased room availability for individual travelers. But, Gubrud added, group business booked for June forward is picking up.
But group business recovery could take some time.
Linda Hill is president of Hill Aevium, an Edwards-based advertising agency with clients primarily in the tourism business. Hill said it could be 2022 before group business — particularly conferences — returns to something like normal.
But, Hill added, she and her clients are starting to see “tremendous” pent-up demand for leisure travel. She noted that when the National Park Service recently opened its camping reservation system, demand quickly crashed those servers.
Hill’s a member of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association. A motorcycle-riding group of association members a couple of months ago started making reservations for a trip in June. Lodging reservations were already starting to fill up along that route, she said.
Still, Hill said, a lot of bookings are coming either within a month, or even a week, of travel.
Jeff Andrews is the regional business recovery coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Regional Council of Governments. Andrews said he’s seeing greater optimism from businesses that rely on tourism, particularly heading into the spring and summer.
Andrews noted that many businesses are still struggling, due in large part to restrictions on service businesses.
Andrews said while there have been declines — often steep ones — in the lodging businesses, there’s been fairly strong demand for condo and home rentals.
“We’re seeing families more comfortable in a home with a kitchen,” Andrews said, adding that only time will tell if that trend becomes permanent.
People are still driving
What isn’t going away anytime soon is the increased reliance on driving vacations, and the willingness of people to drive greater distances. Trips up to 1,000 miles or more have become more common as many travelers have decided to eschew air travel for now.
Hill noted that the Colorado Tourism Office is preparing a May rollout of a summer marketing campaign focused on regional drive travel. That campaign may go national as the season progresses.
Aside from optimism, many business people have simply become accustomed to restrictions and working within them.
“There’s a feeling that ‘We can manage this, and we’re going to have to live with it,’” Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said.
Wadey said many association members are getting comfortable with being able to do a bit more forecasting.
“They can run their business instead of waiting for what’s next,” Wadey said.
But, Wadey added, we’re still far from a normal business environment.
“For every person who’s able to manage, there’s another having a rough go,” Wadey said. “People are still going to get sick. … It will be telling to see at the end of the season which (businesses) made it through.”
Some good news
• More people are receiving COVID-19 vaccines.
• Rentals of condos, private vacation rentals and homes are down only about 10% from pre-pandemic levels.
• Interest in wedding bookings at the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa is rising.
• Leisure bookings are close to those in normal years at Vail’s Four Seasons Resort and Residences.
Van Ens: A golden god not worth much
Christians believe God is everywhere and occupies all places. Similarly, Donald Trump’s presence permeated the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.
Before Trump took-over center stage in his first public appearance since leaving the White House, he benefited from a shiny likeness. A gold-plated statue was on display, mirroring the likeness of the former president. This likeness made Trump appear exceedingly bright in the same way fool’s gold shines as if it were 14-carat. It depicted Trump as entirely worthy of the Big Apple — showy, shiny, and sounding like an in-your-face Reality TV shock-jock.
CPAC attendees bowed before this statue, showing total devotion by having their pictures snapped with it. The idol stood larger than life as Trump’s supporters gazed at its shiny golden head. Clothed in a trademark dark suit jacket accented by a white shirt and red tie, this statue served as Trump’s stand-in. The golden right hand clutched a broadside with the bold constitutional headline, “WE THE PEOPLE.” The golden left hand held a stick topped with a flaming star, emblematic of Trump’s ability to mesmerize blindly loyal supporters.
This statue sparked memories of biblical proportions from pundits acquainted with the scriptural account of Moses receiving the 10 Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. The Hebrews huddled below this peak fretting and then got anxious when Moses did not promptly return.
Longing to see God and Moses up-close and personal, they constructed a golden calf from donated precious jewelry and ornaments. Moses got terribly angry when he returned and saw this golden idol. He incinerated it and ground the residue into powder. Then he dumped these acrid ashes into the Israelite’s water source. Their mouths puckered when Moses forced them to drink this water (Exodus 32).
These ancient Hebrews did not believe the golden calf was God. Intensely associating it with God, however, they felt motivated and secure when they bowed before the Golden Calf.
Sound familiar? Supporters treated Trump’s golden statue as if it were an idol.
Why does the Bible forbid idolatry? An idol is a figurine or other good-luck charm that supposedly defines God by drawing an explanatory circle around this deity. The Latin from which we get the word “definition” pictures a fence surrounding the gods we worship.
Consequently, the problem with showing devotion to an idol is that it “fences in” your god. Practicing idolatry makes your god too small. It suggests that we, with limited knowledge, can speak definitive words about this god.
We invent a smallish god to fit our perceptions of who the real God is. “To err is human — it only feels divine!” quipped naughty 1920s movie star Mae West. It feels spectacular to have a picture taken with your political idol. To believe your mind occupies the same space of that of a god-like leader who controls the nation’s destiny, if not the world, feels “divine.”
It makes us feel powerful when we can chop god down to manageable size, a god who gives us a “wink-wink” when we slip up. This god conveniently looks the other way when we mess up. This god is hard-of-hearing when we gossip, isn’t good at numbers when we do our taxes, and is too much of a prude to comment on our errant sex lives. Trump acts the part of an idol when, with mischief in his voice, he does not want his right hand to know what his left hand is doing because it isn’t doing anything that is worthy and just.
The Apostle Paul warned that a Roman Emperor, by bragging he was the only person who could fix a broken nation, sounded like “fools [who] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles” (Romans 1:23).
When we cut God down to a manageable size, this idol looks and acts like us. Professor Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., former president of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gives instances of the kind of golden statues that bewitch our minds. “If we are intellectuals, God is a cosmic Phi Beta Kappa; if we are laborers, God is a union organizer (remember God’s son was a carpenter); if we are entrepreneurs, God is for free enterprise (didn’t God’s Son say, ‘I must be about my Father’s business)?”
“If we are poor,” continues Professor Plantinga, “God is a revolutionary; if we are propertied, God is nightwatchman over our goods [possessions]. The gods of the Persians, [the Greek historian] Herodotus noted, look a good deal like Persians.”
After the golden statue sprung to life and began speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump sounded full of himself, as a person should who defies human limitations and assumes power from on high. “Do you miss me yet?” he bellowed after taking stage.
He belittled President Biden’s achievements battling COVID-19 and creating an eight-year path for citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living and working in the U.S. without permanent legal status.
Like his garish-looking golden statue, Trump’s loud-mouthed put-downs and combative insults sounded peevish, juvenile and like repetitive campaign recordings.
He played the part of “too small a god” for most U.S. citizens to adore, much less support and follow.
Best: Colorado’s last standing coal plant?
Coal to feed the roaring blast furnaces of Pueblo’s steel mill was being mined a century ago at dozens of hamlets in the foothills of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Range. Little remains today of those camps near Trinidad nor of the mine works at Crested Butte, Lafayette, and other one-time coal-mining towns.
We’re now in the midst of an even greater change. Get your photos quick. The smokestacks of the giant coal-burning plants that have generated most of our electricity during the last 50 years will soon start falling.
What will be Colorado’s last standing coal plant? A decade ago, that would have been an absurd question. Not now. Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, wants it to be Comanche 3. It operates and is majority owner of the plant, along with Intermountain Rural Electric Association and Holy Cross Energy. In late March, Xcel will submit plans to state regulators to keep the plant burning coal until 2040.
All other coal plants in Colorado will close by 2030, according to current plans. Colorado’s energy transition is — well, the metaphor of picking up steam doesn’t work as well as it used to. The state had a combined 4,412 megawatts of electrical generating capacity in December 2018.
Since then, Platte River Power Authority, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, Colorado Springs Utilities, and Xcel have all committed to closing plants by 2030. That leaves just one coal plant, 750 megawatts of Comanche 3, and Xcel wants to use just a third of the generating capacity beyond 2030.
One question mark was Pawnee, Xcel’s coal plant near Brush. Xcel wants to retrofit it to burn natural gas, as it did previously with Cherokee, the big plant north of downtown Denver. Xcel in late February also announced it wants to add 5,500 megawatts of new wind from Colorado’s eastern plains, but also storage and solar farms. This new farm-to-market network is to be knitted together by $1.7 billion investment in new transmission lines.
We’ve had energy transitions before. Diesel replaced coal in powering locomotives in only two decades. This transition is more urgent and more sweeping, from fossil fuels altogether. It’s partly driven by economics. Wind and solar prices plunged 80% and 90%, and utilities have learned to effectively and reliably integrate more and more renewables. Now, coal has become the expensive fuel.
Adding urgency are the larger and fiercer wildfires, the deepening droughts, and other evidence of the disruptive and costly impacts of climate instability caused by our failure to tame our atmospheric pollution.
Look to Pueblo for the most vivid example of this big pivot in energy. The steel mill ceased burning coal directly in the 20th century. Two huge coal-burning plants, Comanche 1 and 2, were constructed near the steel plant, part of a spree of new coal plants across Colorado from 1965 to 1984. Now, those two units near Pueblo will grow cold beginning in 2022 and 2025.
Most remarkable is how the Evraz steel mill will be powered. Construction has started on a solar farm covering 1,500 acres, an area almost five times the size of Denver’s City Park. The solar farm will have a generating capacity of 240 megawatts to produce ribbons of continuous rail from recycled steel. Coal will almost entirely be absent from the process.
Comanche 3, though, will still stand in the background of the steel mill. It’s had a troubled life. Since 2010, when it was completed, the $865 million plant has been down an average 91.5 days a year, including most of 2020.
Last year the Colorado Public Utilities Commission decided the future of Comanche 3 was subject to investigation. The most damning statistic from that heavily-redacted report filed on Monday is that when approved by the PUC in 2004, the plant was forecast to deliver electricity at $45.70 per megawatt hour. The cost through 2020 was instead $66.25.
Xcel defends Comanche 3 as an efficient plant but also one that provides Pueblo jobs and Pueblo County taxes. Too, it may provide reliable electricity when winds cease and darkness falls — as long as it’s not down for repairs. There’s also this small fact: $633 million of Comanche 3’s value as of 2020 had not been depreciated. There are decades of payments left to be made. Will the PUC require Xcel ratepayers to continue paying off this debt? Or might a complicated financial device called securitization allow Xcel to exit the plant sooner?
Comanche may also be a place holder. So many questions remain about how to completely decarbonize electricity even as demand for it grows to replace fossil fuels in transportation and buildings. If a lemon, Comanche 3 may still be Colorado’s last standing coal plant. But with this one exception, the end of the era of coal-fired power plants is clearly on the horizon, at least in Colorado.
Long-time journalist Allen Best publishes at Big Pivots, an e-magazine that tracks the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscriptions are free at Big Pivots.
Mikaela Shiffrin wins 45th World Cup slalom of career
We’ve got a battle for slalom and you can round up the usual suspects.
Mikaela Shiffrin rallied for a spectacular second run to overcome a 0.27-second deficit to overcome — surprise — Slovakian Petra Vlhova for the American’s 69th career World Cup win of her career, a nice 26th birthday present one week before the actual day, in Saturday’s slalom in Jasna, Slovakia.
The win moves Shiffrin into second place in the chase with 435 points, just 45 points behind Vlhova at 480. There are three slaloms, or 300 points up for grabs, remaining in the season — two next week in Are, Sweden, and then the World Cup finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
Slalom win No. 45 nears another record for Shiffrin. Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark holds the all-time mark for most World Cup slalom wins at 46. Stenmark won 86 races in his career — 46 in slalom and 40 in GS.
“That was a really big step,” Shiffrin said to NBC Sports. “That’s the feeling. That’s the fight. … I felt it, after my run, even before Petra came down.”
That had to feel good after seeing her run of four world championships in slalom come to an end two weeks ago in Cortina, Italy, at the hands of Austria’s Katharina Liensberger.
If you’re wondering, Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener was third and Liensberger fourth. What’s more, this is part of a little tit-for-tat. This weekend’s races are home ones for Vlhova and Shiffrin just won a slalom in the Slovakian’s backyard.
American Paula Moltzan finished 13th.
Holdener finished 0.52 behind in third. It was the 26th career slalom podium for the Swiss skier, who is yet to win a race in the discipline.
Liensberger was 1.42 off the lead in fourth and missed a slalom podium for the first time this season.
Shiffrin won bronze at the worlds but later said she was disappointed in her skiing.
On Saturday, though, the three-time overall champion was back to her best.
“That was good, it was a really big step,” said Shiffrin, who still found “some small things” she could have done better.
“But it was OK as I kept pushing. That’s the feeling that I want to have,” she said. “Today it was good enough to win, sometimes it’s not. But that’s the feeling, that’s the fight.”
The race resembled the victory from Shiffrin’s only previous visit to the Slovakian resort, in 2016, when she also beat the home nation’s favorite, Veronika Velez-Zuzulova.
“Last time it was the fight between Zuzu and me,” Shiffrin said. “It’s actually quite a pleasure to come here and have that fight with these girls. The two times we came to Jasna, we had a Slovakian girl who was on top level.”
The main difference, however, was the lack of spectators on Saturday amid anti-coronavirus measures.
“Last time, for sure, the crowd was bigger and you could feel the atmosphere more for the hometown girl,” Shiffrin said.
Vlhova narrowed the gap on overall World Cup leader Lara Gut-Behrami. The Swiss skier sat out the race and was holding a lead of 107 points.
The race weekend was initially scheduled to start with a giant slalom, but organizers swapped the program as unfavorable weather was forecast and moved the GS to Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Health care workers reflect on one-year anniversary of Eagle County’s first COVID-19 case
Eagle’s County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case arrived exactly 12 months ago on March 6, just one day after Colorado’s first case was discovered in neighboring Summit County.
But it’s clear that the virus was here and spreading much earlier than that, based on extensive interviews with health care workers and officials from Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical.
“We had COVID in this community in February. We had COVID all over the United States in February. We just didn’t have the ability to identify it,” said Chris Lindley, the chief population health officer for Vail Health who has spearheaded the hospital’s COVID-19 response since the start. “The testing was not in place until March to identify a case at all in the country, let alone in this valley. And so once we started looking for COVID in early March, we found it right away.”
The state’s first confirmed case was a California man in his 30s who’d recently been to Italy and had come to Summit County to ski. He skied in Vail in the days before entering a medical facility on the other side of the pass and tested positive for the virus that would quickly alter every facet of life in the state over the next year.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that Eagle County quickly become one of the hottest spots in the state, and a global transmission zone, considering the visitors it attracts from all over the world.
Eagle County’s first confirmed case was an Australian woman in her 50s who wrote about her experience after returning home. Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the former Eagle County commissioner who is now the state’s top public health official as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has said that the virus was likely circulating here as early as January.
Just four days after Eagle County confirmed its first case, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency. On March 12, county public health officials said it was clear that community transmission was taking place — meaning people were contracting the virus that hadn’t traveled abroad and were unaware of how they might have gotten it. A day later, local schools shut down to slow the spread, a move that became permanent for the rest of the spring semester.
The following day, Saturday, March 14, Vail Resorts made the decision to temporarily shutter all 34 of its North American resorts and Polis ordered Colorado’s ski resorts closed for a week.
The closures, which sent the valley’s tourism-based economy into free fall during one of the busiest months of the year, became permanent as it became obvious that the virus was here to stay.
Planning and adjusting on the fly
Vail Health had prepared better than most hospitals around the country by stockpiling personal protective equipment in January before global supplies were depleted. It also launched a system-wide task force to tackle the logistical challenges of a pandemic. But the speed at which the virus spread, and roadblocks that quickly arose — from a severe shortage of tests, and state and private labs quickly getting overwhelmed — forced the local health care system to innovate on the fly and find local solutions to national and statewide problems.
In hindsight, health care workers said there was plenty that could have been done different in the weeks and months that followed, although so little was known about the virus when it first showed up. The world was a different place.
“We probably should have started masking in February, just knowing that travel across the world from this place in China that had a big outbreak of a highly infectious disease is going to spread throughout the world,” Lindley said. “That’s our new reality with international travel is anything that takes place anywhere else in the world is within 48 hours a direct threat to us.”
Caitlyn Ngam, an infection preventionist with Vail Health, said pandemic preparedness is something that’s in her job description, but it has always been a sidebar to her day-to-day work. She described a global pandemic as her own “Super Bowl” — though talking about and preparing for such a thing with hypotheticals is a lot different than actually facing one in real-time.
“We see all kinds of infectious disease where we need to take precautions all the time,” she said. “But for something to spread that quickly, we knew that it was something different and that we would be kind of off and running from that point.”
Ken Stephen, the charge nurse in Vail Health’s emergency department who oversees the intake of patients, said the excitement of trying to identify the first patients in the county with COVID-19 symptoms from those coming into the ER who were “well worried” quickly faded as it became clear just how fast the virus was spreading.
“I was really the point guy,” he said. “We had screeners at the door and they would get a possible COVID situation and then my phone would ring and I would go and spend my time out in the parking lot. I would just sort through them and see who had to be seen in the ER and who could be seen elsewhere.”
Stephen said he got so good at the sorting process that he almost didn’t need the rapid-read thermometer and the pulse oximeter he used, among other tools, to identify patients with severe virus cases. He said he could almost sense if a patient needed to be admitted by having them pull down their mask.
“I saw so many people and screened so many people,” he said.
The peak, Stephen said, was March 14, the same day the resorts shut down. That’s when he said the ER admitted 16 patients and “probably turned just as many away.”
Stephen himself now suspects that he got the virus in February while traveling from his native Scotland back to the valley, but had no clue at the time that his symptoms could be tied to a respiratory virus that started in China.
One common goal
As the days and weeks wore on, and the pandemic settled in, health care workers described marathon days focused on one thing: protecting their community.
Fears and doubts were rampant, but they were secondary to the job at hand.
Stephen said hospital workers “saw things that would terrify most people every day without batting an eyelid.”
“They showed up for work and got it done,” he said. “… They’re team players, the best team in the land. You could have called in sick. You could have asked not to do it. But not a single one of them did that. We rose to the challenge. We were resilient and we stayed here for the community and took care of them.”
That protection came in many forms, from creating the state’s first drive-through testing facility to implementing a variety of new safety protocols in facilities up and down the valley to completely revamping local clinics to keep potential COVID-19 patients in one place away from other patients. There was also the months-long initiative from Vail Health to develop an in-house test that could be turned around quickly to avoid the backlogs that plagued the county and the state over the spring and summer, a push that finally bore fruit this fall.
And, as scientists worked around the globe to develop vaccines against the virus, hospital workers and public health officials prepped for the day the first shipment would arrive.
All of that work in 12 months, with Eagle County avoiding the worst of the state’s restrictions by never dipping into Level Red, has paid off.
The county has seen 5,163 confirmed cases of the virus. It has done 49,232 tests. Twenty community members have died — a number much lower than original projections. And since the first vaccine shots were administered in late December, more than 25,300 total doses of vaccine have been administered.
The fog of the pandemic is lifting.
“I think by May things are going to look amazing,“ Lindley said. ”The sun’s going to be out, it’s going to be warming up. And we’re going to be thinking about great community events, concerts, music in the park. I think all that’s going to start coming back this summer in a big way. And I’m excited just to see all our old friends hanging out together, relaxing, and starting to come back together in a non-physically distanced manner. OK, with more hugs. I see lots of hugs this summer.“
Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at email@example.com.
In first trial since November, jury finds Kentucky man not guilty on meth charges
EAGLE — A Kentucky man facing up to several decades in prison for allegedly possessing and trafficking 5 pounds of methamphetamine through Colorado saw not guilty verdicts returned on those charges Friday, at the conclusion of Eagle County’s first jury trial in nearly three months.
Enrique Echevarria-Castro, 38, faced charges of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and possession with intent to sell or distribute, both level 1 drug felonies punishable by eight to 32 years in prison.
He also faced a felony charge of violating bond conditions for not showing up to his three-day trial in Eagle County in May 2019, and a misdemeanor charge of false reporting for giving a false name to law enforcement.
The jury trial held before Eagle County District Court Judge Paul R. Dunkelman started Monday with jury selection and continued through Friday. It was the first jury trial since mid-November, when jury trials were put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jurors returned their verdicts after about two hours of deliberation Friday afternoon, finding Echevarria-Castro not guilty on the two methamphetamine charges, yet guilty of the bond violation and false reporting charges.
Sentencing is set for March 21, with Echevarria-Castro facing up to six months in jail for the false reporting conviction and up to 18 months for the bond violation. He has already spent about one year in custody, according to courtroom discussions.
Echevarria-Castro was one of three men in a car that sheriff’s deputies saw parked in a turn lane in Edwards around 1 a.m. on Sept. 29, 2018. Deputies stopped to assist, and the driver, Jorge Alcolea-Argote, 35, told them he was looking for the Edwards rest area.
Alcolea-Argote handed deputies an expired insurance card and a Florida vehicle registration that did not match the Kentucky plates on the car, and was found to not have a valid driver’s license. The three men told deputies they were friends driving back to Kentucky from Utah, where they had picked up Echevarria-Castro, though none of the men could say what city in Utah they were traveling from, and deputies ultimately searched the car with permission from Alcolea-Argote and Echevarria-Castro, according to a police affidavit.
On the floor in the back of the car, near where Echevarria-Castro was sitting alone, deputies found a backpack containing five packages totaling nearly 5 pounds of methamphetamine. All three men denied owning or knowing who the backpack belonged to.
Alcolea-Argote, arrested that night along with Echevarria-Castro, later pleaded guilty to two drug felonies and was sentenced to four years in prison in the case. The front seat passenger in the car, identified as Michel Olivera-Fernandez, was released the night of the stop and given a ride to the bus station in Vail, though testimony at trial also touched on how a debit card in his name was later found to be linked to a stolen credit card, accessing the funds of that stolen card rather than the debit card.
Defense attorney John Scott argued prosecutors presented no evidence linking the methamphetamine to Echevarria-Castro, and that he was simply receiving a ride back to Kentucky from two people he did not know. That ride was arranged by Echevarria-Castro’s wife through a social media site for Cubans in Kentucky and Echevarria-Castro did not know — and had no way of knowing — there were any drugs in the car, Scott argued.
Scott and Echevarria-Castro also argued he had missed his earlier trial in Eagle County because he was in Arizona looking for his mentally ill father who had gone missing, and that he had provided a false name to police the night of the stop because he was concerned about going to jail for unpaid child support.
Prosecutors described Echevarria-Castro, who took the stand at trial, with his testimony in Spanish translated, as a man with two identities, one portraying himself as a concerned son, husband and father, but the other a drug dealer and conspirator trying to move a large amount of methamphetamine across the country.
“He almost got away with it, and might have gotten away had they not missed the rest stop in Edwards, Colorado … They were parked on an active roadway, that’s what caused the motorist assist. This mistake, seemingly simple, set in motion a chain of events that bring the defendant here today,” Deputy District Attorney Amy Padden told the jury in closing arguments. “This is the defendant’s last chance to get away with it … We ask you to return a verdict of guilty on all four counts. Don’t let him get away with it.“
Jurors apparently were not convinced there was sufficient evidence linking Echevarria-Castro to the drugs found in the car.
Yet according to prosecutors, Echevarria-Castro is also facing methamphetamine trafficking charges in Louisville, Kentucky after he was indicted there last year by a grand jury.
U.S. Postal Service inspectors and Kentucky State Police allegedly intercepted a package shipped from Arizona containing 1 pound of methamphetamine. Law enforcement officers delivered the package to another man, the person it was sent to, but then watched that man hand it to Echevarria-Castro and later found the package in Echevarria-Castro’s room in the house, according to an affidavit.
Prosecutors tried to get evidence from the pending Kentucky case admitted into this week’s Eagle County trial, but that request was denied last October by Judge Jonathan Shamis, who was filling in for Judge Dunkelman while Judge Dunkelman was overseeing the Leigha Ackerson murder trial.
Making sense of COVID-19, sports and the rules
When I sat down next to Vail Christian coach Sheldon Kuhns and he just casually mentioned that Vinny Nowicki, Jeffrey, Hall and Theo Moritz were out because of COVID-19 issues for the Saints’ game against the Vail Mountain School on Thursday, I just started writing a story assuming the Gore Rangers would win.
I had this elaborate lead involving “Game of Thrones,” and how the Vail Mountain School was the king of the North. Since it was the second legitimate Stark son, Bran, who becomes king in the series, Cole, not MacKay, Pattison gets the Iron Throne. As a parting gift for MacKay, he wouldn’t have had to attend Red Wedding and gets to live. We’re generous at the Vail Daily.
Naturally, Vail Christian won, 53-43, and I got to press, “Delete.” I’m OK with that. As a practical matter, I usually don’t like it when life gets in the way of the story I have already carefully written.
Thursday night was fun, though. That’s why we like sports. VMS should have won that game just like Vail Christian should have beat flipping Meeker last weekend.
What was even more interesting is what happened after the game. Vail Christian’s community went into overdrive on Facebook after everyone had left in the gym.
Apparently, Colorado Department of Public Health reversed itself on its automatic 14-day quarantine rule for student-athletes who test positive for the virus or get caught in contact tracing.
So welcome back, Vinny, Jeffrey and Theo. They missed games due to contract tracing and tested negative, which, of course, is a positive development, for the ‘Rona on Friday, according to Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns.
Enjoy your game Saturday against Caprock Academy. As a side note, Vail Christian basketball, you’ve got to play with the focus you had against Soroco and VMS when you didn’t have those three. Trust your sports editor here, people.
While we’re thrilled to see Nowicki, Hall and Moritz back in the wild, we can’t help but ask the question, “What about our other teams?”
If you’re Eagle Valley wrestling or boys’ basketball, you are rightly asking, “Why the heck did you wait until now to change the rules?”
Devils wrestling was exposed to COVID on Feb. 20 at the modified Warrior Classic in Fruita. One of the wrestlers had COVID symptoms on the day after and Eagle Valley shut the door on the program on Monday, Feb. 22 for the mandatory 14-day quarantine. A 14-day quarantine precluded Eagle Valley’s wrestling in the regional tournament this weekend, and, as a result, qualifying for state.
Had the rules been the same for student-athletes as they were and are for students at the time, the wrestler who fell ill would have been out for 10 days and the rest of the team 7, contingent on an all-clear from the COVID test. Had this decision been a bit earlier, the Devils are wrestling as I type on Friday.
Meanwhile, Eagle Valley boys basketball spent two weeks in the Q because of contact tracing from a JV game. Again, here, it sure would have been nice to have had to observe only 7 days, get a good test and then return.
Did it ruin the basketball team’s season? Not totally. The Devils were 2-4 before the COVID halt, so they probably were going to have a hard time making the playoffs. It still put a major crimp in their season.
Then stop to think that Eagle Valley boys’ basketball and wrestling have high crossover with the football team, which also got a 14-day Q, and you can see how Gypsum athletes are scratching their heads.
The blame game
We all desire a neat and simple solution to problems, especially these days. Yes, just going to the grocery store seems like an odyssey (Mask? Check. Shopping list? Check. Armor and mace to buy paper products? Check.)
We also need someone or something to blame, be it a politician (not going there), a country or certain people (spare me the conspiracy theories) or a nameless, faceless bureaucracy like CDPHE or CHSAA. (A-ha.)
Trust me, it doesn’t take me much to whip myself into a froth over CHSAA. The organization views anyone west of the Front Range as irrelevant and since all our schools here pay their dues, well, I have the crazy idea that it should actually give a hoot about schools west of Clear Creek in Idaho Springs.
As easy as it would be to just yell at CHSAA or CDPHE — and, it would be satisfying to unload on CHSAA — it’s not their fault.
There was no “in case of emergency, break the glass for the super-secret sports pandemic plan.” We really didn’t have a plan for general life, much less sports. So don’t expect one now.
Yes, they — being CHSAA, CDPHE and every other government body, business and anything else — are making it up on the fly because everything changes so quickly with this virus and the latest change came Thursday night.
I feel for Eagle Valley wrestling, basketball and football teams. They did get hosed, especially wrestling with the finality of the season, and, in some cases, careers. They weren’t the first. They won’t be the last.
The thing to remember is that we are getting there. I didn’t think we were going to have wrestling at all. (How does one snap a person in half while maintaining a proper distance of 6 feet?) I thought basketball and hockey wouldn’t make it, yet here we are with the playoffs next week.
It’s agonizing, but we are getting to the point where we can discuss upsets and propose writing stories based on science-fiction TV shows.