Mountain Town News: Trench cave-ins lead to court cases |

Mountain Town News: Trench cave-ins lead to court cases

Allen Best, author of Mountain Town News.
Courtesy of Allen Best

Manslaughter charged in

2018 trench cave-in death

GRANBY, Colo. – Accusations of manslaughter have been filed against the employer of man who died in a collapsed trench in 2018.

Rosario “Chayo” Martinez-Lopez died in June 2018 when the trench he was working on outside a condominium building collapsed in Granby Ranch, a resort development associated with a ski area of the same name. The employer, Bryan D. Johnson, has a business in Avon called Contact One.

Matt Karzen, district attorney in the 14th Judicial District of northwestern Colorado, said “thorough investigative work by the Granby Police Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration revealed facts supporting a criminal prosecution for this job site death. Worksite safety regulations exist for a reason, and here, we are reminded just how important it is to for employers to adhere to those regulations.”

Details such as deepness of the trench have not been reported. Victor Marquez, a family member, last year told the Sky Hi News that the victim was “kind, funny, smart, hard-working and the sole provider for his family” in Mexico.

To be convicted of manslaughter under Colorado law, a defendant must be proven to have been aware there had been a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death but nevertheless chose to engage in the risky conduct.

Elsewhere in Colorado, two men died in a trench cave-in at Windsor, a town along the northern Front Range, during April. The Fort Collins Coloradoan reported that responders worked seven hours to rescue the men from the trench, which had been 14 feet deep and 4 feet wide. Before he died, one of the men communicated with rescuers and family members after a PVC pipe was inserted into the ground to connect with him.

In Wyoming, two men also died in a trench cave-in last year in Jackson Hole. There, prosecutors declined to press criminal charges, but families of the two victims have filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful deaths caused by the developer’s failure to provide safeguards. The developer, Jamie Mackay, says that he cannot get a fair trial in Teton County because of the extensive and prejudicial local media coverage both before and after the cave-in, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

The two Wyoming victims, like in Granby, had relatives in Mexico. The two victims in Colorado earlier this year also had Spanish surnames, although the stories did not say whether they were from Mexico.

The United States had 13 trench cave-in fatalities last year, 19 the prior year. In 2016, it had 23 victims.

OSHA requires protective systems in trenches 5 feet in depth or more unless the excavation is made entirely in rock. Excavators have three options. they can use a sloping technique that involves cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation. They can use a shorting technique, using aluminum hydraulic braces between wooden sheets supported by metal on each side. Or they can use shielding devices such as trench boxes.

Was David Koch a good

guy or bad guy in Aspen?

ASPEN, Colo. – Of the dozens of billionaires who have homes in Aspen and its suburbs, perhaps none had such a large national presence as David Koch.

The death last week of Koch at the age of 79 and with a reported wealth of $50.5 billion was given front-page attention by the New York Times: “Mogul Whose Fortune Steered American Politics to the Right.” But the newspaper also pointed out to David’s Koch’s steady support for philanthropy, especially that of the arts and humanities.

The Wall Street Journal had the news on page 2, but the editorial page, a reliable supporter of all things capitalistic, heralded his life. “Certainly he used his money to support causes he deemed worthy, and this included promoting liberty-loving think tanks and political groups,” the Journal said.

“But the bulk of the $1.295 billon he gave away went to medicine and the arts.” The defining aspect of Koch’s life,” the editorial went on to say, “is that he was a businessman…He helped his company make money, and he left the country richer and freer because he did.”

“Good riddance,” was the theme of progressives in the echo chamber of Facebook, if some used language even less charitable. But at least one Trump supporter from the Vail area had equally wilting words: “One down, one to go.”

David Koch and his brother, Charles, were painted with acid-drenched strokes by Jane Mayer in her 2016 book: “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.” In this view, the Kochs embraced libertarian views to further their chemical and fossil fuel businesses. “Lowering taxes and rolling back regulations, slashing the welfare state and obliterating the limits on campaign spending might or might not have helped others, but they most certainly strengthened the hand of extreme donors with extreme wealth,” she wrote.

The Times noted that the influence of the Koch brothers peaked in 2015 when multiple Republicans presidential candidates flew to Los Angeles to seek support from the two men at a luxury hotel. They did not include Donald Trump, who jumped on the dark view of government but whose efforts to sharply reduce immigration and diminish free trade were antithetical to those of Koch Industries. They did not support Trump’s candidacy.

David Koch lived primarily in New York City but had a house in Aspen that, according to The Aspen Times, he purchased in 1989 for $1.9 million. The property is now worth $16.1 million, according to county tax records, and has 8,100 square feet. He also owned an adjoining house worth $7.4 million.

Both homes overlook Aspen Meadows, home of the Aspen Institute, which holds a conference each June called the Ideas Festival. It’s a direct descendant of a conference held in 1949 in honor of the 200th birthday of the humanist Goethe. Albert Schweitzer journeyed from his humanitarian work in Africa to speak at the conference. Many sessions of this conference occur in the David H. Koch Building. Even a skimpy Google search reveals that Koch and his wife, Julia, donated more than $1 million to the institute in just a few years in the late 1990s.

In the nearby Pavilion, Koch sat during an assembly several years ago, the 6-foot-5 frame that made him a basketball star at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (with a scoring record that stood for 46 years) taking up a couple seats, as Valerie Jarrett, the advisor to President Barack Obama, and Paul Ryan, then the speaker of the House, spoke. Earlier, he had been in the front row when another billionaire, Tom Steyer (this year a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination) spoke about the risks and dangers of climate change.

The Aspen Times also detailed Koch’s community engagement in Aspen. John Bennett, the mayor for much of the 1990s, said that Koch “clearly cared about this community and wanted to support local nonprofits he believed in.”

Among his projects was an ice rink that he wanted to install seasonally in Aspen’s largest park. The city council nixed the idea for logistical reasons, but Bennett said he was fascinated by it.

Many accused Koch of wanting to kill winter, because of his efforts to block government efforts to address the root cause of global warming, the combustion of fossil fuels. “Koch Industries realized early on that it would be a financial disaster for the firm if the American government regulated carbon emission or made companies pay a price for releasing carbon into the air,” wrote Christopher Leonard, author of “Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America,” in an essay published by the New York Times on Sunday.

With billions and potentially trillions of dollars at stake, he said, the Koch brothers “built a political influence machine that is arguably unrivaled by any in corporate America.”

In amassing his fortune, David Koch helped warm the planet. But in Aspen, he wanted to celebrate winter.

The evidence that delivered

a big bear a death sentence

ASPEN, Colo. – If you’re a bear in Aspen, 90 seconds can get you life. Or so seems to be the story after a 400-pound bear was caught scrounging among the meaty remnants in the trash Dumpster behind a restaurant called Steakhouse 316.

The restaurant had received a citation in early August for failure to secure its garbage. The fine was $250. The manager, Brent Guthas, told the Aspen Daily News that he had been calling the trash company every day, seeking a new container. He said the employees had been instructed to keep the lid secured.

But then, during about 90 seconds of lapse as employees returned inside the restaurant, he said, the bear dived into the Dumpster. An employee told the bruin to scram, and it did – lacerating the leg of the employee on its way out.

This is where the story gets interesting. If the injury was minor, there was DNA in the wound. The Aspen Times explains that state wildlife officials used this DNA to establish that a suspected bear that had been immobilized was indeed the culprit. Too, the bite marks on the restaurant employee lined up with those of the bear’s teeth.

For this bad deed, the bear was put to sleep—for good. A necropsy revealed it was healthy.

Matt Yamashita, the state wildlife manager for the Aspen area, said because the bear was so large, had attacked a person, and continued to roam within Aspen, it was a threat to people. “Based on our experience, there was no chance this bear could be rehabilitated after it bit a person,” he said.

The case has nudged recyclables into the community conversation. The Aspen Times reports that police want it clear that food containers that haven’t been cleaned out can also attract bears and other wildlife. If not, trash containers approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee can make the tainted recyclables off-limits to bears, grizzly or otherwise. They cost $250.

Nobody died but the lions

in these cases in Colorado

KREMMLING, Colo. – It’s been a bad month for big cats doing what big cats do in Colorado. Consider first the man who was being followed by a mountain lion in the rumple of ridges between Winter Park and Steamboat Springs.

Richard Marriott told the Sky Hi News that he had watched the sun go down and then was making his way toward his weekend cabin. It was getting dark, and he had an eerie feeling. “It’s just funny how your instinct comes into play,” he said.

Walking under a bright moon, he heard something rustling in the forest behind him. He thought it was a deer. But the noises continued. As he turned around, he saw a mountain lion. “Oh crap, this is really happening,” he thought.

The cat didn’t attack, and Marriott backed up, keeping his eyes fixed on the lion. Tripped on a log, he thought the mountain lion would surely pounce. “But luckily, it came up and just kind of swiped my leg,” he told the Sky Hi News. “In all honesty, I think it was curious.”

But as it did, he jabbed at the lion with his pocketknife, enough to draw blood. The mountain lion continued to back him down the trail, and Marriot said he screamed, attracting attention of neighbors, who ran off the lion.

The next morning wildlife officers with dogs tracked down the mountain lion and shot it.

In the foothills southwest of Denver, another mountain lion made a mistake. A boy was running from a trampoline to a house and was attacked by a young mountain lion. The father of the boy ran off the lion, which was later killed.

Mountain lions have attacked three people in Colorado this year, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. There have been 22 attacks since 1990, with three resulting in deaths.

Why Canmore is getting

crabby about them apples

CANMORE, Alberta – Canmore has ratcheted up the negative feedback for those who fail to remove fruit from their trees or who continue to have bird feeders, both of which attract bears and other wildlife.

The municipality at the gateway to Banff National Park has elevated the fines for those failures to $250. It previously was $100.

“We have to be clear in speaking to the community that this is something that we are committed to as a community to protect the wildlife in the area and make some personal sacrifices,” Mayor John Borrowman told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

“It doesn’t wash for me to go on talking about what an environmentally aware and active community we are and then turn around and not put in place the actions that are required to make that a true statement.”

The new law specifically targets crabapple trees, mountain ash trees and shepherdia bushes, also known as buffaloberry bushes. The town offers grants of up to $300 for tree removal.

Why so many butterflies

getting smushed in Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Butterflies have been aflutter around Lake Tahoe this summer in massive numbers not observed for several decades.

Sarah Hockensmith, the outreach director with Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, describes a fascinating sequence of generations in this species, the orange-and-black California Tortoiseshell, as it migrates up and down in elevation, all in an effort to propagate.

But why so many this year? The big, big snow years combined, counterintuitively, with the vestiges of the 2007 Angora wildfire. The wet winters have produced profuse California lilacs, on which the butterflies lay their eggs. Mountain whitethorn, a species within the genus of lilacs, has taken over the entire hillside scarred by the fire, growing chest high in spots and leaving very little space for other plants to grow.

One result of all this: an uncommon lot of splattered windshields.

Tahoe’s future as it gets

hotter, drier, and wetter

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The Lake Tahoe Basin falls within mostly California but also Nevada, and governors from both states gathered there recently as they have each year since 1998 to talk about the big issues of the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada.

That first Tahoe Summit had been attended by both then-President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, a recognition that environmental quality had been slipping. Since then, there’s been a big fire in the basin and, of course, escalating worries about climate change.

“The hots are getting hotter. The wets are getting wetter. The dries are getting dryer,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to an account in the Sierra Sun.

Several elected officials highlighted the work in thinning forests in the basin. U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein reported wood removal on 77,000 acres, including a 9,000-acre project near the Heavenly ski area. “Crews are treating overcrowded forests to make them more resilient to insects and disease and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire.”

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, the lone Republican on the podium, gave what the Sierra Sun described as a chilling description of what a blaze like last year’s Camp Fire could do to the Tahoe Basin and its communities. That fire killed 85 people.

“The Camp Fire was 50 times larger than the (2007) Angora Fire, A similar fire here would mean the utter destruction of all of Tahoe’s communities, and be aware, our forests are no different than those that surrounded Paradise that day.” A recent survey reported that the Tahoe Basin carries four times its safe fuel density.

Trump gets $1 million from

Jackson Hole’s billionaires

JACKSON, Wyo. – Upwards of $1 million was contributed at a fundraiser held at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in an effort to re-elect Donald Trump as president in 2020.

Headlining the event, reports the Jackson Hole New&Guide, were Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, both senior advisors to the president. Also in attendance was Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.

The minimum donation for attending the dinner was $1,000, while a seat at the “roundtable” cost $35,000. Included in the evening activities was a phone call from Trump himself.

Among those attending the event were the ski area’s owners, Jay and Karen Kemmerer. Before the event, Jay Kemmerer had already contributed $200,000 to the Trump re-election campaign, the News&Guide reported, citing Federal Election Commission records.

Democratic presidential hopefuls are also making the rounds of the wealthy in Jackson Hole. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was scheduled to be in Jackson on Sunday, while Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar held a cocktail party and dinner last week. As a young woman, she and her father bicycled from Minneapolis to the Tetons.

Banff, the town, on the cusp

of cap for building footage

BANFF, Alberta – A 175-room hotel planned in downtown Banff may be the last one. The resort community located entirely within Banff National Park is nearing its federally mandated cap on commercial development.

In 1998, Canada capped commercial development at 350,000 square feet more than what then existed. The cap was provoked by concerns about the harm of rampant development within Canada’s flagship national park.

This hotel didn’t chew up all that space. It has the space in the recently demolished Swiss Village Hotel but will use additional space allowed under a random allocation awarded in 2013. Other commercial space in that same allocation went primarily to retailers and restaurants.

Four other sites in Banff were also awarded additional square footage in the 2013 allocation, said David Michaels, the town’s manager of development services, and there are other medium-sized allotments.

Beyond that, Banff will not get bigger and taller, but it’s likely to be redeveloped, Michaels said, using existing commercial floor area in “new and exciting ways that maximize the commercial potential of property.”

Construction of the new hotel likely won’t start for a couple of years. The Outlook described the hotel that was demolished as “aging.” “Seen better days. Would not return,” wrote one reviewer on Trip Advisor, an opinion shared by many. A good location, they agreed amid the many complaints, but that only goes so far.

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