John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

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March 23, 2011
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Carbondale police officer's death called 'probable suicide'

CARBONDALE - An officer with the Carbondale Police Department for the past three years was found dead early Tuesday morning inside a vehicle that was parked near Crystal River Elementary School.

The body of Nino Santiago was found in an unspecified vehicle sometime in the early morning hours Tuesday, in the parking lot between the school and the Church at Carbondale, at 160 Snowmass Drive.

The Garfield County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the case at the request of the Carbondale Police, called it a "probable suicide." The investigation was still ongoing as of Tuesday evening, and many details were not being released.

Santiago had been employed with the town's police force since 2008. His son, "Junior" Santiago, also joined the force at the same time.

"Santiago was a great police officer and citizen," Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said in a press release. "Our thoughts, prayers and sympathy go out to his family. Please respect the family and fellow officers as they mourn the loss of Nino."

Sheriff's spokesperson Tanny McGinnis could not comment on who made the discovery, how Santiago died, or whether he was on duty at the time.

"The investigation is still active, and as long as it is still under investigation we can't release that information," McGinnis said.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigations assisted with the investigation to avoid any conflict of interest, she said.

"Preliminary findings are consistent with what appears to be a suicide," McGinnis said.

The incident caused Crystal River Elementary to be closed to students and staff for the day Tuesday, due to the school's close proximity to the investigation scene and in order to better manage the scene, she said.

The parking lot is owned by the church, but the school has a use agreement for teachers and staff to park there on school days.

"This is an isolated incident, and there is no cause for alarm or danger from this investigation," Chief Schilling said in reference to the decision to close the school.

School Principal Karen Olson said she learned of the incident between 5 and 6 a.m. Tuesday, when informed by police that the school would need to be closed for the day.

"We have a phone tree to alert our staff, and asked the home room teachers to contact the parents of their students to let them know there was no school," she said.

Olson said she was allowed to enter the restricted area around the time students would normally arrive in case anyone didn't get the word. Bus drivers were also advised not to pick up any Crystal River Elementary students during their rounds.

"I didn't see any students walking in the area, so I think everyone received the information," she said.

Olson also said that counseling staff will be available when classes resume at the school to help in dealing with any emotional needs of students or staff.

Santiago was born in upstate New York, but raised in Cidra, Puerto Rico. He joined the Marines in 1980 and was a Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran, according to his biography, which is posted on the town of Carbondale website.

He was honorably discharged in 1992, spent three years in the Army National Guard after that, and then joined the Air Force National Guard in 2001.

Santiago previously worked as a correctional officer, was a prison boot camp drill sergeant, and was a detention officer for the North Las Vegas Police Department. He also worked as a private investigator before joining the Carbondale police force.

"Santiago enjoyed working out and sports, especially coaching and playing baseball," Schilling noted in the press release. "He was active in Little League, high school and Marine baseball. He was an all-star soccer player and collected baseball cards."

Memorial service information will be released as it becomes available.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 23, 2011 07:11AM Published Mar 23, 2011 02:39AM Copyright 2011 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.