Aspen chairlift pusher identified, arrested
Ryan Summerlin February 12, 2016
A 31-year-old Aspen man who threw a snowboarder off a chairlift at Aspen Highlands nearly a month ago finally was charged and arrested Thursday before appearing in District Court in Aspen.
Thomas Proesel — who has spent the last three weeks at a psychiatric hospital in Grand Junction — was charged with felony assault and misdemeanor reckless endangerment, according to court documents.
Proesel’s father and uncle attended Thursday’s advisement in District Court and were set to post a $10,000 bond at the Pitkin County Jail, then drive Proesel to a residential treatment facility in Tennessee. Proesel is reportedly suffering from a serious mental illness. District Judge Chris Seldin ordered that Proesel never leave the presence of his father and uncle during the two or three days it will take to reach the Tennessee facility.
Aspen prosecutor Andrea Bryan and Pamela Mackey, Proesel’s Denver-based attorney, previously agreed to those conditions, which will include regular updates on his status. Mackey said she will provide those updates.
The Tennessee facility has recommended Proesel undergo three to four months of residential treatment followed by another six months to one year of “supported residential treatment,” according to an acceptance letter from the facility included in court documents. The facility will notify Mackey if Proesel leaves without court permission, documents state.
If he is released from the facility, a long list of conditions will kick in, including that he live in Chicago, be tested weekly to make sure he’s taking his medications and have a health care professional confirm three times a week that his “mental-health issues are controlled,” according to court documents.
Bryan said after Thursday’s court hearing that she will reassess the case depending on what happens in the future.
Proesel is originally from the Chicago area. It’s unclear exactly how long he’s lived in Aspen, though property records indicate he bought a one-bedroom Hunter Creek condominium in 2012 for $310,000.
Proesel was identified by video cameras at the bottom of Aspen Highlands as well as scanners that read his ski pass, according to police reports.
The incident on the Loge Peak Chairlift at Highlands occurred at about 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 17. Aspen photographer and snowboarder Seth Beckton told The Aspen Times he was riding up the lift with Proesel and another man, and didn’t really say much to them until the end of the ride.
Beckton, 28, was sitting on the right, with Proesel in the middle and the other man on the left, according to police reports filed in court.
At that time they were talking about the 5 to 6 inches of snow on the ground, and Beckton said he commented that it’s easier for skiers to get faceshots of powder than for snowboarders.
“To get tits deep pow shots you just need to be on your edges,” Beckton quoted himself as saying in a Facebook post.
Near the top of the lift, “Beckton said he chuckled at something the male sitting directly next him said and the male asked, ‘Are you laughing at me?’” Beckton replied that “maybe” he was.
“According to Beckton, the male then said to him, ‘Well is this funny?’ and then grabbed him and pulled/pushed him off the chairlift,” a police report states.
Proesel is 6-feet-2-inches tall and weighs 220 pounds, according to a jail booking sheet.
Beckton fell 20 to 25 feet face-first off the lift and, fortunately for him, landed in a pocket of deep snow and wasn’t injured. He said he tried to look for the man after the fall, but was unsuccessful. Beckton didn’t report the fall until 3:45 p.m. later that day.
He later told the Times he regretted not reporting it sooner because the person could push someone else off a lift. He said he was traumatized at the time and wasn’t thinking clearly, but he wasn’t hurt, so he decided to enjoy the powder day.
As odd as that might sound, Beckton wasn’t the only person to witness what happened that morning and not report it.
The 19-year-old lift operator at the top of Loge Peak spoke to Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies and said he saw Beckton fall from the chair, which prompted him to hit the lift’s “emergency stop” button. The lift traveled far enough for Proesel and the other man to disembark and ski off, the operator told police.
The operator said he ran down to check on Beckton, but Beckton was gone by that point. An Aspen Skiing Co. log says the lift stopped at 9:26 a.m. The police report doesn’t say whether or not the lift operator reported the incident, but Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle has said the first anyone at Highlands knew of the incident was when Beckton reported it at the end of the day.
The other man on the chair with Beckton and Proesel didn’t report the incident, either, according to police reports. He told deputies he rode up Highlands’ lower lift, Exhibition, with Proesel that morning as well as the upper lift.
“(The man) said on the first ride up the Exhibition chair with Proesel, he got the impression the other male was ‘weird,’” a police report states. “He said Proesel was giggling to himself and giddy and had a weird vibe about him.”
The two then ended up sitting together on the Loge Peak lift, when Beckton came through the singles line and joined them, the report states. The third man said he had headphones on and wasn’t fully paying attention to the conversation between Proesel and Beckton until about 100 feet from the top of the chair.
At that time, he heard Proesel say, “If you think that’s funny, wait ’til you see this,” and watched as he pushed Beckton off the lift.
“It was a blatant push,” the man told deputies, according to the report. “I had no idea that was going to happen. I was really lost for words, to be honest.
“I didn’t know what to do.”
Proesel didn’t say anything about the incident after it happened, but “was laughing about it ‘like it was a joke,’” the man told deputies.
The man then skied down the bottom of the Loge Peak lift and, strangely enough, ended up riding back up with Beckton, the report states.
“He said he asked what happened, and Beckton replied he had made the comment about skiing, which Proesel took the wrong way,” the police report states. “(The man) said he did not report the accident because Beckton seemed OK afterward.”
Deputies called Proesel on the telephone Jan. 20, and he said he didn’t know why they were calling, according to a police report. When a deputy asked if he was involved in an incident at Aspen Highlands, Proesel said, “This guy was threatening me,” the report states.
The deputy asked how he was being threatening, and Proesel said Beckton “was wearing a ski mask,” the report states.
“Proesel went off on a tangent about a roommate in Salt Lake City who was a potential ‘T-word,’” the report states. “It dawned on me much later that Proesel was stating the roommate was a potential terrorist.”
Proesel told deputies he became scared that either the man on the lift or the man from Salt Lake City was “looking for him,” according to the report. The deputy was unsure which man he was talking about.
“Proesel said he became scared,” the report states. “Proesel said the male on the chairlift said something was going to overwhelm Proesel and the male started laughing at him.”
“’I didn’t want him looking at my face, anyways. It was too scary,’” Proesel told deputies. “Proesel had the impression the male wanted to hurt him. He told (a deputy) that ‘there’s just too many of them.’”
Proesel said he was terrified, the report states. He said Beckton fell off the lift and tried to grab Proesel’s arm as he was falling.
“During the remainder of the conversation, Proesel continued to make nonsensical comments,” the report states.
The deputy who spoke to Proesel said he spoke of “numerous conspiracies primarily in the Chicago area, and other unrelated, unintelligible topics,” according to his report.
Later that day when deputies went to his apartment, Proesel spoke about “the mob, about Chicago, about terrorists, about Mexicans and about fear of being in public,” the report states.
Proesel voluntarily went with deputies at that point and was put on a mental-health hold and transported to the psychiatric hospital in Grand Junction, according to reports. He remained at that hospital until Thursday.
Sheriff’s officials were forbidden from talking about Proesel’s whereabouts during the more than three weeks he was in Grand Junction because Colorado law doesn’t allow the release of information about someone on a mental health hold.
Aspen police had contact with Proesel in 2014, though police officials denied a Times request for that report, saying it was “mental health welfare check” and was not releasable under open records law.
Skico revoked Proesel’s ski pass Jan. 22 “because his conduct may cause injury to another person,” according to a police report.