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The newsmakers of 2012

Max Vadnais The Aspen Times

Editor’s note: Today and Tuesday The Aspen Times, in continuing a tradition started nine years ago, takes a look at the biggest local newsmakers of 2012. Today, we publish our selections of the spots six through 10, along with honorable mentions. Tuesday, it’s the top five newsmakers of 2011.

Many people move to Aspen for its beautiful surroundings, low-crime rate, world-class skiing, and cosmopolitan feel, among other reasons. A top-notch high-school education is yet another motivating factor.For proof, see a May edition of U.S. News & World Report, which ranked Aspen High School as Colorado’s No. 1 high school, and the nation’s 59th best.The magazine’s rankings took into account nearly 22,000 public high schools across the country, giving the top performers gold, silver and bronze medals. Aspen High was one of 18 schools in the state to receive gold.The magazine also analyzed schools in a three-step process using mostly 2009-10 data. The first two steps looked at how schools scored in areas such as mathematics and reading compared with other schools in their states, factoring in social and economic demographics that account for low scores. Schools that scored in the top 25 percentile in their state were then judged on “college readiness,” which was based on International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement test data. The numerical result of these benchmarks created the rankings.While the accolade was certainly a feather in Aspen High School’s cap, Superintendent John Maloy said that is was just one piece of a larger picture. “Although the district is excited that such recognition has come to Aspen High School, receiving national recognition has not been a stated goal. … (We) strive to have all students maximize their learning potential and meet or exceed the district’s rigorous standards for performance and success,” he said. “We realize that with this high standard and the continued value and importance we place on educating the whole child – which is not the goal of many public schools throughout the country – that national recognition such as this may be viewed as icing on the cake, so to speak.”Maloy also noted that he believed Aspen High’s No. 1 ranking was deserved as it took a lot of hard work and commitment to get there.”It is possible that many people outside the valley may perceive that the Aspen School District has unlimited resources and wealth, especially in terms of dollars, and thus such a ranking is automatic,” he said, adding that like all school districts, Aspen has faced a budget crisis and has cut more than $2.1 million from its budget over the past four years. “These challenging economic times have proven that the true wealth of the district goes beyond dollars – it is measured in its people.”-Jeanne McGovern

On-mountain fatalities, as tragic as they are, come with the risks associated with winter sports. Jan. 19 was a day in which two young men died in separate accidents in the Aspen area – one on Aspen Highlands, the other on Burnt Mountain. The two deaths were the first fatalities in or adjacent to the four ski areas in Aspen and Snowmass during the 2011-12 ski and snowboard season.Longtime local resident Keith Ames was killed while skiing the Burnt Mountain area near Snowmass, and Aspen resident Gabriel Lee Hilliard died after striking a tree at Aspen Highlands.Hilliard, 30, was snowboarding on Canopy Cruiser at Highlands when he struck a tree, continued down the slope, struck another tree and was impaled by a branch in the left side of his chest. Ames, 43, got caught in an avalanche while skiing out of bounds on Burnt Mountain.”All of us at Aspen Skiing Co. are deeply saddened by these losses and our sympathies go out to friends and families of the victims,” Aspen Skiing Co. said in a statement at the time.Locals mourned the deaths of both Ames and Hilliard. Ames was a traditional Aspen ski bum, working odd jobs in the area, and a familiar sight around town and on the slopes. “He was a smiling face that everybody knew back in the day,” said friend Jay Maytin. “He was a good-hearted human being and a true skier down to the core.”A native of West Virginia and a former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, Hilliard didn’t have the lengthy Aspen history that Ames did, but many knew him through his work at restaurants owned by Aspen Skiing Co.”He loved Colorado, he loved the snow, and it was a lifelong dream of his to live there,” a cousin told The Aspen Times following his death.- Rick Carroll

The stunningly beautiful Conundrum Creek Valley southwest of Aspen faces enormous environmental challenges because of the high number of people attracted to the popular hot springs in the wilderness, but an unexpected problem plagued the area this year.One dozen cow carcasses were found in the area last winter and into the spring. They were among 29 cows belonging to a longtime Gunnison rancher; they couldn’t be found at round-up time in the national forest in October 2011.Six dead cows were initially discovered in an old Forest Service cabin roughly 1,000 feet from the hot springs. The cabin had no door. It is believed the cows sought shelter and starved or froze to death inside.Another six carcasses were found as the snow melted in the designated campsites surrounding the hot springs.It’s unknown what disrupted the cows’ typical fall migration habits. They somehow crossed the divide on the Crested Butte side of the mountains and took an unexpected journey into Conundrum Valley. The rancher hired an airplane to search for the animals and he reported them missing to the Forest Service. The agency said the rancher wasn’t to blame for the incident.The gruesome discovery captured international headlines, particularly when the Forest Service said it was considering blowing up the animals. Ultimately, the six carcasses scattered outside were dragged farther into the woods by a forest ranger and volunteer. The six carcasses entombed in the cabin were cut up with hand tools by friends of the ranger and the pieces were scattered in the woods.The site is 8.5 miles from the Conundrum Trailhead, in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, where motorized and mechanized uses aren’t allowed.The Aspen Ranger District warned hot-springs visitors during the summer that the carcasses could attract carnivores and might have contaminated the water. There were no reports of bears harassing campers. Water testing by the Forest Service showed no unusual counts for E. Coli and fecal coliform.The Forest Service removed the tin roof of the Conundrum cabin to let the elements break it down quicker. The cabin was a guard station in pre-wilderness day. It was considered out of character with wilderness and “an attractive nuisance” by Forest Service officials.- Scott Condon

While compensation of many nonprofit executives is public record, it was still news to many readers when The Aspen Times reported about the pay of Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the executive director and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum.The Aspen Times, in a two-part series on executive pay in the local nonprofit sector, reported the Zuckerman Jacobson had a total compensation package worth $569,048 for the tax year ending Sept. 30, 2010.The Aspen Art Museum said the growing pay package for Zuckerman Jacobson, who joined the nonprofit in 2005 and at one time earned $164,035 annually, correlated with the nonprofit’s growth.”It is important to note the significant increases in operational capacity achieved during Heidi’s tenure,” a museum spokesman said in response to questions from the Times. “Overall, the museum’s assets have grown by 1,288 percent between 2005 and 2012 (currently assets are reported at $37,857,015).”The expense budget for the Aspen Art Museum, which will relocate from its 590 N. Mill St. spot upon the completion of a new $30 million building at the corner of Hyman Avenue and Spring Street, has “grown by over 100 percent during the same time frame (2005 to 2012), with revenues exceeding expenses each year,” the spokesman said. Zuckerman Jacobson was among four nonprofit leaders who saw their compensation packages increase by six figures since the mid-2000s, based on tax returns filed by the organizations.Salary packages for Houston Cowan, CEO of Challenge Aspen in Snowmass Village; Amory Lovins, chief scientist and co-founder of the Old Snowmass-based Rocky Mountain Institute; and Kris Marsh, executive director of the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, all swelled by at least six figures, as well. – Rick Carroll

Tragedies often strike Aspen during the holiday seasons, and the beginning of 2012 was no exception. In the early morning hours of Jan. 1, Joanie Kocab was walking in the eastbound bus lane of Highway 82, just west of the intersection at Owl Creek Road, when she was struck from behind by a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus. Kocab, 29, who had recently moved to Basalt from Kansas, was pronounced dead at the scene.One year later, unanswered questions persist about the moments that preceded the death, including how Kocab made it from Basalt to the outskirts of Aspen – a stretch of roughly 20 miles on Highway 82 – the morning of the fatal accident.While the State Patrol investigated the accident, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office was charged with investigating what precipitated it. Sheriff’s deputies had said she exited a RFTA bus in Basalt at 12:45 a.m. after getting into an argument with her fianc. She was wearing dark clothing at the time of her death, and her only personal belonging was her cellphone.On Feb. 15, the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office issued a report saying that Kocab’s blood-alcohol content at the time she died was 0.298 percent, more than three times Colorado’s legal threshold for driving under the influence.Yet at least one relative of Kocab believes the accident was preventable. In August, Kansas resident Joanne Borell, the mother of Kocab, filed a lawsuit in Pitkin County District Court alleging that RFTA’s negligence was the “direct and proximate cause” of the death of her daughter.The suit seeks an unspecified amount in monetary damages due to Borell’s “loss of enjoyment of life, mental distress, emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and other incidental and consequential losses.”It also claims that RFTA “knew or had reason to know” that defendant Vijita Evans, the driver of the bus, was likely to use the bus in such a manner so as to create an unreasonable risk to others.”While the lawsuit is pending in the civil arena, the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office opted in March not to pursue criminal charges against Evans.- Rick Carroll

Aspen had its biggest summer – not business-wise, but in terms of the number of bears carousing around town – since 2009.And they were still plentiful on the streets and alleys of the city through most of the fall. Because the spring drought caused a reduction in their mountainside food supply, bears looked to Aspen for sustenance.From June to early November, the downtown alleys were full of them between midnight and dawn, especially in areas behind restaurants that didn’t secure their garbage containers properly. During the daylight hours, bears often could be found atop crabapple and other fruit trees on Main Street, near the Rubey Park bus depot, in the pedestrian malls and around the many city parks. Usually the daytime bears attracted a gawking crowd despite the warnings of local police. Often, authorities attempted to chase them away from town, but the bears usually climbed a tree and played a waiting game with their pursuers.Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Area 8, a 4,800-square-mile region that includes the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys, was a hotbed of bear activity in 2012. Through October, the state agency euthanized 39 bears under its two-strikes-and-you’re-out policy on problem bears. The constant presence of bears revitalized the years-old debate of whether humans are to blame for luring the animals into the city. Authorities expressed dismay that many homeowners and businesses continue to fail to secure their outside garbage bins properly. Some residents also leave their doors unlocked and leave food outside (such as the gristle in outdoor grills), essentially inviting bears into their homes and yards.”We still have people not doing what they need to do,” Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager Kevin Wright told The Aspen Times in October.-Andre Salvail

The battle over drilling for natural gas crept closer to the Roaring Fork River basin in 2012 when a Texas-based company maneuvered to hold onto its gas leases and conservation groups counter-stroked to prevent exploration.SG Interests has applied to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to fold 18 of its gas leases together into one unit in the Thompson Divide area, southwest of Carbondale. Creating the unit would allow the oil and gas company to hold onto its leases of federal lands longer. Some are set to expire in May.With no decision from the BLM in sight, SG Interests covered its bases by applying separately to drill on six of its leases in Thompson Divide. The review is expected to last several months.Wilderness Workshop and Thompson Divide Coalition are leading a multi-pronged effort to prevent drilling in the short-term and permanently protect 221,000 acres between Sunlight Mountain Resort on the north and McClure Pass on the south. All the lands are west of Highway 133.There is legislative help to try to prevent further leasing of federal lands in Thompson Divide. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) has created a draft bill to end leasing in the area. It preserves existing property rights for current leaseholders.The conservation groups support his bill, but they also want to end the immediate threat of drilling. Thompson Divide Coalition has offered to compensate SG Interests and other companies for investments in their property that can easily be identified and verified. SG Interests dismissed the financial offer as too small.Critics of drilling in Thompson Divide will rely on the administrative process to try to prevent or limit drilling on existing leases. They said they will lobby the U.S. Forest Service to place stringent limits on surface disturbance caused by gas exploration. The BLM controls the leasing process; the Forest Service controls surface stipulations.- Scott Condon

The Maroon Bells, known globally among climbers as two of Colorado’s most fabled and deadly peaks, took two more lives in 2012.On July 19, 31-year-old Leonard Joyner, a New York City firefighter, after reaching the summit of North Maroon Peak, fell 1,000 feet to his death. He was climbing alone.However, it was not until three days later that authorities knew he was missing. A relative of Joyner’s called the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to report that he had failed to show up for his scheduled shift at the New York Fire Department. An aerial search by Mountain Rescue Aspen revealed Joyner’s body on the northern aspect of North Maroon Peak. Weeks later, a memorial service for Joyner in New York would attract thousands of attendees. Also recognized at the service were the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Mountain Rescue Aspen, because of their efforts to recover Joyner’s body. On Sept. 15, another climber, Derek Kelley, 34, of Colorado Springs, fell 800 feet to his death while ascending North Maroon Peak. Kelley fell when a boulder came loose, authorities said.North Maroon Peak is 11 miles southwest of Aspen; its summit is at 14,014 feet in elevation.At the base of the Maroon Bells, a U.S. Forest Service sign warns, “The beautiful Maroon Bells have claimed many lives in the past few years. They are unbelievably deceptive. The rock is downsloping, rotten, loose, and unstable. It kills without warning. The snowfields are treacherous, poorly consolidated, and no place for a novice climber. The gullies are death traps. Expert climbers who did not know the proper routes have died on these peaks. Don’t repeat their mistakes, for only rarely have these mountains given a second chance.”- Rick Carroll

Thirty-three years after a man was shot to death and his body dumped in the woods near Lenado, he was finally identified in September thanks to technological breakthroughs with DNA tracking and persistence by law enforcement officials.The victim, long dubbed “Lenado Man,” was identified as Donald Theodore Allison, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators were finally able to enter enough information about the victim in a national data base to match information entered independently about a missing person. Authorities and the family of the missing man worked through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.Once there was an apparent match, fingerprints from the victim’s preserved hand were compared to fingerprints provided by the family of the missing person, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo explained in September. The identity was confirmed.What remains unsolved is who pulled the trigger.Allison’s body was found Aug. 18, 1979, by people hunting mushrooms off Woody Creek Road. The site was 14.1 miles up the road, roughly 7 miles past the cabins at Lenado. The body was discovered 218 feet below the road embankment and was partially covered by tree limbs, according to Aspen Times Weekly reports at the time.The body had one .22-caliber bullet lodged in its chest. A second .22 bullet entered the right eye socket. It wasn’t determined if Allison was shot at the scene or shot elsewhere and dumped in the woods.DiSalvo released little information about Allison’s background because he said authorities have “some pretty viable leads” in the murder.Allison’s daughter, Robin Allison, released a statement through the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office two days after her father was identified asking the media to stop contacting her about the case. “I am holding out hope that with the aid of modern technology this case will be solved. To talk to you now would hinder the efforts of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Something, I am not willing to do at this point,” the statement said.No arrest has been made in the case.- by Scott Condon

Patients aren’t sharing rooms at Aspen Valley Hospital anymore.A new wing, under construction for nearly two years, opened for business late in 2012, marking the most significant renovation the community hospital has undertaken since its Castle Creek Road facility opened in 1977.In the process, the hospital gained a visibility it didn’t have before – the new wing stands out for motorists passing through the Highway 82 roundabout on their way in and out of town.The newly unveiled wing is part of the $78 million second phase of a four-phase expansion plan. Finished and in use as the year drew to a close was a new patient-care unit, roomy cafeteria, new physical-therapy quarters and other facilities that have been moved into the two-story addition. A parking garage is also now available for staff, patients and visitors. The second phase also includes medical office space and 18 rental housing units for hospital workers; the units were still under construction as 2012 came to a close.With the expansion, Aspen Valley Hospital retains 25 patient beds, but no one will double up. There will be the ability to equip and utilize 11 more rooms as needs dictate.Still to come with phase 2 is a new intensive-care unit and improvements to admissions, same-day surgery and cardiopulmonary diagnostics, among other things. The second half of phase 2 involves expanding outward over a portion of the original building, adding a second story.After two more phases, spanning another 3 1/2 years of construction, assuming it occurs sequentially, AVH will occupy about 214,000 square feet – triple its former size, with space to meet contemporary standards.The goal is positioning the hospital to serve the community for the next 20 to 30 years, according to CEO Dave Ressler.- Janet Urquhart

Crimes of violence in the Roaring Fork Valley aren’t nearly as common as they are in metropolitan areas, but a murder-suicide outside of El Jebel was a tragic reminder that they do happen.On Sept. 8, Andrew Mazeika shot Judi Mazeika before turning a handgun on himself. Judi Mazeika was pronounced dead at the scene. Andrew Mazeika died later in the day at Valley View Hospital. Officials found the man and woman both lying on the lawn outside the house, located in the quiet subdivision of Missouri Heights. The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office characterized the couple as married, but court records show the divorce proceedings were officially closed in February.- Scott Condon