Absent Indy Pass hostage-taker may be on hook for $2 million

Civil court trial starts as men held at gunpoint seeking damages

Brolin McConnell gets escorted into the Pitkin County court in Aspen in July 2016.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times archive

Though he is out of prison, the former real estate agent who held three young men hostage at gunpoint on Independence Pass nearly six years ago ignored a civil court bench trial Monday that could result in more than $2 million in damages against him.

Brolin McConnell, 36, initially corresponded with the 9th Judicial District court in the case but has not actively participated in the case since he was paroled from a Delta prison in January and allowed to move to Texas, said Aspen attorney Michael Fox.

“I’m a little chagrined Mr. McConnell is already out and on parole,” said District Judge John Neiley. “People get out of (prison) a lot sooner than we think they do.”

Fox asked Neiley to award Brian Buchanan, Mark Meredith and Blake Ramelb each $450,000 for pain and suffering and another $300,000 each because of permanent impairment inflicted by McConnell, a total of $2.25 million. Neiley said he would issue a ruling in the next couple of days.

“No amount of money is going to make Mark, Brian and Blake whole,” Fox said, noting that each victim would gladly pay $750,000 for the incident not to have occurred. “The pain and suffering these young men have endured is unimaginable.”

Buchanan and Meredith initially encountered McConnell’s stopped truck along Lincoln Creek Road in July 2016 on the way to do some bouldering and possible camping. McConnell then pulled out two handguns and repeatedly threatened to kill them while shooting at a bird he thought was a surveillance drone and demanding $100 million.

Ramelb, who had recently had surgery on his foot, drove into the middle of the scene and also was taken hostage. McConnell later fired a bullet at his feet and another next to his head.

All three were able to eventually get away from McConnell, who was then arrested by police without further incident.

“Any of us could have been driving up Independence Pass that day,” Fox said. “We could have been the ones stopped by this person and had a gun pointed at our head.”

Each of the three men — who were all in their early to mid-20s when the incident occurred — testified Monday. All three thought they were going to die and have suffered extreme post-traumatic stress disorder that continues to have life-altering consequences today, Fox said.

McConnell, formerly of Colorado Springs, pleaded guilty to criminal attempt to commit first-degree kidnapping and felony menacing in December 2019 and was sentenced by District Judge Chris Seldin to 12 years in prison in March 2020, though he faced a maximum of 20 years behind bars.

He apologized to the victims at that time and said, “I’m not the same person (I was) prior to going insane.”

His lawyer at the time said McConnell was clearly suffering from mental illness during the hostage incident and “simply lost it that day.” Seldin made reference at the time to McConnell’s experiencing “paranoid delusions,” and said a 20-year sentence would only serve as retribution and that McConnell really needed consistent mental health treatment.

McConnell was given credit for the approximately 3½ years he spent in the Pitkin County Jail and served less than two years in Colorado prison before he was released on parole in January.


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