Arraignments postponed in Aspen carbon monoxide case
October 15, 2010
ASPEN – Monday’s scheduled arraignment of three men charged in the 2008 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of a family of four near Aspen has been postponed until Dec. 6 to give defense attorneys time to review evidence. On Wednesday, Denver attorney Abraham Hutt filed a motion on behalf of the three criminal defendants to delay their arraignment hearings on the grounds that their defense attorneys just recently received discovery of “more than 8,000 pages of documents and transcripts as well as three full computer disks of photographs and video.” Prosecutor Arnold Mordkin did not oppose the motion, which a district judge approved Thursday. Hutt’s motion claims the evidence was not made available to him until Oct. 6, and “counsel will be unable to complete a review of these materials” prior to Monday’s hearing.Hutt represents retired city of Aspen building inspector Erik Peltonen, 58, of Basalt, who faces four counts of criminally negligent homicide and four misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment.In July, a Pitkin County grand jury indicted Peltonen, Roaring Fork Plumbing and Heating owner Marlin Brown of Glenwood Springs, and Pitkin County building inspector Brian Pawl, 46, of Basalt. Brown, 57, faces the same charges against Peltonen. Pawl was indicted on the reckless endangerment counts. The grand jury convened in July 2009, following the Thanksgiving 2008 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of Caroline Lofgren, 42, her husband, Parker, 39, and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8. The family was staying at a home located at 10 Popcorn Lane, about 3 1/2 miles east of Aspen. They had won a stay at the home at an auction held at their school. Prior to the grand jury proceedings, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office conducted its own investigation of the deaths and determined that criminal charges should not be filed.The sheriff’s office concluded that a dislodged piece of PVC pipe carrying exhaust from a driveway snowmelt system leaked lethal amounts of carbon monoxide – a poisonous, odorless gas – into the home. The home did not have a carbon monoxide detector installed even though a county ordinance required one.Transcripts from the grand jury proceedings are closed to the public, so it has been unclear precisely what criminal roles Brown, Pawl and Peltonen are alleged to have had in the fatalities. The transcripts, however, have been obtained by Hutt, who represents Peltonen; Grand Junction attorney Colleen B. Scissors, who is defending Brown; and Pawl’s lawyer Gerald Goldstein, who has practices in Aspen, Boulder and San Antonio, Texas. The Pitkin County government has agreed to fund the defense of Pawl and Peltonen.
In a related development this week, a lawsuit filed by the victims’ relatives was transferred from Denver County District Court to the U.S. District Court in Denver.The change in venue comes after attorneys for the defendants filed documents requesting that the suit be moved to the federal court. The lawsuit was filed in August by Dr. Frederick Feuerbach, the father of Caroline Lofgren; the mother of Parker Lofgren and grandmother of the two children, Jean Rittenour of Portland, Ore.; and Rockport, Mass., resident Hildy Feuerbach, who is the sister of Caroline Lofgren and the representative of the deceased husband and wife’s estate.Named in the suit were the three criminal defendants, Pitkin County Community Development Department, the Pitkin County government, Basalt-based Integrity Construction Management Group and its project manager, John Wheeler; Carbondale-based Eagle Air Systems Inc., Basalt-based Proguard Protection Services Inc., Heat Transfer Products Inc. of Massachusetts, and Jonathan Thomas and Black Diamond Development Corp., which owned the house at the time the family died in it.The suit claims the combined failures and negligence of contractors, property owners and Pitkin County building inspectors led to the carbon monoxide poisoning deaths.The suit makes eight claims for damages, but does not specify how much money is being sought.Among the claims are:• Negligence under the Premises Liability Act – Brown and his firm, Roaring Fork Plumbing and Heating, were negligent when they improperly installed the Munchkin boiler and the venting system, the suit says. Eagle Air improperly installed the HVAC system and other appliances at the house, the suit alleges. Proguard failed to recommend the installation of a carbon monoxide detector, as required by Pitkin County Code, the filing says. Integrity Construction and Wheeler did not properly oversee the construction of the home and failed to maintain the home. Black Diamond and Thomas did not install a CO detector, among other acts of negligence, the suit says.• Felonious killing – “The actions of defendants Eagle Air, Proguard, Integrity Construction, John H. Wheeler, Black Diamond, and Jonathan M. Thomas in causing the death of each member of the Lofgren family were also reckless by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would occur and, as such, also constituted ‘manslaughter,'” the suit says.• Civil rights claim – Pitkin County and its community development department, along with Pawl and Peltonen, issued building permits and conducted inspections, and in doing so, “recklessly disregarded known or obvious risks such that it was highly probable that death or serious harm would follow …” the suit says. The county, by issuing the Certificate of Occupancy for the home, “demonstrated a reckless, conscious and unreasonable disregard of the consequences,” the suit says.The suit was filed by Denver attorney William J. Hansen, a name partner with McDermott, Hansen & McLaughlin LLP. He did not return a telephone message seeking comment Thursday. email@example.com