Arson suspected in vehicle blaze | AspenTimes.com

Arson suspected in vehicle blaze

Naomi Havlen
The shell of a CDOT front-end loader is all that remains after arsonists set fire to the vehicle near Marble. Photo courtesy Brady Jax, Pitkin County Sheriff's Office.
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Police believe arsonists are behind the destruction of a Colorado Department of Transportation front-end loader Tuesday night on Highway 133 near the turnoff to Marble.The large machine was engulfed in flames that stretched 40 to 50 feet into the air, according to a motorist who reported the blaze around 11:30 p.m. According to Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Brady Jax, it appeared as though the side and back of the machine’s cab had been shot at with a low-power handgun and a shotgun.

“There were holes in the cab’s frame, and the glass was busted out, and then it was set on fire,” Jax said. Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Jerry Means, with the help of arson dog Erie, determined the fire began near the machine’s rear right engine compartment.Substances that may have accelerated the fire were found in the areas; samples were taken but have not yet been tested.Members of the Carbondale Fire Department put out the fire within 30 minutes of receiving the call. There was no threat of the blaze sparking a wildfire since the loader sat on barren ground, although a small stand of aspen trees next to the pullout were scorched, Jax said.

What’s left of the formerly bright orange machine is a black, burned shell and the orange front bucket, which was untouched by the fire. The CDOT loader – a 2000 model John Deere 624H – is valued at between $120,000 and $150,000. The machine is used to clean up rocks and debris that roll off the cliffs along McClure Pass. It was left locked in a large pullout next to the highway, about a half-mile before the turnoff to Marble. Leaving the vehicle there unattended has never been a problem in the past, Jax said.”As far as we can tell right now, there’s no disgruntled employee or disgruntled neighbor. I think this was more of a random act, and alcohol was involved,” Jax said.

Jax has received some good leads from neighbors and from evidence found at the scene, including items that will be checked for fingerprints.Anyone who has any information about the incident is asked to call the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office at 920-5300 or the Colorado Bureau of Investigation at 1-877-89-ARSON. An award of up to $5,000 is being offered to anyone who has information that leads to an arrest.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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