Aspen Highlands chairlift pusher enters insanity plea
A 32-year-old man who threw a snowboarder off a chairlift at Aspen Highlands in January pleaded not guilty Wednesday by reason of insanity in connection with the incident.
Thomas Proesel, who is reportedly suffering from a serious mental illness, appeared in District Court in Aspen via Skype with his lawyer from a psychiatric facility in Tennessee where he is receiving treatment. He is charged with felony attempted first-degree assault.
According to state law governing insanity pleas, Proesel must now be examined by a psychiatric evaluator from the state psychiatric hospital in Pueblo. Pamela Mackey, Proesel’s attorney, said a representative of the hospital told her that examination could take place on an out-patient basis and prosecutor Andrea Bryan agreed to that course of action.
Proesel’s caregivers in Tennessee believe he would be safe traveling back to the Denver area with family members for that evaluation, Mackey said. It isn’t clear when the evaluation might occur, though it likely won’t happen for a period of months.
Proesel answered “yes” or “I do” after District Judge Chris Seldin asked him questions about whether he understood what he was doing Wednesday while entering the plea and whether Mackey had adequately explained the consequences of entering an insanity plea.
At one point, after Seldin asked if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Mackey explained that Proesel was taking at least two prescription medications as part of his therapy that help clarify his thinking.
“I agree the prescriptions are helping me think clearly,” Proesel said.
Mackey also said Proesel is continuing to improve at the Tennessee facility.
If Proesel goes to trial and is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be committed to the state psychiatric hospital indefinitely, Seldin said. He would be held until he didn’t need treatment and doesn’t present a danger to the community, Bryan said.
Proesel is originally from the Chicago area but lived in Aspen since at least 2012, according to property records.
He threw a 28-year-old snowboarder off the Loge Peak lift at Aspen Highlands about 9:30 a.m. Jan. 17 after the snowboarder made an innocuous comment about skiers being better able to get faceshots of powder than snowboarders. The snowboarder fell 20 to 25 feet, but landed in a pile of fresh snow and was not injured.
The incident occurred near the top of the lift, and Proesel was able to ski away after tossing the snowboader, despite the fact that a lift operator stopped the chair. Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies were able to track him down using video footage from another lift and information from a scanner that read Proesel’s ski pass before he got on the lift.
After he was taken into custody, Proesel told deputies he became scared of the snowboarder on the lift and thought the snowboarder wanted to hurt him, according to police reports. He later made comments about numerous conspiracies, the mob, terrorists, Mexicans and about his fear of being in public, the reports state.
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