Aspen man in hot water over Smuggler |

Aspen man in hot water over Smuggler

Aspen Times Staff Report

An Aspen man has received U.S. Forest Service citations for intentionally damaging a wetland on Smuggler Mountain with his vehicle late last month.

White River National Forest law enforcement officer Ken Rice said Friday he couldn’t release the name of the driver because the case is still under investigation. But Rice said the man has been charged with “operating a vehicle off road” and “doing damage to a wetland.”

The citations were issued Sept. 14, Rice said, but more information is needed before the case can be turned over to the assistant U.S. attorney in Grand Junction for prosecution.

“There’s still a lot of questions I need to answer,” Rice said.

On Aug. 28, the individual allegedly drove his four-wheel-drive vehicle through a wet meadow just off Smuggler Mountain Road, about one mile short of the closure gate at Warren Lakes, spinning the vehicle intentionally and churning up mud. Then he got stuck.

“It definitely was a big mud hole,” Rice said. “I guess the guy got stuck right in the middle of it. He had to leave his vehicle.”

A group of people went to the site to help the driver get his vehicle out of the mud hole on Aug. 30, Rice said. The event was reported to the Forest Service by an Aspen resident who apparently witnessed the attempt to remove the vehicle, he said.

Forest Service officials have begun to assess the damage, but no estimate of the cost of repair is available yet. The driver was out of town for a time, causing a two-week delay in issuing the citation, Rice said.

The violator was thought to be driving his own vehicle, Rice said, but the vehicle was not registered and had not been since 1997. Further, the violator’s driver’s license was revoked at the time of the incident. He has no record of prior violations with the Forest Service.

After the case is prepared, the driver will go before a federal magistrate in Grand Junction. The maximum penalties, Rice said, could be a $5,000 fine or six months in jail, or both. But the violator probably won’t serve any jail time.

“What we’re going to do is, once we get a dollar amount, we’ll ask for restitution and community service and some probation,” Rice said.

Rice is also investigating a severe vandalism incident which occurred Friday, Sept. 22, at the Three Forks Campground, a National Forest site north of Rifle. The Forest Service is still looking for leads in that incident, he said.

Apparently, a large group of people used vehicles to dismantle a picnic table and 75 feet of fence, which they burned. The table’s concrete base was uprooted, and a display with maps was destroyed.

“They literally took a campsite and turned it upside down,” Rice said. “I guess they didn’t like the way it looked.” The perpetrators were no doubt drinking, and there is evidence they had a keg of beer, he said.

Cost estimates range from $2,000 to $4,000 and may go higher. “My guess is if we can get a conviction at the cost we’re looking at right now, we’re looking at a felony.”

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